What’s in a Name? The Naming Ceremony

Of course, everyone loves a handfasting, but one of my very favourite ceremonies to officiate as a Sacred Celebrant is the Naming Ceremony – both for babies and adults.

The Baby Naming Ceremony

For those parents not interested in a christening, it can seem like there aren’t many options for a special ceremony to mark a new child’s arrival. But this is an occasion to be celebrated and marked, to make treasured memories, and to introduce a new child to their loving community.

In my earth-based ceremonies, the child recieves the blessing of each of the four elements within an ivy circle.

Air for the inspiration of their conception, their first breath of life, is represented by the koshi chimes, and by bubbles blown by the participating community – this goes down well with the children involved…

For the blessing of the element of fire – their shining inner light, their passion for life, we light the naming candle. They are then blessed by water for their emotional well-being, and by earth for their rooted and grounded belonging in their family and community.

For each element the parents choose in advance an elemental guardian – far more specific than a generic ‘godparent’, each elemental guardian promises to be available for the support of the child in different areas of their life – Air for intellectual support, support with things of an academic nature; Fire for encouragement to follow their dreams and passions in life; Water for emotional support and nourishment when needed. Finally the parents are the elemental guardians for Earth, promising to care for the child’s physical well-being and to give them roots from which to grow.

For me these individual promises, written by the people who’ve been chosen by the parents as ideal for each element, are the most moving part of the ceremony. There’s something that touches us deeply when promises are made in ceremony, a sense of a profound bond being forged that will last for the lifetime of the child.

Neither my husband or myself are religious, but we wanted to do something to mark the birth of our son and to officially welcome him into the world. We were thrilled when Amelie agreed to lead a naming ceremony for us. We held the ceremony at a party when our son reached eight weeks old. Lots of different family and friends were invited, all with different backgrounds. None of us present had ever participated in a pagan naming ceremony before, but it felt really accessible and inclusive; stripping back the magic of birth and life to the four elements – air, fire, earth and water – which was something that we could all understand and relate to.

It was a really touching ceremony, and we felt surrounded by love and encouragement for ourselves as parents, and moreover for our baby. Amelie made sure that everyone present could actively participate, adults and children alike. I especially loved hearing the vows that our son’s elemental guardians had written for him, as well as writing vows for him as his parents and “earth” guardians ourselves. It was a wonderful way to mark the rite of passage of the birth of a new life. I highly recommend Amelie as a celebrant and thank her for making the occasion so special and memorable for all of us.

Georgia

The Adult Naming Ceremony

Adult name changes are a topic close to my heart… My own surname is my chosen name. After my divorce my daughter and I didn’t want to keep my ex-husband’s name, but neither did we want to go back to my ‘maiden’ name – another man’s name, nothing that came through the female line, nothing that felt like ours. So we chose Summer as the name that would be truly our own. In a later, wonderful addition to this story, when my sister later divorced, she also changed her name to Summer, a heartfelt gesture that really brought us closer as sisters. And when my daughter afterwards got married, her wife also took the surname.. and so a little clan of Summer has been forged, and our shared chosen name bonds us in an emotional way.

Names are so bound up with identity, and increasingly people feel the urge to claim and assert their identity as an expression of their inner self. According to the most recent figures I could find, 85,000 people changed their name by deed poll in the UK in 2015, and the number is steadily rising.

The reasons people choose to change their name are myriad – not only after a divorce as in my case, but also sometimes to break with an old identity that no longer fits them, maybe to take a more gender neutral name, to take a new name as they transition to transgender, or to take a lover’s surname without having to get married. Others double barrel a surname if they have children, or perhaps wish to anglicise their name on moving to the UK, want to formally take a craft or magical name, or simply switch because they don’t like the name they were assigned… And this is just to name a few reasons.

For an adult, a change of name ceremony can be a way to announce to their community their new identity or status, to have a chance to be seen and accepted by their peers, to be held in loving support as they announce who they are.

Similarly to the version used for baby naming, the adult participant receives the blessing of the four elements, but in this case it is more interactive – We start as always with Air, using incense and sound to release and let go of anything the person wishes to leave behind as they step forward into their new identity; the blessing of Fire marks their courage to be seen in the world, their passion and vitality as they light their own flame from the Flame of Avalon held by the celebrant; Water holds the emotional strength, grace and fluidity of their change in identity, and a wish that their mental well-being is always nourished; and finally, most powerfully at the element of Earth, the adult participant is asked to speak aloud their new name for the first time and be welcomed in love by their friends and peers.

To ritualise something is to speak directly to the subconscious in ways that simply signing a deed poll cannot achieve. In the same way that the marriage ritual makes a material change in the world by ceremonial means, a naming ceremony can symbolise stepping over an important threshold in a truly felt sense. These ceremonies are so affirming and moving, it’s no wonder that I so love to celebrate them.

If you’re interested in a naming ceremony for a baby or adult in London then please do feel free to get in touch for a free, no obligation, inital consultation with Amelie

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