Adapted from a guide published by the Baby Naming Society, an organization based in Worcester, England, that advocates traditional and non-traditional baby welcoming ceremonies.
Parenting is the most important task that anyone can be called upon to perform. The future for each child is determined by the way in which it is brought up and its relationships with its mother and father. A ritual that can strengthen the parents' commitment, simply by making the promise of support more formal and explicit, is to be welcomed.
More than ever before, families need the informal network of support from family and friends which the ceremony we propose can strengthen. Although we may lament the decline in baptism, it represents an important shift in social behavior that has left a void in people's lives. So traditional customs need to be modified and re-formed to accommodate new ways of living.
What matters is that parents find a way of demonstrating their commitment to their child that suits them and that, therefore, they can sustain.
Why is Commitment the Heart of These Ceremonies?
Families come in all shapes and sizes. It can be a huge clan of three or four generations bound together by blood and marriage. Or it can be a couple simply living together, straight or gay, or a single parent with a baby whose ties with the other parent have been severed.
Families don't even necessarily need children, but children do need families--and they need a commitment of family care strong enough to outlast childhood, until children are old enough to fend for themselves. Children need a "warranty period" of at least 16 years, but since these days this guarantee cannot automatically be assured, it is all the more important that parents commit themselves to a promise that they will endeavor to abide by, a pledge they mean to keep.
Why Have a Naming Ceremony?
Nowadays, parenthood can mean never having to say "I do." Increasing number of parents have not made any wedding vows, nor do they wish to promise to bring the child up in a particular faith. Sometimes this may be because they would like children to be free to make religious decisions for themselves, sometimes because they have no religious faith themselves.
Yet for these parents, there is something missing: a ceremony to acknowledge what has happened in their lives. They don't want the birth of their child to go unrecognized by family and friends; they want to celebrate the miracle of life; they want to share their joy with those nearest and dearest to them; they want to proclaim their new-found responsibility. They want to say "I do," but to make their promises to the child: "I do promise to look after this child." And they want to say it out loud.
The Baby Naming Society aims to help parents who have no traditionally accepted way of making a public commitment to declare openly, in their own way, their love and commitment to a child. By "going public," they publish their promises to as many or as few people as they choose. But why go public?
First, it is very natural to want to express the happiness that new parents feel. That's one reason why we have rituals. Christian baptism, the naming on the eighth day for Jewish people, the naming, prayers, and celebration for Muslims and so on, all have the purpose of sharing joy. But they also enable the family and friends to welcome the child into the community, thereby accepting a share in the responsibility for seeing that the baby grows up honest and happy.
Without a baptism, many children have been denied the additional support provided by other adults in the role of godparents. A celebration provides the opportunity for those willing to take on a special interest in the child's welfare to say so, in public.
It is this public acceptance of a child into the community that is an important part of the ceremony. For some, the community is the body of the church, for others it is simply the family and friends who will be significant in the life of the child as he or she grows up. The naming is a way of recognizing the individuality of the child and is a more human way of expressing this than filling in a form. Going public is not just a way of expressing your commitment to your child. It is there to be seen and heard. You mean it.