In Aussie Outback, It's All in 'Skin' Name

Secondary tag tells others where you fit in a complicated kinship system
By Laurel Jorgensen,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 7, 2008 7:03 AM CDT
Aboriginals from Galiwnku Island crowd around to watch the proceedings on the Federation lawn in front of Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, in this February 2008 file photo.   (AP Photo)
camera-icon View 2 more images

(Newser) – When she moved to the central Australian outback, Penny Bergen was ready for a drastically different life, but she didn’t know it would take a new name to stake her place in a tiny Aboriginal community. Reporting for Radio Free Netherlands, the journalist writes about her experience getting a “skin name”—a community nickname that marks your spot in “a sophisticated and complex kinship system.”

All skin names have some relation to each other, and they even determine whom you can marry, Bergen writes. Bergen’s skin name, Napanangka, makes her “related” to multiple colleagues at a local radio studio. Her new “sister” (and co-worker) tells Bergen: “It still excites me to meet another Napanangka. It means I have a whole country full of unknown sisters just waiting to be met.”