Should I Choose a Naming Ceremony?
One question I’ve had a couple of times recently is ‘Will you get the baby christened?’
Although we were married in a church ceremony, I’m unsure how I feel about a religious ceremony for our child who hasn’t had the opportunity to make that choice. And I’m not alone in my thinking.
The number of Church of England baptisms fell from 135,000 in 2009, to 77,000 in 2019 and continues to decline.
This recent news article predicts that the 2021 Census results will show a huge decline in people identifying as having a religion at all.
But as a parent, what if you still want to choose other adults to play an important part in your child’s life? Or want to make a statement on how you want to raise your child and your values?
Helen Jefferies is a humanist celebrant in Hampshire and she’s here to explain the alternatives to a religious ceremony, and how you can make it a really personal and fun experience.
Why choose a naming ceremony?
Becoming a parent – however that happens – brings a lot of new emotions.
Gratitude for the people who helped you get here: your parents, family and friends. Anticipation to see who this new person will become. And perhaps a little nervousness: how can you possibly live up to the job of teaching someone how to be a good person?
If you’re religious, a Christening or similar ceremony is a useful point to focus all these feelings. But what if you don’t feel at home in any faith tradition, or don’t believe in a higher power? Shouldn’t it still be possible to commit to being the best parent you can in this life?
“We’re not religious, but…”
Naming ceremonies are becoming increasingly popular: to welcome new babies, celebrate the blending of two families, commemorate an adoption, or allow someone to introduce themselves with a new name or gender identity.
So what does it involve?
The cop-out answer is: it’s up to you. Unlike religious ceremonies, there’s no set structure, no list of readings to choose from, and no rules about where or when you can hold it.
But if that blank slate is a bit daunting, working with a celebrant can really help. They can help you find poems, songs or readings that sum up the hopes you have for a child’s future, and the advice you want to pass on.
Maybe it’s Baz Luhrmann’s “Sunscreen” (“Remember the compliments you receive, forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how”)
Winnie the Pooh (“You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you imagine”)
Or something from Shel Silverstein (“Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”)
Putting your team together
Perhaps there are other people in your life who can teach your child things you can’t, or who have qualities you admire.
This is your chance to butter them up by telling them what a great influence they are, and ask them to be godparents (or, if you prefer, guide parents, mentors or parents – take your pick!).
For me, one obvious choice was my friend Sarah. Not only can she turn her hand to any craft from screen printing to songwriting: she’s the most patient person I know. And since I come from a long line of people who are either immediately good at something, or quit immediately, she has plenty to teach my son (and perhaps me too).
Think of guide parents like a team of superheroes in a movie: each one has a special talent, whether that’s a mathematical brain, skill at baking or devotion to a particular football team – and put together they’re pretty unbeatable.
Moments to remember
Once you’ve gathered everyone together, you can make the moment even more special. And again, the options are limitless. For starters, you might choose to:
Ask everyone present to add a fingerprint to a family tree canvas
Collect wishes or promises from all your guests
Use ribbons to bind the whole family’s hands together in a handfasting
Or plant a tree.
Whatever the symbolic act, it should be meaningful to you and your family.
Every part of a naming ceremony is tailored to the family involved – so nothing’s there just because “we always do it that way”. One family ended their son’s ceremony by dipping his toes in a vase of water – the same vase that his great-great-grandfather had used to baptise babies during World War II.
Your choice of music is another way you can really make a naming your own – perhaps your child’s name is inspired by a famous musician, or there’s a certain song that always makes them smile. Or what about the song that was playing on the radio when you found out your family was about to grow, or as your child was born?
Anything you like is fair game, from “The Circle of Life” to the Rocky theme.
Any excuse for a party
Moments out of the ordinary are part of what makes us human: taking time to look around, take stock of how far we’ve come, and gather our thoughts and friends for the journey ahead.
Life with a small child can feel a bit like a hamster wheel – just putting one foot in front of the other, getting to the end of the day and then doing it all again.
And you don’t need me to tell you that the last year has been largely empty of celebrations, gatherings and milestones to look forward to.
If you’ve had a new arrival in the last few months, I hope you’ll take some time to reflect on your achievement, and thank the loved ones who supported you, both hands-on and through their influence.
To find a celebrant near you who can help turn your ideas into reality, see humanism.org.uk/ceremonies/find-a-celebrant/namings/ or https://www.thecelebrantdirectory.com
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