A naming ceremony is the event at which an infant, a youth, or an adult is given a name or names. The timing can vary from mere days after birth to several months or many years afterwards. Some of these ceremonies have religious or cultural significance.
Naming a baby is considered to be sacred and therefore is an important Hindu tradition. It involves the immediate families and also close relatives and friends. Traditionally known as Namkaran or Namakarana Sanskar, this ceremony is conducted in an elaborate form on the 11th day after birth. The Namakarma Sanskar is usually held after first 11 nights of a baby's delivery. These 11 post-natal days are considered inauspicious and the mother and child are considered to be unclean. Traditionally mother and child are separated from the rest of the family during these 10 days where no one except a helper is allowed to touch the baby or the mother. All festivals and events in the family and extended family are postponed by 11 nights. After those 11 nights, the house is cleaned and sanctified for the ceremony. The mother and child are bathed traditionally and are prepared for the ceremony. This is most likely to avoid infecting baby or mother and allowing mother some time to recover after delivery. Relatives and close friends are invited to be a part of this occasion and bless the child. Priests are called and an elaborate ritual takes place.
The people involved in the baby naming ceremony are the parents of the newborn, the paternal and maternal grandparents and few close relatives and friends. In Maharashtra, Bengal, and amongst the Rajputs of Gujarat the paternal aunt has the honour of naming her brother's child. The child is dressed in new clothes and the mother wets the head of the baby with drops of water as a symbol of purifying the child. In some communities, the baby is then handed over to the paternal grandmother or the father who sits near the priest during the ritual. Where the paternal aunt names the child, she whispers the new born his or her name in the ear and then announces it to the gathered family and friends. In some Communities or families, the sacred fire is lighted and the priest chants sacred hymns to invoke the Gods in the heaven to bless the child.
In Kerala, a black thread and gold chain called an aranjanam are tied around the baby's waist on the 28th day. In certain parts of the state, it is performed on the 27th if it is a baby boy. The child's eyes are lined with mayye or kanmashi (Kohl). A black spot is placed on one cheek or asymmetrically on the forehead, to ward off the evil eyes. The father whispers the chosen Hindu name in the child's right ear three times while the left ear is covered with a betel leaf. This is then repeated with the left ear. A mixture of ghee (melted and clarified butter) and honey is given to the infant as a base for its various foods in the future.
According to the date and time of birth of the child, a particular letter of the Sanskrit alphabet associated with the child's solar birth sign (soorya Rashi) is chosen which would prove lucky for the baby. The baby is then given a name starting with that letter. Usually the father whispers the name four times in the right ear of the baby. In Maharashtra, this is performed by the paternal aunt. The baby receives blessings from all, including the priests. An elaborate feast is organized for the priests and the guests, as a closing event of the ceremony. The Namakaran Sanskar is also performed on adult converts to Hinduism to mark their formal entrance into Hinduism. The convert chooses a Hindu name to declare his allegiance to Hinduism and his severance from his former religion. A Vedic fire sacrifice is then performed and the convert writes his new name in a tray of uncooked rice.
In Maharashtra, traditionally women changed their birth-name upon marriage. The new name was selected by the husband to complement his own name. For example, a groom named Vishnu would change his brides name to Laxmi, the mythological consort of Vishnu, Ramchandra would change his bride's name to Sita and so on. Usually the husband writes the new name in a plate filled with dry uncooked rice grains.