"What exactly is a naming ceremony?" This is a question I am frequently asked when I speak to people about my celebrant work. For many people, a naming ceremony is something they have vaguely heard of but are unsure what is involved, and have never attended one. Some hold the misconception that they are connected with the legal process of registering a child's birth, and some believe them to be spiritual or ritualistic events. In this blog I hope to dispel the myths and provide the 'what, where, when, why and how' of naming ceremonies!
What..? To put it simply, a naming ceremony is an opportunity for parents to welcome their child into the family and wider community, and to make promises to them in the presence of their family and friends.
In the past a religious ceremony such as a christening was the norm as a way of celebrating the birth of a child, but for many parents nowadays that doesn't fit with their values and they want a ceremony based on their own relationship with their child, rather than the child's relationship with the church. Of course there is always the option for parents to hold both a christening and a naming ceremony - after all, they are about very different things.
As with all ceremonies led by a celebrant, a naming ceremony will be completely tailored to each individual family, focusing on their unique wishes, values and tastes. They can incorporate pretty much anything the family likes, but as a guide, the following makes up the core of any naming ceremony:
Parents stating the child's full name, and if they like giving their reasons for choosing that name.
Parents making promises to the child about how they intend to nurture and support them as they grow up.
Other adults chosen by the parents making promises to the child (parents may wish to call them supporting adults, godparents, guideparents, or whatever they choose).
Grandparents or other key members of the family making promises to the child.
Readings relating to childhood and parenting. These can be secular or religious; serious or lighthearted. Often two readings are included, perhaps starting with a poem that is more serious in tone (e.g. about the responsibility of parenting) and finishing with a humorous one, or even a tearjerker.
Music that has a special meaning for the parents. This is not always included, but certainly can be if the parents choose. Perhaps a friend or family member would like to sing a song or play a piece on the piano, for example.
Presenting the child with a gift as a keepsake of the day.
Parents and supporting adults signing a certificate as a lasting reminder of the promises they made to the child.
Where..? This is an easy one... anywhere! Providing you have the owner's permission of course, a naming ceremony can really be held anywhere you choose. You could opt for a hired function room in a hotel, golf club or pub; you could put up a marquee in a field; or you may choose to host the ceremony in your own home/garden, or the home/garden of a family member. Remember to think about options for afterwards as well - most people like to have a reception after the ceremony, providing drinks and food for their guests and perhaps serving a celebration cake for the occasion.
When..? Although naming ceremonies are commonly held for babies, this does not have to be the case. You may have never got around to organising something for your child when they were younger, or perhaps you've had a second or third baby and want to hold one ceremony for all your children - this is a lovely thing to do, and there are lots of ways for older children to get involved and feel a real part of the occasion.
Popular ages for baby naming ceremonies are between 3 months and 1 year - once the chaos of having a newborn has (hopefully!) calmed down. It is also very popular to combine the ceremony with the child's first birthday and make it a double celebration.
A naming ceremony is also a lovely way of welcoming an adopted child into their new family unit and, given that children can be adopted at any age, there is no age limit here. For older children, ensure that they are happy with the idea and try to involve them in the planning and the ceremony itself to make it truly personal to them. Why..? Ok, so if the above hasn't yet convinced you that naming ceremonies are a fabulous idea, here's my two pennies' worth:
That moment when you look into your child's eyes and speak aloud the promises that you have personally chosen to make to them, is special and moving beyond comparison. And hearing others make promises to your little one reminds you that you are not in this alone - you have a network of support and love around you no matter what life brings.
While most people are delighted to be invited to a naming ceremony and arrive in good spirits, I have also seen some people turn up feeling sceptical about the occasion (perhaps even disapproving of the parents' choice to not hold a christening), but leaving the ceremony with tears in their eyes, totally converted and thrilled to have been a part of it.
Here are two of my favourite naming ceremony poems that really set the tone and represent what the day is all about:
When You Thought I Wasn't Looking When you thought I wasn't looking, I saw you hang my first painting on the refrigerator, and I immediately wanted to paint another one. When you thought I wasn't looking, I saw you feed a stray, and I learned that it was good to be kind to animals. When you thought I wasn't looking, I saw you make my favourite cake for me and I learned that the little things can be the special things in life. When you thought I wasn't looking, I saw you make a meal and take it to a friend who was sick, and I learned that we all have to take care of each other. When you thought I wasn't looking, I saw you give of your time and money to help people who had nothing and I learned that those who have something should give to those who don't. When you thought I wasn't looking, I saw you take care of our house and everyone in it, and I learned that we have to take care of what we are given. When you thought I wasn't looking, I saw how you handled your responsibilities, even when you didn't feel good, and I learned that I would have to be responsible when I grow up. When you thought I wasn't looking, I saw tears come from your eyes, and I learned that sometimes things hurt, but it's all right to cry. When you thought I wasn't looking, I saw that you cared and I wanted to be everything that I could be. When you thought I wasn't looking, I learned most of life's lessons that I need to know to be a good and productive person when I grow up. When you thought I wasn't looking, I looked at you and wanted to say "Thanks for all the things I saw when you thought I wasn’t looking."
I Want You to be Happy I want you to be happy. I want you to fill your heart with feelings of wonder and be full of courage and hope. I want you to have the type of friendship that is a treasure – and the kind of love that is beautiful forever. I wish you contentment: the sweet, quiet, inner kind that comes around and never goes away. I want you to have hopes and have them all come true. I want you to make the most of this moment in time. I want you to have a real understanding of how unique and rare you truly are. I want to remind you that the sun may disappear for a while, but it never forgets to shine. I want you to have faith. May you have feelings that are shared from heart to heart, simple pleasures amidst this complex world, and wonderful goals that are within your grasp. May the words you listen to say the things you need to hear. And may a cheerful face lovingly look back at you when you happen to glance in the mirror. I wish you the insight to see your inner and outer beauty. I wish you sweet dreams. I want you to have times when you feel like singing and dancing and laughing out loud. I want you to be able to make your good times better and your hard times easier to handle. I want you to have millions of moments when you find satisfaction in the things you do so wonderfully. And I wish I could find a way to tell you – in untold ways – how important you are to me. Of all the things I'll be wishing for, wherever you are and whatever I may do, there will never be a day in my life when I wont be wishing for the best… for you.
How..? So finally, if a naming ceremony feels right for you, have a think about where and when you might hold it, and contact a celebrant to talk through your ideas and ask any questions you may have.
If you are reading this out of curiosity as to what it's all about, I hope I have provided the answers, and I hope that you have the chance to attend one of these magical occasions at some point in the future.
Sophie Easton is a qualified, independent celebrant specialising in conducting bespoke weddings, vow renewals and naming ceremonies. She works mostly in London and Surrey, but is able to travel further afield if required.
She feels passionately that your ceremony should reflect your needs and personalities. Her role is to listen intently to your wishes, guide you and inspire you with ideas, and work closely with you at every stage to devise and deliver your perfect ceremony.
Sophie would be delighted to hear from you to discuss your big day plans and to answer any questions you may have:
Photographs used are copyright to Sophie Easton and Ida Hollis Photography.