April 06, 2017

How Nivi Got Her Names

Written by Laura Deal
Illustrated by Charlene Chua
Inhabit Media
978-1-77227-137-9
32 pp.
Ages 5-7
April 2017

Naming children after their parents or grandparents in not unusual but the Inuit show great depth of respect and appreciation for their ancestry in the naming of their children, particularly those involved in the Inuit custom adoption, a profoundly generous sharing of children with those who do not have their own.

Adorable Nivi whose full name is Niviaq Kauki Baabi Irmela Jamesie is playing with her toys when she realizes that they each only have one name whereas she has lots.  How Nivi Got Her Names is the story of Mom explaining to her daughter, who came to them through the Inuit custom adoption, the origins of all her names.
From How Nivi Got Her Names 
by Laura Deal 
illus. by Charlene Chua
Niviaq means “little girl” and is the name her adopted parents gave her. Kauki was the grandmother of Nivi’s birth mother, and giving her that name allowed them to honour her and connect Nivi to her biological family.  Baabi was a special family friend who appeared in a dream and naming Nivi after him allowed his spirit and character to live on through her, as well as connecting the child to his family.  Mom explains that Nivi is named Irmela after her own grandmother Irma who was strong, resourceful and creative. Finally, the name Jamesie was to honour Nivi’s mother’s grandfather, a man with a generous heart and a loving spirit.

I wept with emotion for the words Nivi’s mother tells the child:
"We all love you, dear Nivi, for all that you are.  For the names that you have, for the character and traits we see in you, and the people we are reminded of when we are with you.” (pg. 22) 
From How Nivi Got Her Names 
by Laura Deal 
illus. by Charlene Chua
How Nivi Got Her Names may appear on the surface to be a parent explaining something to a child but it is more about providing context for the bonds and connections with those who are living and those who have passed. Giving a child a name for registration and for ease of communication is the norm but the Inuit tradition of naming is a means of “welcoming back a family member, a loved one, or a respected community member” (pg. 29)  and provide community for a child.  Nivi is Laura Deal’s own daughter, adopted through Inuit custom adoption and, though the author provides a glossary and extensive notes on Inuit kinship and naming customs, as well as bios on the individuals honoured in Nivi’s names, the gratitude and love with which the author infuses her story is very personal.  Even Charlene Chua’s art which is cheerful and playful, like Nivi and her daily routines, still pays respect to the practices described within, undoubtedly illustrating the individuals honoured in Nivi’s names with accuracy and dignity.

How Nivi Got Her Names may be an informative picture book about the Inuit tradition of naming and custom adoption but it is an intimate depiction of an admirable practice, one that provides an inheritance more valuable than anything normally pursued in western worlds.  How fortunate for young Niviaq Kauki Baabi Irmela Jamesie.
From How Nivi Got Her Names 
by Laura Deal 
illus. by Charlene Chua

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