A ceremony to call your own

THE name you choose to honour your baby with, lasts forever, but the way you do it is also important as they start out in life. Today there is a growing trend for naming ceremonies instead of christenings.

By Tracey Sparling

THE name you choose to honour your baby with, lasts forever, but the way you do it is also important as they start out in life. Today there is a growing trend for naming ceremonies instead of christenings. Features editor TRACEY SPARLING meets one of the first families in Suffolk to welcome that option.

TOM Cruise's new bundle of joy, baby Suri, is set to have her unusual name officially confirmed at a naming ceremony.

While Suri's bash will be a Scientology ceremony designed to introduce her to her father's religion, she is one of a growing number of babies who have a naming ceremony rather than a christening.

The idea of a non- religious naming ceremony, which isn't legally binding, is to celebrate a new arrival, although such events are often held for older children as well. They are thought to be increasingly popular because of the decline in religious beliefs - the British Social Attitudes Survey showed that 55pc of 25 to 34-year-olds were non-religious.

As they play with their son Jake Lucas under a plastic aeroplane mobile, Scott and Kirsty MacFarlane agree they are among a growing number of parents who don't want to impose religion, on their child.

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They are also believed to be the first family to combine a naming ceremony with their wedding - which is also a sign of our changing society.

When the couple from Starfield Close, Ipswich, married three weeks ago, their special guest was their nine-month-old son Jake Lucas. The little chap wore a cream waistcoat to match his dad's suit, and a bow tie.

Just before Scott, 34, and Kirsty, 33, exchanged vows, the registrar at the wedding at the Courtyard By Marriott hotel, introduced Jake into the ceremony.

Scott, who works at HMV in Ipswich, said: “The naming ceremony flowed in to the ceremony perfectly, you wouldn't have known there were two separate components. The registrar introduced Jake as part of our family, just before we exchanged our wedding rings.

“We knew we didn't want a christening for him - that would have felt like pigeonholing him, and we don't go to church. We want him to be able to have that little bit of freedom to choose, rather than us decide for him, but we also wanted to celebrate with all the family. We were given a leaflet when we got his birth certificate and that sparked the idea.”

A naming ceremony, which usually lasts about 20 minutes, can be led by a parent, a registrar or perhaps a celebrant from somewhere like the British Humanist Association. Parents state their love and commitment to their child and their hopes for its future, and there are often poetry or prose readings.

Instead of the godparents created in the Christian faith, 'supporting adults' or 'mentors', who are either family or friends, state that they will be there for the child throughout its life if needed.

Scott said: “We chose the reading and we chose four guardians - called supporting adults - who made three promises to Jake. Kirsty and I made five promises, which included promising to keep him safe, love him always and bring him up the way we see fit.”

He added: “Jake loved sitting at the head of the table fort the reception, as well. He loved all the attention!”

As Ipswich venues gear up for similar bookings, Barbara Paternoster, superintendent registrar at Ipswich Register Office said: "Naming ceremonies are getting more popular in Ipswich, and we have performed around five in the past few months.

“A parent may not find a religious baptism to be appropriate, so then a naming ceremony is ideal. They allow parents to have more choice."

The British Humanist Association already performs up to 300 naming ceremonies a year. BHA director Hanne Stinson agreed the ceremonies are definitely becoming more popular: "More and more people are non-religious, and while a few years ago many people thought it was okay to go ahead with a full christening whatever they believed, now they feel it's rather hypocritical to do it if they don't believe," she said.

"The ceremonies mark an important stage in people's lives, but they don't confine the child to one set of beliefs."

They are also used when step-parents come into a child's life, Hanne added.

Baptism does confine a child to a certain set of beliefs, although parents can take the option of a thanksgiving ceremony, which is not a Christian initiation.

In 2003, there were 104,200 Church of England baptisms or thanksgivings for children under 12, compared to 108,600 the year before.

Church of England spokesperson Arun Kataria said: "There's been a shift in fashion, and the baptism of children could be slightly less popular than it used to be, but you have to take into account the number of other ceremonies that go on now."

