What’s in a Name?

imbelekoAs is the case with many cultures, Zulu names have meanings attached to them that reflect how the parents feel about their new-born child (e.g. Thandiwe, ‘Beloved’). Names can also relate to what the weather was like when the baby was born (e.g. Nomvula, ‘Mother of rain’), or reflect the religious beliefs of the parents (e.g. BongiNkosi, ‘Be grateful to God’). Their is no naming ceremony in Zulu culture per se, but parents of newborn babies will perform the imbeleko ceremony to welcome their baby and introduce him or her to the ancestors. The ceremony is normally conducted on the tenth day after the baby is born, or later, with a goat slaughtered as a sign of sacrifice to the ancestors. The mother will eat a piece of meat cut from the leg of the goat, and a bracelet (isiphandla) will be made for the baby from the skin of the sacrificed animal.

Aside from being a thanksgiving ceremony imbeleko is also performed to protect a child from misfortune, and offers an opportunity to officially name the child. There are also instances when imbeleko is performed later on in a child’s life, when it is deemed necessary to offer extra protection (for example, in the case of illness or trauma).

The academic paper, Orality and Transformation in Zulu Ceremonies: Tradition in Transition by Thobile Ngcongo, fully examines the imbeleko ceremony. If you are interested in finding out more about this ceremony, all of your questions will be answered in this thorough discussion, which provides a full description of the imbeleko ceremony and the reasons for performing it, as well as offering a comparison of the imbeleko ceremony with that of a Christian baptism.

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