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In "Game of Thrones Season 1, Episode 4", Samwell Tarly explains to Jon Snow why he ended up taking the black (joining Nightwatch) as follows:

On the morning of my 18th Nameday, my father came to me. "You're almost a man now," he said. "But you're not worthy of my land and title. Tomorrow, you are going to take the black, forsake all claim to your inheritance and start North. If you do not," he said...

According to this Wikipedia article on 'nameday', it is

a tradition in some countries in Europe and Hispanic America that consists of celebrating a day of the year that is associated with one's given name. The celebration is similar to a birthday.

According to the same article, the list of countries where it is celebrated doesn't include any countries whose official language is English.

What is etymology of "nameday"? Is "nameday" synonymous with "birthday" in English? If not, what does it mean in contemporary English?

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    I thought it was the day of the Saint whom you're named after. Jul 6, 2016 at 18:39
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    My guess is that nameday doesn't really have an "etymology" outside of the fact that George RR Martin thought it sounded exotic/archaic, and thus suitable for his fantasy world. It doesn't reflect anything common in Anglophone cultures, past or present. Jul 6, 2016 at 18:44
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    Name-days are very popular in Italy, and in other catholic Southern European countries. It has nothing to do with birthday but they may coincide
    – user66974
    Jul 6, 2016 at 19:09
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    I see, but that is probably more a cultural/traditional issue rather than a language one : reddit.com/r/todayilearned/comments/3as03y/…
    – user66974
    Jul 6, 2016 at 21:00
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    @Rathony the original "English speaking country" (I.e. England!) formally separated itself from Catholicism when king Henry VIII was excommunicated by the Pope in 1538. Henry appointed himself the head of the Church of England, and all the assets of the Catholic church were either destroyed or confiscated by the king. The reigning monarch has held that position as the head of the country's "official" religion ever since.
    – alephzero
    Jul 7, 2016 at 2:06

2 Answers 2

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From Catija's answer, you can see that the word is used in a specific way in the Game of Thrones universe, where it effectively means the same as the birthday (since the babies are named on the day they are born).

Outside Game of Thrones, it has a clearly different meaning and is spelled as two words. In this form you will find it in the dictionary. For instance, Cambridge defines it as "a day that is celebrated by some Christians with the same name as a saint who is also celebrated on that day".

I'll use myself as an example. My name is Francis and the day of St Francis is 4 October, so my name day is 4 October even though my birthday is 15 January.

Name days are mainly celebrated in Catholic countries, which is why you found that most of them are not English-speaking.

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According to the Game of Thrones Wiki, "Nameday" is synonymous with "birthday".

The Nameday is a custom in the society of the Seven Kingdoms. It is an annual celebration commemorating the naming of a person and serves to calculate his or her age. Babies are named the same day they are born. People receive presents from friends and family on their nameday.

Some cultures also have "naming days" that are on different days than the birthday of the child. Such an example is in Jewish communities:

Jewish babies are given Hebrew names shortly after they are born. A brief ceremony is performed, which often includes friends and family members of the new baby.

So, if this day were to be celebrated annually (which it is not), it would be very close to the child's birth day, generally within a few days.

Similarly, one could consider a Christening to be a type of naming day and, with the increasing secularization, there's a matching increase in non-religious or less religious substitutes, which have come to be referred to as "naming ceremonies".

A naming day is an informal occasion, gathering friends and family together to celebrate the birth and naming of your child.

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    In Jewish tradition, a baby naming is not celebrated annually, just the day it actually takes place. A baby naming event is usually held for a newborn girl. A newborn boy has a circumcision, or bris, which takes place on the eighth day of the boy's life, and includes the giving of the Hebrew name. Therefore, there is no "18th Nameday" type of celebration. Jul 6, 2016 at 20:08
  • I can make that more clear in my answer but I wasn't implying that was the case.
    – Catija
    Jul 6, 2016 at 20:12

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