The story of how the search for a name through cultural heritage, turned into a remarkable dialogue with our unborn child...
Birth of a Name
At every turn our little one was telling us his name. We just didn’t realise until all the dots fit perfectly like an astrological figure where every star fits into place, so that without a shadow of a doubt we knew who he was.
In the Americas the indigenous cultures believe that the naming of a child is a representation of the essence of where they came from. To find this essence there are all sorts of ceremonies and rituals, all of which we had no access to because these cultures are on the brink of extinction, or killed off. (I only found out of my indigenous heritage through a bizarre sequence of coincidences.) So, in an elaborate game of Chinese Whispers, through friends, folklore, and a dash of serendipity, we went collecting the crumbs left behind of these ancient indigenous naming traditions. We wanted to name our surprise ‘bun in the oven’ as my great-grandmother would have done had her culture not been stolen from her. We hoped that by giving our child an indigenous name his lineage may have a new breath of life and not disappear into a family myth as was the case for me, named with a Western name, leaving me nothing but an instinct that there was another aspect to our family tree.
Finding a child’s name the ancient way is not a question of opening a name book and choosing which one you like the sound of. It is a quest that intensifies the sensitivity with which you observe the way things are. The name can be found in the subtlety of a reaction of a fetus to the sound of water; or a symbol in a dream.. and if you’re on that search,
sooner or later your subconscious reveals something that can’t be explained through simple coincidence. You see, naming a child in these ancient cultures isn’t down to the parents alone because the child doesn’t belong to the parent, but is considered an elemental part of something infinite that can’t be explained, like a complex tapestry in which every weave has its part and purpose. It is the way it is, and therefore it belongs to no-one. A child is a manifestation within this tapestry and these rituals reveal where this soul came from and its purpose within the tapestry. It could be a past life; an animal; an element from nature; or just a philosophy. It reflects their true selves, a boomerang back to the elixir of their existence, a reminder every time that person is called.
When I was first told of this process, I could not conceive how it was possible. The first ritual we heard of was practiced in the last trimester: the mother regularly walks a path with various elements from nature - earth, water, wind, fire - and tries to recognize when her gestating bub reacts consistently to one of these elements, and thus the child reveals whether he came from the earth, the wind, water, or fire. My version of this was a little less poetic as I live in the cesspool of chaos named Buenos Aires. My element of water was the bathtub, though we did manage to escape to the ocean for a while.
I would listen to sounds of nature on Youtube, in the vein hope that the little one would consistently react to one of these elements and reveal himself and the magic of this ritual, and I wouldn’t feel so detached from such a wondrous heritage...
The only consistency was in that our fetus friend reacted to nearly everything, and fell asleep to nearly anything. On the one hand, I felt sad that I couldn’t be amongst a more sightly backdrop of nature, instead of the stinky concrete jungle I inhabited - I felt it was because of the mass of man made grey that this ritual may not be working. On the upside, despite the city’s disconnectedness, this ritual engaged me to listen to this being within me, his movements and feelings. It made me realize that he loved the drums, and sometimes I could have sworn he’d move to their rhythm. I felt him relax when i was in the bathtub, and wiggle about when Drew and I would sing at the top of our lungs. I giggled when he always wiggled when Drew and I kissed - we joked about naming him kiss as it was the only outside element that our little one reliably reacted to.
The next tradition we fished out for our collection pertained to the Mapuche culture; mapu meaning earth, and Che people; and these particular people came from the earth of south Argentina and Chile. It is said the mother dreams of the name. But I was barely dreaming. The one dream I had at that point was a moment of the labour: I was holding hands with Drew, crouching down, screaming together at the top of our lungs “I will dive to the depths for love”, (a phrase from his best friend’s song) an inspiring glimpse of what was to come, encouraging me to face such an extreme experience like birth. Wondrous as this was, there was still no name in sight, at least as far as I could tell at the time.
