Sunday, July 11, 2010

Naming Ceremonies - not just for babies

One of the questions most frequently asked of me is if it is all right to have a naming ceremony for an older child. Of course it is. I have performed ceremonies for children up to 13 years of age where, for some reason, they hadn't had a ceremony when a baby.

These ceremonies are often held in conjunction with the naming of a younger sibling, and have a special feel to them because with a baby you are celebrating potential only, with an older child both potential and actual achievements.

Older children often have a very clear idea of what they feel would be appropriate to include in their ceremony, and this adds a great deal to the ceremony.

Til next time ...

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

What a difference a tablecloth makes

At a baby naming ceremony you will need a table to sign the register and certificate on, and to hold candles, wishing stones, a guest book or other bits and pieces for use during or after the ceremony.

Often the family plans to serve snacks from the same table afterwards and a simple plastic tablecloth is often the cloth of choice. But what a difference it makes when the "best cloth" comes out (it can easily be swapped for the more serviceable plastic for the party afterwards).

In our busy lives ironing tablecloths has slipped way down on the list of priorities, which is perfect reasonable for every day. But this is a special occasion. Delve into grandma's linen cupboard and borrow one of her hand-embroidered cloths for a very personal touch and way of honouring your child's heritage, or, as a number of my clients have done, use the special quilt made for the baby, or drape a hand-crafted christening shawl across the table. Just be careful if you're planning on using candles as well. A tablemat or large glass plate to protect the cloth from dripped wax is a very good idea.

Til next time ...

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Why do you need a celebrant for a naming?

Recently I had an email from a parent asking if a legal record of a naming ceremony is kept anywhere, and if not why a celebrant is needed.

The formal naming of a child has a community history that predates formal registration. The role of government is limited to recognising and recording the name of a child to the registration of a birth, so naming ceremonies have escaped government control in Australia, although in England registry offices do offer civil naming ceremonies. .

In Australia, a naming ceremony is a family occasion. While I provide lovely naming certificates for the children I name and commenorative certificates for other participants in the ceremony, these are a keepsake rather than a legal document. However, in the extremely highly unlikely case where something has gone wrong in the registration of a birth, and down the track it is discovered that there is no official record, a naming certificate, signed by 5 witnesses, could be used as supplementary evidence of date of birth when attached to a statutory declaration.

As for the question about why a celebrant is needed. Well, legally, a celebrant isn't needed. But emotionally, and aesthetically, a skilled and experienced celebrant can add so much to the ceremony. I've created and conducted a number of naming ceremonies for a second child in the family where the family had not used a celebrant for the naming of the first child, and had regretted it. But I do also understand that there are times when having a celebrant conduct the ceremony on the day is impractical (due to geographic isolation) or not desired for some reason. In such cases I offer a DIY service. For a very affordable fee I create a personalised ceremony for you, provide you with certificates and a beautifully presented keepsake copy of the ceremony that is also suitable for reading from on the day, and leave it to you to organise someone to lead the ceremony.

Harking back to the origin of naming ceremonies this could be the father of the child (in ancient Rome a child was not legally a human or citizen until formally named by his/her father), both parents, a member of the family, or a friend who has the public speaking skills required.

Til next time ...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Back on line

Along with many others, by changing my ISP I lost access to this blog. However recent changes to Blogger has enabled me to reclaim this blog, so I'm back on line.

Naming ceremonies give me a great deal of satisfaction. Yes, they take as much work as a marriage ceremony, and the market won't bear the same fees, but they give me the opportunity to work with families and make a contribution to the next generation by giving them a documented expression of their family's commitment to them.

I'm coming up to naming my 200th baby, and I can sincerely say that I've enjoyed every single ceremony, and creating something new, fresh and different for each family.

Last weekend it was a naming for two children of a family who had come down from the country to celebrate with the grandparents and great-aunt. We included a water blessing in the ceremony (good tip here, make sure the water is warm) and there wasn't a dry eye in the house as the parents made their promises to the children.

Until next time ....

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Civil ceremonies

The more I learn about the situation with civil ceremonies in other countries, the more I’m convinced that in Australia we’ve got it right, because what is available to families who use civil celebrants is respectful of their values and beliefs, whatever they may be.

Civil naming ceremonies are unheard of virtually everywhere except Australia, New Zealand, and in the UK. And in the UK the registry office, which tightly controls civil weddings, also largely controls civil naming ceremonies.

The big prohibition is religious content – to the extent that if you get married in a civil wedding, or have your baby named in a civil naming ceremony you may not even use music that has certain words, linked with religion, in its title. Here in Australia, if you want to play religious music, have a prayer, or include a religious blessing in a naming ceremony you can. You could even play music like “Jesu, joy of man’s desiring” at your wedding or naming ceremony, whereas, in the UK music played at weddings and naming ceremonies has to be vetted by the registrar.

There are many reasons to have a civil ceremony, and by no means all of those who do opt for a civil wedding, naming, funeral or other ceremony have no religious belief. It may be that they do believe, but don’t want to align themselves with any particular denomination. Or, it may be that, because different members of the family come from different religious and/or cultural traditions, the “safer” option is seen to be a civil ceremony.

But a civil ceremony does not have to be neutral on honouring cultural background. Many of us are “cultural” rather than “believing” adherents to certain religious beliefs or denominations. Within a civil ceremony the various cultural/religious traditions of the family can be acknowledged or referenced.

