Hmong Traditions – Childbirth & Naming


Hmong Traditions - Childbirth & Naming
Hmong Traditions – Childbirth & Naming

Traditionally in a Hmong home, the Hmong women do not tell people that they are pregnant during their first (1st) trimester. It is believed that during the first (1st) trimester that is when the soul enters the body. They would usually say something when they start to show, usually around 4-6 months long. Also, the Hmong women would normally work up until the day of delivery. They would deliver their babies while in standing or squatting position to ease the delivery of the newborn. Usually the husband and midwife are the only ones allowed to be present for the birth. Part of the newborn placenta or “black jacket” and umbilical cord of the babies were kept and by custom be buried in a very specific location within the Hmong household and later could be used to cure illnesses. If the baby was born a male, the placenta would be buried under the or near the center post in the middle of the house. It is believed that when the male grows up, he will be responsible for the house spirits.

And if the baby was born a female, the placenta would be buried under the bed. It is custom that the Hmong women must not take part in any active physical activity for thirty (30) days after childbirth. It is also believed that they must stay warm and eat and drink only hot foods, mainly hot boiled chicken soup with special green hers and with well-cooked rice immediately after childbirth. The chicken is eaten so that she can regain her strength quickly. Also, during the first thirty (30) days after delivery, the new mother is not permitted to visit other homes and is not allowed to have a pregnant woman in her home. It is believed that the new mother is at her weakest, both physically and spiritually. Jealous spirits can jeopardize her health and the health of the baby. It is also said that bathing is not allowed but women can sponge themselves with warm water to keep clean. Most of the help to the new mother and baby comes from the mother-in-law with whom they live with.

In Western countries, where many Hmong now live, almost all births occur in hospitals and placentas are disposed of by the hospitals. Three (3) days after the child is born, the family will hold a soul calling and naming ceremony. The purpose of this ritual is to call the soul of the newborn baby to the family and to give the child a name. The given name will address the child until he/she is old enough to socialize. After that time, either the last name or given name may be used in the first position, depending on the individual’s preference. Many Hmong children in America today are given two names: one Hmong and one American. It is increasingly common for Hmong parents to name their children with two or more words, for example, KaYing Yang, KaZoua Vang, or MayKao Thao. When a Hmong man becomes a father for the first time, a name ceremony is held to give him a new honorary name to show that he has passed from one stage of life to another gaining full family responsibilities.

Depending on his wealth and on the arrangement with his in-laws, this ceremony can be held at any time after he has his first child. During this ceremony, his father-in-law will be invited to give him the honorary name. The father-in-law will usually add one name to the son-in-law’s original name. For example, if his name was Tong Lee and his honorary name was Cheu, his new name would be Cheu Tong Lee. Sometimes, the father-in-law could decide to give the son-in-law a completely new name. When a Hmong woman becomes a mother, she may be addressed as Niam (mother), adding either her first child’s name before or her husband’s name after. For example, if her child’s name is Tou, she will be referred to as Tou Niam or if her husband’s name is Tong Lee, she will be referred to as Niam Tong Lee.

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