We spoke to a Mapuche friend - Kurüf - and I told her I wasn’t dreaming a name, that he wasn’t reacting to any elements of nature, and that we weren’t sure if this child was ever going to reveal his essence, or if any of these rituals were even true, let alone working. I blamed being in the city; being woken up by sirens and drunks; and by living in an apartment with broken memories. It was not how I imagined being pregnant. The bub surprise began to feel like a disorganised mess. My life was a mess. Kurüf told us that we had to cleanse the environment because it was my ancestors that would pass on the name to me
and they wouldn’t feel invited if the home wasn’t clear… “It’s a good time to do it” - she soothingly cooed - “tomorrow night’s full moon.” So Drew and I, utterly unprepared, began the quest of the smoke ritual to cleanse the environment. We called my mad-hatter mother with the Mapuche lineage to let her know what we were doing and to see if she wanted to have a go from her end in England - obviously she was completely up for it. Her results were: Lafken (sea), Lifko (clean water) - no idea how that came about. We looked for anything that would go up in flames in the house. Luckily we had some myrrh lying around to give some sense of ceremony and dignity to the situation, rescuing the ridiculous scenario of newspapers, twigs, food condiments and some old incense from the back of the cupboard. We closed all the windows, set everything on fire, found some Tibetan chimes on Youtube, and commenced to cover every corner of the house in smoke in this surreal attempt to cleanse our home and invite the ancestors to come.
That night I dreamt absolutely nothing. I felt ashamed and disconnected from my culture, wishing I lived in bumblefuck, on some mountain somewhere with homemade clothes made out of beetroot-dyed hemp that these wholesome mothers that give birth under a willow tree seem to wear. Safe to say I was a little disheartened.
Weeks past, and quite unexpectedly I actually dreamt of my great-grandmother. Her face was just like the old picture my granny treasured by her bedside. Great-Mapuche-grandma was a dignified, exotic beauty, who was told she was German despite her oriental eyes, dark skin and thick black hair. She had a kind, indigenous face disguised in Victorian clothes perfectly poised for that family portrait where it couldn’t be more obvious that she was adopted. The scenario in my dream wasn’t quite as romantic as I had envisioned it would be - presented the name by an ancient ancestor in some dreamy rainbow paradise - nope - we were in the middle of the city, on a putred petri-dish of a main road called Las Heras, where, without saying a single word, she gently touched my heart with her hand. The expression on her face was nostalgic, full of love, and a little sadness. So of course, like a good little hypochondriac I woke up thinking it was a sign I was going to have a heart attack. It did not cross my mind at all that she may have been revealing our little one’s soul. I had the same dream twice. I joked with our Mapuche friends that it’s all well and good dreaming of ancestors but she didn’t say a word!
The dream and our name quest faded into a distant memory, and the long-awaited night of the labour commenced on the 29th of June. I swam to the depths of my birth-pool at home, with candle light and music. I held onto my partner with pure affection, no angry birth-zilla as I thought I may have become, but rather just a trusting, loving version of me despite the agony. Drew held me together through every contraction with such solidarity and tenderness. It was a true honour to experience. After many cuddles and roars, being spoon-fed delicious pears and dates by our smiling fairy midwives, I finally reached 10cm dilation and we were overjoyed. The boy was on his way. But then, I felt a pain in my heart. In the delirium of all the labour I told Drew with the utmost confidence not to worry… ‘My great-grandmother is protecting us! I’m not sacred.” And that’s where the labour started getting complicated. The contractions were getting weaker and we didn’t know why. Our little boy’s heart stayed strong nonetheless, as did mine.
I had every reason to be terrified and at no point did I feel fear. I was fearless on the way to the hospital having contractions; fearless when the epidural needle pierced my spinal fluid and I couldn’t keep still because of the contractions; fearless when my waters broke and revealed all the dark meconium putting our little boy’s life in danger; fearless when I realised I had to have an emergency Cesarean. I was rushed off, then tied to a cross no less for the operation. And in my typical gung-ho manner I joked about finally being crucified - what a hilarious end to my mad life, to die on the fucking cross - I couldn’t think of a better punchline to mark my exit; Oscar Wilde couldn’t have written it better; and if I’m to be brutally honest, Jesus had it easy with his crucifiction...Emergency Cesareans are no joke...Try getting through seven layers of cross-hatched epidermis, fascia, nerves, and muscle to pull out a bloody baby. The surgeons are like the Indiana Jones of baby extraction. My nervous system was shot due to the epidural touching a nerve. So while I felt the sensation of being cut open, tugging and pulling in all directions, I felt the agony of contractions in my shoulder. Horrific and distracting.
