The American scholar Dr. Sylvanus G. Morley, who was an eminent Maya archaeologist, concluded that the ancient Maya had three and sometimes four different names: first: the “paal kaba” or given name; second: the surname of the father; third: the “naal kaba”, i.e. the combined surnames of the father and mother; and fourth: the “coco kaba” or nickname.
Scholars of Maya traditions relate that, at birth, the child was brought before a priest, who did the child’s horoscope and gave him or her the name to be used during childhood.
For boys, the “paal kaba” began with the prefix H; and X was used for girls. To these prefixes they added names of mammals, reptiles and birds. Thus were formed the names, such as: J Balam (jaguar) and X Cuat (serpent). The researchers go on to explain that after puberty, boys and girls bore the surname of their father. Therefore, if the progenitor of the characters we’re using as an example was named Chel, they changed their names to Ah Balam Chel and Ix Cuat Chel, respectively. The surname was acquired through a ceremony called baptism, in which a priest sprinkled rainwater on a group of boys and girls, and then invited them to burn incense and ground corn in a brazier.
The ritual completed, the brazier was moved away from the town, banishing forever the evil spirits. From then on, young people were considered fit for marriage. The Yucatan Peninsula Maya married very young, sometimes as young as twelve or thirteen. Upon marriage, both men and women changed their names a second time, giving way to “naal kaba.”
The “naal kaba ” replaced the previous name and consisted of the prefix “Na” plus the name of the mother, which was followed by the name of the father. Thus, if the mother of Ah Balam Chel o Ix Cuat Chel had the surname Chan, the new names would be Na Balam Chan Chel and Na Cuat Chan Chel, respectively.
With Maya it is confirmed that, in the origin of all civilizations, we find the belief that giving a name gives power to the recipient, determining their destiny and possibilities; so, even if we have difficulty accepting it, our names shape our personalities throughout life.
By: Yurina Fernández Noa
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