An Egg and A Name
One would normally agree that eggs and naming babies have
nothing to do with each other. In China, however, there is a very significant
reason for relating these two things with each other. This is the
baby naming ceremony, also called a Red Egg and Ginger party. In
traditional China, a baby was not named until it was a month old, and at
this time a party was thrown in honor of the child, so that friends and
family could come and celebrate. this first month party is considered
to, "...mark the first month of life and underscore the uncertainty surrounding
the child's early existence." ( Smith, Richard - China's Cultural Heritage)
The baby naming ceremony has been
an important part of the Chinese culture throughout it's history.
It is not as widely celebrated now as it was in traditional times, and
it has come to mean different things, but it is still a practiced tradition.
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The Baby Naming Ceremony
As with many cultures, it is important to every family to have a male
child carry on the family name. Girls were considered an unnecessary
investment because the majority of them would eventually get married and
leave the family. Although some families left the unfortunate female
babies to die, especially right after the one child policy was enacted,
when each couple hoped for a son, many of the female infants were sold
into prostitution or, if they were lucky, put up for adoption. (To
learn more about the role of females in China you should visit Lessons
for a Woman) In the past, only the male child was given an elaborate
naming ceremony, while the daughters were given a small dinner party with
the family. Today, having a female child is not considered as bad as it
once was, but most families still hope for a male child.
In order to understand the ceremony it is necessary
to explain the importance of a male child, or any child at all. there
was a high infant mortality rate in china, especially before the 1900's.
This is why the ceremony is not given until the baby is a month old.
After this time the family is reassured that the child will live.
Most of the deliveries are now taking place in clinics or hospitals, which
attributes to the growing rate of healthy infants, but even so, there are
still villages in which only an experienced old woman is there to help.
The other and child often are forbidden to go outside, sometimes until
the full month after birth has passed. This varies depending on the
family. After the ceremony, thirty to forty days, the regular tasks
of the mother are restored and everything returns to normal.
Picking the Name
Now that some of the stipulations of this custom have been explained,
the traditions of the actual ceremony can be described. The first
thing a family must do is to pick a name for the baby. This can be
done in a variety of ways. It is up to the family to decide if the
given name at the party will be the child's formal name or a "milk name."
the milk name is a nickname used until the child starts school, or even
up until marriage. If given a milk name, often a girls' name will
be chosen for a boy, because it is thought that a male child was the "
special prey of evil spirits" and that these spirits will be tricked if
the boy has a girl's name. A female, and sometimes a male child,
is given an animal name or called some sort of derogatory name in a joking
sort of way.
A child's formal name is usually picked by it's
grandparents. Sometimes the name is picked simply for it's sound or meaning.
In most places siblings share a common character in their names and in
some villages this sharing goes further than the immediate family, and
a common character is added to all the males of a specific lineage.
In a few places, though, the grandparents do not pick the name, but a fortune
teller does. He selects one that makes up for any deficiencies the
child might have in it's spiritual make-up, including, water, fire, earth,
wood, and metal. These were considered necessary for the survival
of the child, but the superstitions surrounding the choice of a baby's
name are not as strong as they used to be and many parents now name their
For more information about Chinese names you can visit NAMES,
where you will also find links to finding your own name in Chinese.
The Actual Celebration
After the name is chosen, invitations are sent out to those who honored
the baby's birth. They sued to send a hard- boiled egg, dyed red,
to let friends and family know of the up coming festivities. In present
day celebrations in the bigger cities, brightly colored eggs are placed
on the table and guests may take one home for good luck. the guests at
these celebration often get an egg and some ginger to take home with them,
too. This red egg tradition started long ago when it was customary for
the maternal grandmother to visit and bring gifts. She almost always
brought clothing and eggs for the baby. Eggs were considered a delicacy
in China, and that was how one knew someone special had come to visit.
The grandmother also brought sweet cakes. Often these cakes had pictures
on the showing various good luck symbols, especially the apricot flower.
However, they are not supposed to use white because that is the color of
mourning and sorrow. the eggs, usually duck eggs, were stamped with
pictures of children, and flowers. Now there are no special rules
for grandmothers to follow, as this was before 1941, when everything started
After World War II the customs of China started
changing because the different government and how they felt about these
customs were changing. Most officials felt that the traditions of
the CHinese were too elaborate and a waste of money. The wedding
traditions changed a lot, and so did some of the funeral proceedings.
However, since the baby ceremony was not as big to begin with, most of
the traditions remained the same.
It used to be that the baby's head was shaved during
the feast. The girls' head was shaved before the image of "Mother",
the Goddess of Children, and the boy's head was shaved before the ancestral
table. The symbolism of this practice is not entirely known, but
it is speculated that this is the removing of the birth hair, to mark the
point of the child's independent existence. traditionally, a big
banquet is thrown, with thirty to forty people in attendance. The
guests often bring gifts of clothing, or "lucky money" envelopes, which
are called Li-shihs. The baby is is taken around the room to be introduced
and admired. After that, the guests eat and visit with each other.
Instead of sending thank you cards to the guests
for their gifts, the baby's parents send presents to them. This gift
usually consists of small round biscuits with pork in them, a little like
char-sui baus, or pork buns. Although the meaning behind these used
to be more pronounced they are still considered an adequate thank you,
even though the families do not usually send the 50 to 100 they might have
sent in the past.
As you can see, this ceremony is very important
because the Chinese believe that one's name can influence everything that
happens in life. How this ritual is celebrated depends more on each
specific family than on traditional rules. There are many other traditions
surrounding the baby's birth, up through adulthood, but the naming ritual
takes precedence over them all.
Heinz, Carolyn Brown
1999 Asian Cultural Traditions. Illinois:
Waveland Press, Inc.
Parish, William L.
1978 Village and Family in Contemporary China.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
1945 A Daughter of Han. United States: Yale
Smith, richard J.
1994 China's Cultural Heritage- The Qing dynasty
1644-1912. Colorado: Westview Press, Inc.