Vol. 67 No. 2 (2019)

Re-using the names of newborns: symbolic reincarnation in an age of infant mortality

Published 2019-04-03


The naming of a newborn for a deceased relative is a means by which a meaningful connection can be maintained with the dead. This study analyses the birth, marriage and death records of England and Wales to highlight a historic naming custom–that should a child die shortly after birth, their name could often be re-used for a later sibling.

This re-use of names in response to child bereavement is considered in the context of historic and cross-cultural naming customs offering pragmatic responses to infant mortality, such as apotropaic (protective) naming, and within the theoretical framework of ‘continuing bonds’, whereby namesakes can facilitate a post-mortem social life for the deceased. By considering the intricate relationship between one’s name and one’s personhood, the re-use of a name in full, shortly after death, could be interpreted as the symbolic reincarnation of an individual, rather than simply as a commemorative act.


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