How the Norse named their Children, the Rite of Ausa Vatni and Nafnfesti

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When a child was born, there was a great deal of ceremony conducted by the Norse in claiming and naming their children.

Prior to the Christianization of the Norse, the traditional religion of the Norse people was firmly in place. The Norse religion wasn’t just a form of worship, it was a part of their culture and way of life. A belief system that was so deeply rooted that it made the concept of the original sin and other Christian beliefs just too hard for the Norse people to understand or believe.

In fact, Pre-Christian Scandinavians had no word for religion in a modern sense. The closest counterpart is the word sidr, meaning custom. This meant that Christianity, during the conversion period, was referred to as nýr sidr (the new custom) while paganism was called forn sidr (ancient custom).

Because of hard core Norse beliefs, converting the Norse was a task that took Christendom a relatively long time to achieve. As far as the Norse were concerned, their gods had brought them nothing but success in battle and they had absolutely no reason to embrace the Christian god.

christening

This led to the Christians to seek Norse conversion by any and all means possible, including converting existing Norse beliefs, practices, and cultural beliefs into Christian ideology. This was often practiced in order to introduce Christian beliefs in a way that the Norse could relate to in comparison to the gods they already knew well.

So to help convert the Norse to Christian ways, many pre-existing Norse practices and customs were converted into Christian practices, such as the Christening of a child for example. The missionaries adopted the name-fastening ceremony practiced by the Norse pagans and adopted it into their own religious ceremony know today as a christening ceremony.

When a child was born, there was a great deal of ceremony conducted by the Norse.

For example, a newly born infant would be placed on the ground and then remained there until he or she was picked up by their father (or next of kin in his absence) and placed in the folds of his cloak. This act of picking up the infant by the father ceremoniously acknowledged the legitimacy and acceptance by the father as being his offspring.

The father then examined the infant for any abnormalities and judged whether or not the child had a future. This process decided the fate of the child as to whether it was to live or be left exposed to the wilderness to die. A custom commonly known to be practiced by the Greek Spartans.

If the child was free of defects and deemed to live, a sacred religious rite called the Ausa Vatni was performed. This ceremony was conducted by either sprinkling or pouring water over the child and then naming the child.

Norse Child Naming

This ceremony was an ancient sacred rite of the Old Norse religion that predates Christian baptism. To expose a child after this ceremony was performed was considered murder. The rite of Ausa Vatni was also practiced by some of the Northern Frankish tribes. Some forms of Christian baptism are based on this rite and only changed it in name by early Christian missionaries whom made it a part of Christian practice.

There is also record of the sacred rite being practiced in the Norse Sagas. One example is the birth of Sigurd, whom was the son of Ragnar Lothbrok. Ragnar’s wife, Kráka (also known as Aslaug) bore Ragnar a son and they carried the child to Ragnar to see him. Ragnar took the boy and placed him in his cloak and gave him the name Sigurd. In addition, it was customary to give a gift to the child during the naming ceremony. In the Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok, it is said he took a gold ring and gave it to his son as a “name-fastening (Old Norse ‘nafnfesti‘).”

The gift given to a child during the nafnfesti (name-fastening) rite varied from either rings, weapons, and other tokens, to even such things as entitlement to farms, or lands.

In addition to the Ausa Vatni rite and Nafnfesti ceremony of giving a gift while naming the child, it was also customary practice to give a child a gift when they cut their first tooth. This practice later evolved into modern day’s practice of the “tooth fairy.”

Article is an except from the book: 

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written by Njord Kane © 2016 Spangenhelm Publishing


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Njord Kane is an infantry and cavalry veteran who also served in law enforcement just prior to entering into the world of academia where he pursued the disciplines of military science, social psychology, and anthropology. Having left his profession, he now takes care of his adult autistic sons at home while passionately writing about early Norse and Mesoamerican culture and history at spangenhelm.com and readicon.com. Kane is also the author of numerous books including, The Vikings, The Maya, and The Viking Hero Series.

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