The Naming Ceremony



I have put all of you in this world. Henceforth, this world
will belong to you. You will be creatures with names. All of
you will have names, and the places where you live will also have names.

-- Maidu Earthmaker story

as translated by William Shipley

Through the thin layer of darkness that slowly moved away from the coming morning, while stars in all directions still lingered above frost-covered trees and clear layers of ice covered the edges of the stream that swam down from deep within the canyon to the west, I could see the silhouettes of the sisters approaching.

Aunt Be’eh and Siya wore white mantas with black and red borders and shawls of finely-woven wool with fringe that swayed in soft, circular motions as they walked, and moccasins made from smooth, white buckskin whose black soles curved upward toward the sky at the tips. Each carried a small bundle wrapped in brightly colored cloth; gifts for the four day old child and objects to be used in the ceremony of her naming on this morning.




Entering our house, which stood at the center of the village, where iris patches and morning glory vines bloomed in summer, and near where small, red plum trees grew and buffalo and deer dancers had stepped many times, the sisters moved quietly across the hard mud floor and under the long, thick vigas above our heads. They placed their bundles in the center of the large room and prayed over them in Tewa; they asked Creator to bless all that was contained within, and they asked for blessings for the child, and for our village, Kha Po’o Oweenge; village where roses grow. They prayed as they unraveled the bundles; the sounds of their low, hushed voices and the soft rustling of the fabric broke the morning silence and moved through the cedar-warmed room. Standing behind Aunt Be’eh and Siya, waiting for their voices to settle back into silence, I held the child close; when the prayers ended, the contents of the bundles were ready for the ceremony.

Among the sacred objects were several small woven blankets and two thick, smoke-tanned antelope hides; a small bundle of eagle feathers; a shallow, grey-colored bowl painted inside and out with lightning and rain symbols; blue and white cornmeal wrapped in their own dried husks; a small, white, spiral-shaped shell from a lake to the south; and water from a spring near Siya’s house, at the northern edge of the village.

Taking the child gently from me, the sisters wrapped her in the blankets and hides. They poured the spring-water into the bowl and sprinkled some of the cornmeal into the water; some of the pieces floated on the surface and touched against the lightning and rain symbols before moving in toward the center and then spiraling downward and settling on the bottom of the smoothly-polished bowl. Stepping outside and toward the morning, they carried the child beyond the edges of the early shadows and into the day’s first light. Moving through a narrow grove of aspen trees that grew just above the edge of the cornfield near the quickly-moving stream, where tiny brown frogs and bright green dragonflies lived in springtime, they could hear bird-songs all around, and the sound of the water pouring over the smooth, cold stones as it rushed away from us and back toward the village rose and fell in the cool morning air.


Reaching a small clearing beyond the aspen grove, the sisters rested beside a young spruce tree. Turning east to face the mountains, where katsinas are said to visit, they prayed again, and again asked Creator for blessings; they sprinkled cornmeal around the base of the tree. Holding the child up toward the dawn, which spilled quickly over the tall peaks and tossed thin shadows onto the snowy ground beneath them and onto the child’s small, delicate face, they spoke to each other and to the child in Tewa; some of the words were very old and were spoken and understood by only a few people from our village; Aunt Be’eh and Siya had been taught to speak these words; and so they spoke them now, to this child, on this day, under the frost-filled sunrise.

As one sister cradled the child in her arms, the other dipped the shell gently into the bowl, filling it with the sacred water and cornmeal, then placed the tip of the spiral into the child’s mouth; several times she drank from the shell, and the sisters offered prayers and cornmeal in each direction as they began their giving of names.




Brushing the eagle feathers several times across the child’s forehead and over her warm, blanket- and hide-wrapped body, Siya placed her hand very lightly upon the child’s head and slowly spoke the first name: Agoyo Tse’; Yellow Star. As the child drank again from the shell, her face now completely enveloped in the quickly-growing light, the second name was given: Oga Po’o Kwing; Shell-Filled Lake. These names were given to mark the child’s birth and place in the world; and to connect her to the Tewa people.

The sisters shared the water that remained in the bowl; with each of their movements, small pieces of cornmeal pushed themselves up from the bottom and again touched against the lightning and rain symbols before breaking through the surface of the water for a moment, then spiraling downward and returning to rest on the bottom. When the bowl was empty, they spoke several of the old Tewa words again and again sprinkled cornmeal around the base of the naming-tree. Moving once more through the clearing and down into the grove of tall, thin aspens, they followed the now-longer shadows that stretched themselves out along the stream’s narrow bank and led back toward the center of the village, back toward the iris patches and morning glory vines, now white with winter, and back toward the child’s home.

Returning to the center of the large room, under the thick vigas, the sisters prayed in the same quiet voices as before; still holding the child, they repeated the names they had given her near the spruce tree, past the clearing beyond the aspen grove. Again they prayed and again they spoke the old Tewa words; they spoke the old words for this naming for this child on this morning.
I could see the silhouettes of the sisters as they stepped back into the distance; and the fringe on their shawls swayed in soft circular motions as they walked, their moccasin tips pointing toward the sky.

RoseMary Diaz studied literary arts the Institute of American Indian Arts, the Naropa Institute, and the University of California at Santa Cruz. She lives in Santa Fe with her daughter, Atlanta.

Originally appeared in The Collector’s Guide - Volume 26


©2014 | F + W Media
URL: • Contact The Collector's Guide