I ALWAYS ASSUME PEOPLE KNOW WHAT I’M ON ABOUT WHEN I TALK ABOUT NAMING CEREMONIES, JUST BECAUSE IT IS WHAT I DO. BUT THAT’S BONKERS…WHY WOULD YOU KNOW ABOUT THEM?
I LOVE NAMING CEREMONIES and in fact, I have just been named The Celebrant Industry Awards National Celebrant of the Year for Namings. I was really surprised because I haven’t done any for ages. I love weddings too and I think they’re really important but if pushed I would have to say that I think Namings are even more important. In the UK very few people have them. They’re not really ‘a thing’. I’d like to change all that if that’s ok with you. Meet Archer….I worked with her Mummies to create a ceremony very near to the Winter Solstice. It was full of meaning and I will tell you all about it one day. There were promises and rainbow flags, candles, messages, Christmas trees. It was ace.
Even within my own family Naming Ceremonies just don’t really happen. We grew up with Christenings in our family and there is an ancient white christening robe somewhere which belonged to my Grandmother and which was worn by my Dad. Christening robes were passed down from generation to generation. In my community enormous 3 tier iced fruit cakes were made at weddings with the terrible assumption that one of the tiers will be needed for when, as if by magic, the baby comes. When babies were born in our family they were quickly put into that ancient robe, people gathered in the Church and we were baptised. For me, my sisters were recruited as God mothers. That was just ‘what you did’ , and the stale old fruitcake would put in an appearance at the same time. You may have heard the expression ‘wetting the baby’s head’, which appears to relate to the ritual in Baptism of pouring water on a baby’s head but more often euphemistically refers to getting blind drunk at the Pub. That is what it meant in our house anyway. I still have my Baptism picture and all the gifts I was given at it. I’m 49 and I’ve carried them through my life even though I’m not sentimental and I have discarded so much. It makes me feel that I was always loved. This tree was planted for Evelyn, one day we hope that she will sit beneath it’s branches and know that she is loved.
I have recently been trying to find out why Naming Ceremonies are so often considered ‘not really our thing’ by so many people. I suggested to one niece that I offer to do a ceremony for her sister’s baby and she responded with a huge “‘noooooooo!’ They’d hate it! I’ve no idea why to this day but I was a little offended…..what with being an award-winning celebrant an’ all….did I mention that..? I don’t know whether people associate these ceremonies, sometimes known as Baby Welcoming Ceremonies with American ideas like ‘Baby Showers’ or ‘Gender-reveal’ parties and see them as unnecessary extras or embarrassingly sentimental or something just that ‘other people do’. I wonder whether they feel a proper Religious ceremony can’t be replicated and so it is better to do without if you don’t believe. I don’t know but I’m on a mission to change their minds.
Meet Arya, it meant such a lot to her family that I did a ceremony for her sister Sienna a few years later. Arya’s ceremony was the first paid ceremony I ever did! I remember embarrassing myself by asking if she was named after a singing phrase in an opera….but she was named after Game of Thrones! I was convinced they wouldn’t book me after that! This ceremony took place in a local Bar called Fletcher’s in Kings Heath.
A huge cultural shift has occurred around the rituals which would ordinarily be associated with birth and announcing a life in a community. My context is the UK and we are now a diverse, arguably largely secular country full of many different communities and cultures, some Religious, others not, some Culturally religious in identity but with no belief in anything particular. Most of us probably, if we are honest sit somewhere in the middle neither believing nor disbelieving but almost all of us understand the importance of our heritage. We also are acutely aware of the importance of Community and of belonging within one. We are forming new communities all the time, cross-cultural communities, families with diversely ranging heritage and spiritual tradition. That is the best thing, I love it and being a part of creating new Rites of Passage for this new contemporary context is one of the main satisfactions of my job. I believe that it is of vital importance to find new, compassionate and expansive ways of expressing time-honoured concepts.
This is Evelyn with her Mummy Janine. Her family planted a tree in her honour and have been watching the tree grow with her as she has grown. I have followed their journey since that warm sunny day with Fairy Godmother’s in attendance, seen her start ballet classes and go to school. I love that side of my job; watching what happens next. Ceremonies are very much about the present moment and the specialness of that day but they are even more concerned with what happens next. Ceremonies sometimes involve Blessings, ‘wishing well’ and promises. They are also concerned with Values. Parents and communities make pledges to impart those values which they hold dear. Usually these feature Love, tolerance, compassion among others.