I felt saddened for our bub’s life to begin out of utero so clinically, so I asked Drew to sing. [ADD MUSIC LINK]
We had composed a beautiful mantra for the little one, and so, mid-operation we were singing away tears eyed with the midwives joining in as chorus- a surreal scene that made me love them all even more - and then we hear our little one’s first roar. They put him on my chest, and for the first time I saw his eyes - the gaze of a wild animal with all the force of nature staring back at me. Drew had to leave me and check the little one was ok. As he walked away I asked for a hand to hold. It crossed my mind I may die and leave poor Drew alone. I could hear the surgeons’ panicking voices as I was bleeding. I calmed myself remembering I covered my ground in case of this - I wrote a letter to our little fetus to let him know that if I died at his birth, he mustn’t blame himself. If I were to die, it was a reflection of the cruelty of the world to women, and in no way his fault. I remembered all the people who loved us, and cared so tenderly for us… Drew was not alone. I calmed as I heard my obstetrician with his grandpa voice and then realised I could smell my own burning flesh. They were burning my veins to stop the bleeding. I giggled and thought this is what Chichi BBQ smells like. They took the placenta out and kept it for safekeeping - and yes we put some in a smoothie. They closed me up and wheeled me out of surgery. When they gave my boy back to me I suddenly realised in that moment I couldn’t laugh, cry, sneeze, or even cough because of the pain. What a moment to have to keep it all in. It was quite something. Later, Drew told me he thought he was gonna lose me. I held his hand and dried his tears, and thought of the constant chore of picking up dog hairs around the house to not get emotional. I struggled to hold my own baby to breastfeed him because of the pain. I saw him frown and felt his birth trauma. I was determined to make up for it. Even when my nipples bled I kept going. And despite the fact that I hadn’t slept for days in agony, the hardest thing was not to laugh. I’d laugh when I couldn’t get to the toilet and pissed my diaper; or seeing Drew faffing about learning to change these tiny little nappies of his newest little friend. After a week I finally began being able to conjure up some belly laughs out loud from the entire surreal situation. I think I felt so fearless because every time I looked at Drew my heart filled with all the strength I needed. The initial part of the labour at home showed us something of ourselves that was truly sacred. I was so grateful to have had the opportunity to experience at least part of the labour surrounded by so much care. And every time I looked into our baby’s eyes I could see pure strength of love and innocence - an untamed, undomesticated humanity… Everything felt like an honour to behold. I was surprised that I didn’t fear this new unknown world of baby, mostly because when I looked at him, I saw the wild stare at me, and I knew the wild - nature has always been my ally. He was nature - this I could handle.
As we recovered, our hearts were nourished by Drew’s sister and mother flying across the world to hug us, cook for us, love the little one, cuddle and giggle us back to health; Drew’s dad fixing up the house; the godparents with their poetry, patience and kindness, looking after our doggies with so much love and tenderness, giving us one less thing to worry about. We were not alone, we were loved back onto our feet. During all of this mayhem, our little one’s name was Ta’ỹe (ta-yee), which means Seed in Guaraní. Mid-delusional surgery, when asked for the baby’s name, we mumbled: “Ta’ỹe.” Luckily I had googled the translation a few days prior to the birth. I’d decided he needed a temporary name, and a little seed seemed very appropriate, so that as he sprouted we would have time to get to know him and finally figure out who he was. But time was crunching down for his actual name as we would need to register him within 55 days. Though the name Ta’ỹe had stumbled into place, it began to seem as though it was there to stay, but I couldn’t help but feel that our heritage wasn’t being entirely honoured. Despite how beautiful ‘Seed’ was, with the wrong pronunciation in Guarani, it could also mean “human tooth”… not quite as poetic as one would hope.
