Writing: Features: The Gift of a Name

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The Gift of a Name 

Anishinabe naming ceremony binds children to heritage. 

Rise Up Magazine 2008 

In our hearts, or deeper still— in our bellies — is the Anishinabe sense of place. As Anishinabe or Ojibwe tribal peoples, we are drawn to our land. And so I load up my kids in my suburban Cincinnati mom van and make the long journey home to Wisconsin. We return for ceremony or just to visit. Sometimes I’m not sure why we go back, but rather than resist the inexorable pull of Gitchee Gumee, Lake Superior, I give in and take my children to “greet the lake” as my mother took me and her family took her. We always feel somehow satisfied once we have waded in the water and truly returned home. 

For our people, this deep connection with land and community is embodied in our naming ceremony. My children were feasted on their naming day not long ago during a cool summer on Ojibwe land. My children’s Wayaye — people much like godparents — who stood up for them were present. My biological daughter Rosa received the name Baybamisay, which means “she flies around,” and my adopted son Daniel received the name, Maangosit, “Loon’s foot.” These names were spoken for the first time before a circle of friends and family who had joined us. We feasted on traditional food, manomin (wild rice) venison, lake fish and berries prepared by me, their mother. Before we were permitted to eat, the dishes of food were placed directly on the earth by the men of the group and prayed over by the children’s namer, the person in our tribe who received the names in a vision.  

Their Wayaye are forever bound to my children, agreeing to serve as counsel and support as they grow into Anishinabe man and woman. The naming feast was not a terribly expensive or extravagant celebration in the scheme of American life, but it was a moment of deep satisfaction and comfort for our family. We are helping our children know who they are; we are giving them tools for this life’s journey. Will Mangosit, like his birth mother, struggle with addiction and psychological problems? Will Baybamisay, who is autistic, be able to lead a full life and function independently? It is impossible to predict. I realize that my worries are the same for mothers everywhere, on the reservation or here in Cincinnati. Our adopted home has been good to us but like much of mainstream America it carries certain trade-offs. Life does not seem to unfold naturally, it is constantly being prodded and pushed. School, work, life and play can become competitive races, with far too little joy. Therefore here in suburban America, our Ojibwe traditions take on even greater relevance and meaning. A place and permission to honor one’s heart become the greatest gifts of all. As my children navigate this world, my hope is that they will find strength and comfort from knowing the history and traditions of our people. I am proud to be a part of their lives and journeys.