How Kazakhs name their children

How Kazakhs name their children

As I’ve written before, I love learning about people’s names, and I ask people about their names at every moment that might *possibly* be culturally appropriate. So this summer, I met a woman with two daughters.

“Who named your children?” I asked.

Gulnar* tells me that an elderly relative of her husband named her oldest daughter. Toikyz* was named while the baby was still in the hospital, the elderly woman murmuring words into the baby’s ear.

Women and children at a "besik toi" naming celebration. Picture courtesy of
Women and children at a “besik toi” naming celebration.

But for her second daughter, the family waited until they came home after the hospital, then put on a naming party for their relatives. At the party, her husband pulled out a hat and went around the room, asking each guest what the infant girl should be named. Gaziza? Okay he wrote it down, crumpled it, and put it in a hat. Karlygash? Aigerim? Merei?

He smiled and joked and entertained the guests. And then he called up a small child to select the name from a hat. The little boy reached in his hand slowly, and fished around, pulling out a crumpled piece of paper.

“Mer-ey-i,” the child slowly read, and then everyone lifted their arak (vodka) and toasted, crying Merei!

When Gulnar looked down the table, though, her husband was clutching his stomach and doubled in laughter.

“What?” She had said to him, “Why are you laughing?”

He choked out that he had written down Merei, Merei, Merei… no matter what the guest had told him. He just wrote every suggestion down at Merei, because that’s what he wanted to child to be named.

“And he told all your relatives that he did this?” I asked, surprised.

“He couldn’t keep it back,” Gulnar rolled her eyes.

“They said, why didn’t you just name the child Merei? But he thought this would be more qyzyq (interesting).”

Gulnar still teases her daughter that her real name should be Gaziza or Karlygash, but Merei* shakes her glossy hair, happy for her modern name.

“But aren’t children supposed to be named on the 40th day?” I ask.

That might have so long ago, I’m told, but now you do it in the hospital. There are just three days until you have to turn in the paperwork – rather like in America. (This means I’m not clear if Gulnar’s celebration was at home or in the hospital.)

But as a good Kazakh mother, in neither case did Gulnar name her own daughters.

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