So the quest for our little one’s name continued, but this time we let go of any ritual. We looked for indigenous names online, searching for something we could relate to our little Seed so far. Many beautiful names floated about: in Quechua, Alliyma, meaning good person or good thing; Asiri, meaning smile; Kusi, happy, joyful. Or in Mapudungun, Tahiel, denoting a song by a shaman; Munay, freedom; or Inca, meaning friend. Such beautiful weird and wonderful choices and yet it felt so wrong to just choose from a list. Trying to give some meaning to the name, we thought of that look in Ta’ỹe’s eyes when he first fixed his gaze on me at his birth - the wild… We found the Mapuche name Awka, which translates to wild, undomesticated, rebel. It seemed most appropriate - at least it was connected to him - but as I observed his peaceful nature, I couldn’t help but feel in the pit of my tummy it just wasn’t him. The more I looked into Awka, the more it seemed like a fighter’s name, a war name. It didn’t fit. “Call the Oracle”, proclaimed Drew. He was referring to my mad-hatter mother. We Skype and explain our dilemma. She said that most rebels are rebelling for love, so why not call him Love? And we loved it, immediately looking up love in various languages. This kicked off a sequence of ‘connecting the dots’ of coincidences.
First my eye veered towards the Japanese word for love - Ai, which conveniently can be used as a name. I had always had a warm spot for Asian culture, raised doing martial arts; learning Japanese from my tutor Nobue, I adored japanese philosophies found through its language and traditions, always applying them to my life. SO, i read about the philosophy behind the kanji for Ai, and low and behold, within the kanji form, were lines representing a hand on a heart…sorry what? Finally the cogs clicked into place. The dings donged and I had a eureka moment - MY DREAM!
I remembered my great-grandmother touching my heart with her hand. In the chaos of the bustling city she was signaling with her hand the one organ associated to love, my heart. As I deepened the search, sayings came up like ‘love can’t be spoken, only felt’… she hadn’t said a word. I remembered her expression - pure tenderness, full of feeling, of love. I remembered that my heart had pained in the labour, and how thinking of her made me feel strong, safe, loved beyond this realm, the realm of the surrealism of contractions; of life and death; the realm of labour and transition. I remembered the dream where I was screaming that I would dive to the depths for love, Drew’s love getting me through so much, now and always. All the wiggles in my belly when Drew and I kissed: he was reacting to the love, and why shouldn’t love be considered an element of nature just as the wind, fire or water? Even the way he gestated, the strength of the little one’s heartbeat despite the meconium; how fearless and loving I felt; every hand I held; every cuddle; every moment Drew’s embrace had eased the pain; how strong our love was; and how loved we felt. As Wet Wet Wet so eloquently put it, love was all around me, the whole time. I was in awe. He was telling us who he was, where he came from, and what he recognised from the beginning: the moment I dreamt of us giving birth, screaming that we would dive to the depths for love; twice dreaming I’d had my heart touched by great-grandma; his in-utero wiggles with kisses; his interactions from in my womb reaching out to any moment loving hands would embrace my pregnant belly… It couldn’t have been more obvious, he was reacting to his essence, to love. All the old ways had manifested his essence in every way we were told that they would:- his reactions in utero to the elements; signals from ancestors in dreams; and, despite everything that he went through during pregnancy and particularly birth, the strength of his heart.
Drew immediately rang Naho and Kurüf for help to translate. We told the story of all these dots we’d finally joined, and it was concluded, he comes from love, from the strength of love. In Mapudungun words: Ayün Newen. I felt redeemed, relieved and inspired to believe, despite how obscure my indigenous roots were, those roots were still growing shoots in me, and in anyone inspired to take on this kind of naming quest. It is utterly bewildering and magical, which for me, a surprised, totally unprepared, unexpected new mama, was just the kind of magic that made me feel it was all going to be ok, and I couldn’t explain why, but the tapestry had revealed itself, and everything was in its right place. I just knew.
And so in the end, his name was given the Mapuche way, respecting the indigenous traditions, despite how impossibly surreal it seemed to be; and despite how abstracted the scenario of the city was from what my ancestors knew. Despite not having been raised with the old culture, our quest was fulfilled and our little one resurrected his lineage with a powerful indigenous name, and a rather Scottish surname:
Ayün Newen Walker
Bringing together two cultures from opposite ends of the earth to mean: he who walks from the strength of love. El que camina de la fuerza del amor. And without a shadow of a doubt, he inspires the strength of love in every moment, it’s who he is, and it’s where he came from.