Sir James George Frazer > The Golden Bough > Page 248
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Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941).  The Golden Bough.  1922.

Page 248
 
child. Thus we are informed that “the Gippsland blacks objected strongly to let any one outside the tribe know their names, lest their enemies, learning them, should make them vehicles of incantation, and so charm their lives away. As children were not thought to have enemies, they used to speak of a man as ‘the father, uncle, or cousin of So-and-so,’ naming a child; but on all occasions abstained from mentioning the name of a grown-up person.” The Alfoors of Poso in Celebes will not pronounce their own names. Among them, accordingly, if you wish to ascertain a person’s name, you ought not to ask the man himself, but should enquire of others. But if this is impossible, for example, when there is no one else near, you should ask him his child’s name, and then address him as the “Father of So-and-so.” Nay, these Alfoors are shy of uttering the names even of children; so when a boy or girl has a nephew or niece, he or she is addressed as “Uncle of So-and-so,” or “Aunt of So-and-so.” In pure Malay society, we are told, a man is never asked his name, and the custom of naming parents after their children is adopted only as a means of avoiding the use of the parents’ own names. The writer who makes this statement adds in confirmation of it that childless persons are named after their younger brothers. Among the Land Dyaks children as they grow up are called, according to their sex, the father or mother of a child of their father’s or mother’s younger brother or sister, that is, they are called the father or mother of what we should call their first cousin. The Caffres used to think it discourteous to call a bride by her own name, so they would call her “the Mother of So-and-so,” even when she was only betrothed, far less a wife and a mother. Among the Kukis and Zemis or Kacha Nagas of Assam parents drop their names after the birth of a child and are named Father and Mother of So-and-so. Childless couples go by the name of “the childless father,” “the childless mother,” “the father of no child,” “the mother of no child.” The widespread custom of naming a father after his child has sometimes been supposed to spring from a desire on the father’s part to assert his paternity, apparently as a means of obtaining those rights over his children which had previously, under a system of mother-kin, been possessed by the mother. But this explanation does not account for the parallel custom of naming the mother after her child, which seems commonly to co-exist with the practice of naming the father after the child. Still less, if possible, does it apply to the customs of calling childless couples the father and mother of children which do not exist, of naming people after their younger brothers, and of designating children as the uncles and aunts of So-and-so, or as the fathers and mothers of their first cousins. But all these practices are explained in a simple and natural way if we suppose that they originate in a reluctance to utter the real names of persons addressed or directly referred to. That reluctance is probably based partly on a fear of attracting the notice of evil spirits, partly on a dread of revealing the name to sorcerers, who would thereby obtain a handle for injuring the owner of the name.

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