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A Global History of Child Death

Mortality, Burial, and Parental Attitudes

Amy J. Catalano

Drawing from primary research studies in archaeology, historical analysis, literature, and art this interdisciplinary look at the history of child funerary practices and other vehicles of parental mourning is the only book of its kind. The purpose of this work is to investigate the ways in which funerary behaviors and grieving differ between cultures and across time; from prehistory to modern history. Philippe Aries, the French childhood historian, argued that children were rarely mourned upon their deaths as child death was a frequent and expected event, especially in the Middle Ages. This book draws upon archaeological reports, secondary data analysis, and analysis of literature, photography and artwork to refute, and in some cases support, Aries’s claim. Organized in two parts, Part One begins with a chapter on the causes of childhood mortality and the steps taken to prevent it, followed by chapters on prehistory, ancient civilizations, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and the early modern and late modern eras. The chapters in Part Two discuss indicators of parental concern at a child’s death: naming practices, replacement strategy, baptism, consolation literature, and artwork. Students who focus on the psychological aspects of death, funeral practices, and childhood histories will find this book a useful and comprehensive tool for examining how children have been mourned since prehistory.
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8 Indicators of Parental Concern: Naming and Replacement

Naming in Different Cultures and Time Periods



Indicators of Parental Concern

Naming and Replacement

In October 2011, 220 Indian girls chose new names after shedding given names that meant “unwanted” in Hindi. Names like “Nakusa” blight the self-worth of many young girls in India named by parents or grandparents disappointed by the birth of a daughter. Names, so integral to one’s identity, is a confirmation of one’s existence as well as an indicator of parents’ expectations. The value Indian parents place on girls is not only reflected in the names given to their daughters, but in the gender ratio; there are 914 girls for every 1,000 boys. This disparity is due to selective infanticide and abandonment.1

Naming practices differ among various cultures and across time periods. At times, naming may reflect the state of childhood survival in a region. In the case of Indian girls, the naming of infants and children might reflect the values of the culture with respect to the importance of gender or lineage (e.g., the denial of a family name to a child born outside the bounds of marriage). Use of biblical names, or adaptations of male names for females (e.g., changing Samuel to Samantha), and names used to reflect expectations of positive personal attributes such as courage ← 105 | 106 → or intelligence are also indicators of cultural ideals. In some societies children are named after grandparents because it is believed that associating a name with a soul facilitates the reincarnation of...

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