WHAT THE HELL TO DO ON A NAMING DAY
Yay, we're having a party! Now what? Lisa Williams has some Naming Day party ideas...
If you're wondering, 'What should I do for my baby's naming day?', look no further. Here are some ideas of what to do instead of a Christening...
The baby’s here, and you finally have a name. That you’ve survived nine months of pondering, squabbling and humouring unhelpful suggestions seems reason enough to hold a party, let alone the fact that the baby has arrived.
Christenings and their multi-faith equivalents are straightforward enough, but what do you do if you’re not religious? Have one anyway and feel slightly weird about it? Do nothing and let this joyous moment pass without any more ceremony than a Facebook announcement and a Vistaprint card. And what about Godparents? Am I denying my baby extra moral guidance (or rather, more presents and a better chance of work experience) by not appointing them, I wondered.
‘You could have a naming day for him,’ a friend suggested, when I talked about the issue. It first struck me as slightly gratuitous, even indulgent, probably because a naming day doesn’t quite have the gravitas of a Christening. More importantly, what the hell do you do on a naming day anyway? Do you find a clearing in the forest, hold hands and chant? Do you play a nursery-friendly version of the Rizla Game, or Pin the Name on the Baby? Or do you just invite over friends and family for a piss-up, only to do exactly the same again when the baby turns one?
The British Humanist Association (BHA) has some ideas. Its website offers a basic framework of how a Humanist naming ceremony is structured, taking in readings, a talk about the child, and promises read out to the child by his or her guideparents (or ‘oddparents’ as they are sometimes referred to).
Its celebrants (and there is no better job title than ‘celebrant’) carried out roughly 700 naming ceremonies last year, and the organisation has had such a surge in interest recently that they are shortly conducting the first round of training exclusively for naming day celebrants (it used to be an add-on to either weddings or funerals).
'People are going through ritualistic moments, but not believing words that are said'.
Isabel Russo, head of ceremonies at the BHA, thinks naming days can be a more genuine alternative to a religious ceremony. ‘Increasingly, as we live in a more secular environment, people are often having ceremonies that aren’t right for them. It strikes me as sad that people are going through ritualistic moments, but not believing words that are said,’ she says.
It can cost about £150 - £300 to book a celebrant for a naming day. They will meet you to discuss what you’d like to get out of the day and how they see it working. They’ll ask for stories about your baby, and how it has made you feel to become a parent. On the day, they’ll use their experience to pitch the ceremony correctly to the crowd (making allowances, of course, for tears, crawling around and shrieking), and – because they’re leading the ceremony – parents don’t need to act as both parent and officiant. As for the actual naming; it often takes the form of a set of vows recited by the crowd.
‘That’s a special moment because it’s an incredibly powerful way of recognising not just that a baby has been born, but that your roles have changed, parents have become grandparents, sisters have become aunties, and so on,’ says Isabel.
Of course, you can just do this yourself, or ask a crowd-pleasing, limelight-loving friend to do it for you. And, if the idea of a ceremony makes you cringe, a simple speech can work well instead, to thank everyone for their help with the baby so far, and to explain why certain godparents have been chosen. One friend asked the godparents to read out the history and meaning of each her daughter’s names, while another read out a passage from Alice in Wonderland, which her daughter was named after.
Here are some other ideas of what you can do on the day:
- Ask guests to write down their wishes for the baby, and tie them to the branches of a tree or a houseplant. At the end of the day, take them down and stick them into a scrapbook which you can also use for photos from the day.
- Ask godparents to write a wish for the baby during the ceremony and light a candle each. You can then use the wax from the candles to ‘seal’ their wishes into envelopes, to be opened at a later date.
- Re-enact the conversations you had about possible names, even referencing people in the room and what they said at the time. Arguments are particularly funny to recount, for some reason.
- Arrange the party in height order (with your baby at the beginning) and take a group photo.
- Print photos of your baby’s namesakes (be they literary characters, artists or politicans) to decorate the room. Or compile on to a board to use as the background for an alternative photobooth - a handy one for if the baby isn’t awake/cheerful long enough to have a photo with everyone.
- Bake a cake in the shape of your baby’s favourite toy or teddy.
- Plant a tree or sew some seeds.
- For an alternative keepsake, order tokens printed with your baby’s full name, and embed them in the corks popped at the party.
And if all this sounds like too much effort, relax and enjoy the peace. Your baby’s first birthday will come around soon enough and, after that, the parties will definitely not be in short supply.