So how do we re-interpret the rituals around birth and welcoming new life for the 21st century in Britain? There are no cultures of which I am aware which do not value Birth and acknowledge it, none who do. not have some traditions around the welcoming of a new child into the world and their community. So what makes us think that now we know better and can simply do away with them? I don’t think we should ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater! And obviously the more excuses to eat cake the better. This cake…as you may have guessed was made for Florence.
Ceremonies are all about transitioning from one state to another, from one part of life to another, from Old to New. Rituals. Rites of Passage, which is what these ceremonies are, acknowledge change and allow transition and encourage transformation. They are a vehicle for the acknowledgement of significant life events. They value how far we have come and they look forward towards the future. Ceremonies specifically about ‘new life’ are often employed with healing from the trauma of birth in mind. I have often done ceremonies for people who have been through terrible pregnancies, traumatic labour, prem births, long adoption processes and they want to put it behind them and move on. They want to celebrate surviving and also the joy of living. They want to leave the sadness and pain behind them. Naming days are ‘a good excuse for a party’. Personally I think that’s a good enough reason, but they are clearly sometimes about much, much more than that.
It occurred to me that the generation of people who are giving birth and naming their children are much younger than me and probably don’t do what I do. Very few will have studied Theology and Religion or even find it that interesting. So as I was wondering to myself about the sad lack of Naming Ceremonies on the horizon I started wondering if people really just don’t really know what they are, or what they are for.
I assume that when I say Naming Ceremony it means something to people, that they know what that is…but why should you? I don’t know the first thing about being an Accountant or a Heart Surgeon so it really is a stupid assumption to make. I can, however, safely assume that you know exactly why the expression on this face matters….. This is the face of Archer’s ‘family’ recognising someone who belongs to them, witnessing their existence. ‘Family’ can mean whatever we need it to mean, this person is welcoming this baby into their world and no one can tell me that isn’t important.
So how do i explain A Naming Ceremony? How do I conjure the image of them. Usually if someone approaches me for one, it is because they have been to one somewhere else and liked them. Invariably they’ve never heard of one before they were invited to that one. So if you’ve never heard of a Naming Ceremony, don’t like the idea of it, never fancied it, or simply have no idea what they are or what they are for I hope that this Blog post will help.
If I describe to you bunting and cakes, families making a ‘lovely spread’ of home made food. Setting a marquee up in the back garden, or hiring a local venue. Think of handwritten letters to be opened in the future, of paintings, community choirs, planting trees, adapting ancient blessings. All the people who love that baby all in one place dressed up in their favourite clothes shouting ‘WELCOME TO THE WORLD’ . If I describe these occasions I will be making a start. In itself a gathering like this is precious enough with photos to last a lifetime and a commitment to that child’s welfare made public, but the deep meaning behind all this gorgeousness is profound. Naming Ceremonies are concerned with essential concepts which are vital to human flourishing. They focus upon ensuring a sense of legitimacy and belonging in that child. These ceremonies endeavour to instil human values and to celebrate love, new beginning, hope,
This is Evelyn’s Fairy Godmother. She wrote a story especially for her Fairy God-daughter. She cried all the way through, and so did everyone else…. except Evelyn apparently.
During the past horrifying 18 months we have learned more than any other year about the precariousness of life. In the recent past in the UK many communities, though by no means. all, have been insulated from a real sense of peril in ways that other communities and other countries have not. This year we have all learned about the central importance of Community and of belonging to the whole human family. We have seen how interconnected we all are. We have a new need to celebrate the miracle of new birth and to make promises to our future generations about how we will be there for them. We have a responsibility to these babies and children and part of what Naming Ceremonies do is to declare that. It is the point at which people make a promise to Show Up. In the course of my working life as a Celebrant I have looked at the miracle of new life and seen the love people have for their babies and watched them plant trees for their newborns. I have heard them promise to teach their children about what matters in life and about relationships and love. Often they have survived terrible things. It is a hopeful thing to witness. What could be more valuable right now than giving hope to one another for the future ahead. What could matter more than declaring our good intention to protect new life?
Naming Ceremonies offer hope for the future and an affirmation of all that is good about being human. Declaring that we belong together no matter where we have come from or what we have been through and will try our best to create a community in which that little life can flourish and thrive.
Declaring that belong together no matter where we have come from or what we have been through and will try our best to create a community in which that little life can flourish and thrive
If you are interested in devising your own WELCOME for your very own child don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’d love to be involved. Naming Ceremonies offer you a chance to introduce your child to all the people in their life who are going to love them. This is an important thing to do and you can have a party while you are at it. it is not the same as just a get together and I know I’m biased and I think you need a Celebrant there to make it that bit more about ‘making an occasion of it’.