As part of my series on 'A celebrant across the life cycle', I wanted to think about naming ceremonies, about saying hello, sharing all of your hopes and dreams for your new addition, and celebrating this exciting new chapter in your lives. Becoming a parent, however this may have happened for you, may be one of the singularly most significant changes in your life. It is a rite of passage, a responsibility, a rewarding pleasure. No pressure then….
A new family member. How exciting. You want to share this precious moment of your journey into parenthood with those who have a special place in your lives. There is nothing like having a baby to make to you re-evaluate your values and beliefs, to consider your heritage, the parts that you still hold dear, and how you want to to bring them into your childs life. Life changes beyond recognition. It makes us reflect on the past and think forward to the future with excitement and hope, and a little bit of trepidation depending how much sleep you have, or haven’t, had!
Does my celebration have to be religious?
In western culture, Christenings are the most recognised form of celebrating the birth of a baby. If your religion is important to you, then a formal Christening may well feel like the most complete option for you. It will bring you comfort and welcome your child to your chosen faith.
There are some rather marvelous cultural variations on naming ceremonies. In Egypyt for example, a naming ceremony is known as Sebooh. This is deeply rooted in spiritual beiefs and traditionaly includes the mother placing the baby –clothed in a white robe–in a large sieve and gently shaking it. Now we all know that shaking a baby is dangerous, so this is a gentle shake and is believed to accustom the newborn to the unpredictable ebbs and flows of life. Following this there is an inclusive ritual, where the infant is laid on a blanket on the floor with a knife placed along his chest to ward off evil spirits, while the guests, often family, scatter grains, gold, and gifts around him. In Egyptian culture this symbolises the hope for health and prosperity in all areas of the childs life. To complete the naming ceremony ritual, the mother side-steps seven times over the baby's body, again to ward off evil spirits, while incantations are chanted by the attendants, often the infants grandparents, for the child to listen to what his mother says and always obey her. Salt may be scattered on the mother and around the family home to ward off the evil eye and a procession with candles follows. Fascinating.
But what if you do not identify with a formal religion?
Well, a naming ceremony is the perfect way to formally welcome your new addition and introduce them to friends and family. You have the freedom to create a ceremony that is all about your personal hopes and aspirations for your child. You get to tell your story, in the style you want to tell it. You are also free of any constraint regarding venue and who you choose to have as guide parents or role models should you decide to have them. This is often a challenge if those important people to you and your child’s future are not religious and would find it hard to make solemn promises to raise a child in line with a prescribed religion. It may be that you do want some religious content in your child’s ceremony. As a fully independent celebrant, I am more than happy to include prayers and religious readings. This is a popular request where parents share different religions or faiths or just where parents would like to acknowledge their own religious heritage, even if they no longer actively practice.
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Guide parents or role models – do we have to have them?
Nope. This is your day entirely. There is no requirement to have guide parents and agreeing to be a guide parent or role model confers no legal responsibility. So why have them then? Well, many people have very close friends and family. People they respect, admire, share values and beliefs with. You may wish to honour them and the influence that you hope they will have on your child’s life. This is a wonderful way in which to do so. I have had some very meaningful promises from guide parents and some very funny ones. My personal favourite “I promise to stand side by side with your parents unless they are being unreasonable. In such circumstances, it is my promise to you that we will stand firm together and wear them down” – and having met her, I know that this would be the case!
Just for babies, right?
Again, no. A naming ceremony can be done at any age. Perhaps you are adopting a child and want to formally welcome your new addition. Maybe you are two families joining together and wish to celebrate the taking of a new, shared family name. Maybe you have transitioned and want to formally celebrate your new name and identity. The beauty of a celebrant led naming ceremony, is the flexibility and the dedication to creating a ceremony with you, for you.
This is a celebration. It is not second best.
Send formal invitations and be clear with invitees that this is an important day for you and your baby.
Set a very clear start and finish time for the formal aspect of the ceremony. I would recommend having it right at the start of your gathering so that guests know when they are free to have a few more drinks to wet the babies head and party with you later in the day.
Visit a few venues. Are they child friendly? Naming ceremonies can be loud, fun and vibrant. You don’t want to be constrained.
Consider a ‘wishes’ book or similar so that guests can leave messages of hope for your new baby. They make wonderful, emotional reading for you and your child in years to come.
Make your celebrant work! This is what we do and what we love. Your celebrant can help you think about and guide you through all aspects of the ceremony. Don’t be shy.