In the Indian Village of Kongthong, Babies Are Given Songs for Names

The West Khasi Hills in Meghalaya, India.
The West Khasi Hills in Meghalaya, India. / Morten Hübbe/iStock via Getty Images

Naming newborn babies in the village of Kongthong in Meghalaya, India, takes some creativity. Within a week of giving birth, mothers compose a tune for the child that will act as their name. All songs are unique, and they make Kongthong one of the most musical places on Earth.

According to Atlas Obscura, the practice is known as jingrwai iawbei, or "song of the mother." Mothers are responsible for coming up with the wordless tune, and the process is viewed as an expression of their maternal love. The melodic names are mostly used for children—like for calling them inside or singing them a lullaby—but they don't disappear with adolescence. Even though villagers also have a traditional name that's easy to write, adults still call each other by their personal songs affectionately.

The naming tradition goes back generations. It started as a way for the men in the village to keep track of one another while hunting in the jungle. It was believed that singing someone's name instead of shouting it made it harder for spirits to follow them. The custom likely served another purpose; songs travel greater distances than spoken or shouted words, making them a practical communication tool for group hunting.

Kongthong isn't the only village in the region that observes the tradition, but it is well-known for it. Elders worry that modern technology will erode this part of the culture, but some changes have been welcome. Thanks to recent media coverage and an influx of tourists, Kongthong has become famous for the songs. The attention will hopefully preserve the practice for years to come.

To hear the musical names of Kongthong, check out the video below from the BBC.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]