Humanists aim to draw positive moral values from life that are based on human experience, rather than God‐given. The term is used today to mean those who seek to live good lives without religious or superstitious beliefs. They don’t believe in an afterlife, but think that we should try to live full and happy lives ourselves… and make it easier for other people to do the same. They consider most thoughtful, considered non‐religious naming ceremonies to be humanist in nature. It is not necessary, even at an explicitly humanist ceremony, to have a Humanist celebrant. Humanist ceremonies are increasing in number each year. They are also popular with people who have no religious affiliations.
What is a humanist naming ceremony?
The British Humanist Association describes its ceremonies as ‘dignified, caring, and totally personal’. It publishes a practical guide to help you organise your own naming ceremony, ‘New Arrivals’, which includes the following:
Advice on where and when to hold your ceremony
Appointing ‘guide friends’, ‘mentors’, ‘supporting adults’ or ‘special friends’ (equivalent of godparents)
A basic framework for the ceremony· Ideas for poetry and prose readings
Two sample scripts
Special ways of marking the occasion
A humanist naming ceremony can take place literally anywhere ‐ from your front room to a mountain top. The rites performed have no legal status at all and a humanist ceremony is completely secular (i.e. non‐religious with no hymns, prayers or Bible readings). This can be a particular advantage for parents from different faiths. Rather than plump for one tradition at the risk of alienating the other, inter‐faith parents can design a ceremony that emphasises what they have in common. A celebrant trained and licensed by the British Humanist Association usually conducts humanist naming ceremonies, but you can ask a friend or relation to do it if you prefer.
Organising your humanist naming ceremony
Once you have decided on a date and time, you need to do the following:
- Unless you have chosen a friend or relation to conduct the ceremony, contact the Humanist Association on 020 7079 3580 to find someone to act as a celebrant and for more information, go to www.humanism.org.uk
- Once you have found a celebrant, decide on a venue, ideally somewhere that’s significant and personal to you as a couple. Most parents choose to hold the ceremony at the start of a celebratory party.
- Decide on the type of service you’d like and what you would like to say. The job of the celebrant is to help you create a ceremony that’s personal to you. You can write the entire service yourself to reflect your love for and commitment to your child, and your hopes for their future welfare and happiness. Or with help and advice from the BHA, you can adapt one of the ceremonies suggested by them.
- They also have suggestions for readings and music. The formal ceremony can be as long or short as desired; they usually last about 20 minutes. Don’t forget to encourage contributions from other adults and children!
- Planting a tree to grow along with the child is a memorable way to mark the happy occasion. Another idea is to have a dedication book for everyone present to sign with messages for the child to read in later years.
Who and how to invite, and to what
If there are grandparents they will want to come, and its always a good idea to check whether key guests ‐ such as the ‘guide parents’ ‐ will be available for the big day before confirming any bookings or ordering the invitations. Children are almost always honoured guests at Humanist naming ceremonies.
The baby is the star of the show at a Naming. You may want to dress him or her in a traditional style long gown and shawl, but you may also choose something completely different to emphasize the non‐religious aspect. The parents, guide friends and guests should take their cue from the occasion and venue ‐ a more formal service will demand more formal wear, whereas more informal attire can be worn at a more relaxed service.