Many of those other ceremonies are organised by Civil Ceremonies, which works in partnership with registrars, and performs around 5,000 naming ceremonies a year.

Anne Barber, Civil Ceremonies' managing director, said the number of ceremonies performed goes up every year, and has risen tenfold over the last four years.

"Naming the baby is secondary to welcoming the child to the family and the community," she said.

"Naming ceremonies are here to stay. In ten years time it'll be a plain choice between having a christening or having a naming ceremony."

You can lead the ceremony yourself or the BHA can provide a trained 'celebrant', who can help you to prepare the ceremony and lead it on the day. Humanists believe there is no higher power than humanity and that we have advanced through our own efforts, without God.

During the ceremony, parents state their love and commitment to their child and declare hopes for their future. You can choose to read poetry or a favourite piece of prose, with music playing in the background.

Rather than godparents, whose traditional role is to help guide the child in a Christian life, 'supporting adults' or 'mentors' (who may be friends or family) just need to say that they will be there for the child as he or she grows up and throughout their life in whatever way is needed.

You can contact the council to find out which venues they have approved for naming ceremonies and how much they cost. The ceremony may include an introduction and welcome followed by a reading by you or one of the supporting adults. This is followed by the naming of the child and the parents' promise and promises of the supporting adults to pledge love and support for the child's future.

Naming ceremonies are not legally binding and do not have any legal status, although you may be presented with a record of the ceremony as a token of the day.

weblinks:

www.humanism.org.uk .

www.civilceremonies.co.uk .

1. How your baby's name sounds is one of the most essential things to think about. Is it melodious? Harsh? Does it go well with your surname? Often, longer first names work better with shorter surnames, and vice versa. Combining a first name that ends in a vowel with a surname that starts with a vowel generally isn't the best choice -- the names tend to run together ("Eva Anderson").

2. Avoid first names that rhyme with your surname.

3. And it's probably wise to resist puns: A name like "Holly Wood" or "Rosie Lee" will be fun for about five minutes. Then your poor child will be stuck with it for the rest of his or her life.

4. An unusual name has the advantage of making the bearer stand out from the crowd. On the other hand, a name no one has heard of and can't pronounce can bring attention a child would rather avoid. One way of striking a balance is to choose a familiar first name if the child's surname is unusual, and vice versa. If your son's surname will be Smith, you might want to consider something with more pizzazz than Joe for his first name. But if his surname is Aytrivbsoan, then Joe might be preferable to, say, Archimedes, as a given name.

5. Many parents choose to name their babies after a grandparent, other relative, or close friend. This option can provide you with a good pool of names to consider. Take ideas graciously, but don't tell anyone what you and your partner have decided until after your baby is born - when it's too late to give in to any subtle hints. And never let anyone pressure you into a name you don't like. When it comes down to it, Great Aunt Hepzebiah won't have to live with the name, your baby will.

6. Your child's heritage is an essential part of who she is, and you may want her name to reflect that. Your religious preference may steer you towards a certain category of names. Or perhaps your family has a tradition of naming first-born sons after their fathers. If you love a name but it doesn't meet your family's traditional requirements, consider using it as a middle name.

7. Consider the meaning. No one is likely to treat your daughter Ingrid differently because her name means "hero's daughter", but the derivation of your baby's name is something you may want to think about. After all, if little Stockard finds out someday that her name means "from the yard of tree stumps", she may not be pleased.

8. Beware of initials and nicknames. People, especially kids, can be cruel when it comes to nicknames, so try to anticipate any potentially embarrassing ones. Of course, just because you don't think of something doesn't mean some clever school kid down the line won't -- and he'll probably find it utterly hilarious. But at least you can rule out the obvious problems. Also, be aware of what your child's initials spell. Zachary Ian Thomas will more than likely get a lot of teasing; Zachary Edward Thomas probably won't.

Boys Girls

Jack Jessica

Joshua Emily

Thomas Sophie

James Olivia

Oliver Chloe

Daniel Ellie

Samuel Grace

William Lucy

Harry Charlotte

Joseph Katie

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have called their baby girl Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt

-Shiloh means 'peace.'