As I get to know families and start to tease out what their background is, we explore paying tribute to these traditions in different ways. Sprinkling participants with rose petals is a form of silent blessing in many traditions - the reason I like to use rose petals in an actual naming (or, when the baby is a little boy and the father is uncomfortable with rose petals, gum leaves). Crossing a baby’s palm with silver is an old Scottish/Irish tradition. Red eggs and babies go together in Chinese culture. An old German custom is that the children present are asked what the baby should be called and shout it out three times.

In our multicultural society, often it is the grandparents who are the ones from whom the diverse traditions stem. Acknowledging their heritage and tradition within the ceremony is the most graceful way I know of conveying how important they are in the life of the child.

Til next time .....

Monday, September 05, 2005

What should the baby wear?

One of the questions I'm commonly asked is "What should we dress our child in for his/her naming ceremony?"

The traditional christening robe - long, lacy gown for both sexes - is becoming less and less common for church christenings, and is rather rare for civil naming ceremonies, which tend overall to be quite casual affairs, in terms of dress, that is. But there is no reason why you shouldn't dress your child any way you want.

The traditional christening robe is lovely, but impractical if you're having a backyard barbeque to follow. I've named babies dressed in a wide range of outfits, including

  • "Heirloom" dresses or suits . These are generally made from fine batiste, linen or viyella and trimmed with smocking, lace, or embroidery. They are expensive to buy, but if there is a grandmother or other relative who would enjoy the challenge of producing a beautiful garment that shows off her fine-sewing skills, why not do her the honour of asking her to make the christening outfit
  • A "baby" tux - black trousers, white traditional dress shirt and black bow tie
  • Comfy everyday outfits made from easy to wear fabrics - these are a good choice as the child can wear them afterwards and will feel comfortable on the day
  • Lovely knitted traditional baby clothes - which look beautiful on a young baby
  • Fairy costumes - nice for a little girl

White is traditional, but not obligatory - so, the answer to the question is - whatever looks good, feels good, suits your budget and appeals to you is fine. The photos are going to be beautiful whatever the child wears, because it is such a happy occasion and the love everyone is there to demonstrate will shine through the pictures.

Til next time....

Monday, August 22, 2005

Party Favours and Namings

I have seen all sorts of variations on gifts at Naming ceremonies, but generally they go one way. To the baby.

This weekend I did a naming for a lovely couple who were very careful to let everyone know how welcome they were at the ceremony. As usual, I had ensured that the ceremony was very inclusive, and that everyone present signed a statement of support for the family, but they went the extra mile. In addition to making sure that everyone there was photographed with the baby, we were all presented with an organza bag of chocolates with a lovely thank you note.

Til next time ...

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

I said no such thing ... gift baskets are by no means the best gift from a godparent

I was rather taken aback to discover that another blog had manufactured an endorsement by me a couple of days ago. On a blog which supposedly give hot tips about gifts, a statement was made purporting to be an endorsement by me of gift baskets as a gift from godparents, presented as a quote from an article I wrote:
Home-and-Family - Babies-Toddler Ezine Articles One of the best baby or infant gifts that you can give is a gift basket. Naming Ceremonies: Advice for First Time Godparents by Jennifer Cram

I said no such thing! What I said was:
The main gift a godparent gives is the gift of self. During the ceremony, you can give a symbolic gift, and of course, you can always give the baby a significant gift to mark the occasion (and every significant occasion from then on!). Of course, it is perfectly acceptable for a godparent to give the naming ceremony as a gift.

You can read the full article at

A gift basket would probably be the last gift I'd suggest for a godparent to give their godchild. This is a very significant occasion, and being asked to be a godparent is one of the greatest compliments possible. Any gift you choose should reflect your intentions and/or your culture.

At a recent naming I performed, the godfather was Greek. In keeping with his traditions his gift was a complete outfit of clothing and a gold crucifix on a chain. Before the ceremony, also in keeping with tradition, the godparents dressed the baby in this lovely outfit, including the crucifix, amid much laughter and oohing and ahhing. This added a great deal to the occasion and signalled to everyone the depth of the commitment being made.

Gifts do not have to be expensive to be symbolic and special. If godparents think about what they can bring, from their own knowledge, skills, talents and background, to enrich the child's experience, and choose a gift that is symbolic of that, the message becomes more important than the physical gift. For example, if your thing is books and reading, give the child a book. The book doesn't have to be anything highbrow, but should be chosen with the child in mind. At a ceremony I'm conducting this coming Saturday, we have incorporated into the ceremony the godparent's gift of a classic Australian children's book to signify hopes and intentions for the child to develop a love of books and reading and a concern for the Australian bush.

You wouldn't get anything like that in a generic gift basket.

Til next time ....

Sunday, August 14, 2005

A wish for the child

As part of the naming ceremonies I perform, I encourage parents to express wishes for their child's future. Sometimes we read a poem that includes good wishes for the future, sometimes we recount a short list of wishes, and sometimes we invite others, by means of participating in a small ritual like Wishing Stones, to also state their wishes. These wishes are always framed in the positive. So it was a poignant experience to read a report of a baby naming in Afghanistan during which the baby was passed around, and each woman made a wish banishing a fear from this baby girl's life:

that she not fear the bombs when they inevitably fall;
that she not fear sickness when it inevitably comes;
over and over again, that she not fear men.

Click on Link below to read the full story.

Til next time ....

What is a mother?

Yesterday I met a very special young man - a Torres Strait Islander who was speaking about the work he does with at risk indigenous youth. He paid wonderful tribute to his mother and his culture as he described how his community relate to each other. In talking about the relationship between children and their parents he said something that is probably the most succinct and profound statement about the responsibilities of parenthood I have ever heard: Mother is the word for god on the lips of a child.

Til next time ...