Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

Letter to THE BIG ISSUE about NAMING CEREMONIES in response to their article on young Dads.

Posted in Naming/wedding ceremonies by sheelanagigcomedienne on May 24, 2011

Here is a letter I have sent to THE BIG ISSUE and to the new website for young Dads after I read an article about young Dads and their need for support.

Dear Editor,

I have sent this response to after I read your article about the role and status of young Dads. I thought I would send this to you to see if you might pick up on the idea of these non- religious/Humanist  ceremonies and Humanism. I have no doubt that many of your readers are not religious believers either and can get upset at the way that religion/Christianity claim moral superiority over those of us who do not hold such supernatural beliefs. This quote from David Cameron is just such an example of this notion that religion is about morality whereas it is defined ‘ as an an understanding of the world through the supernatural’ .

“I’ve never really understood this argument about ‘Should the Church get involved in politics? Yes or no’. To me, Christianity, faith, religion, the Church is involved in politics because so many political questions are moral questions.”
(Prime Minister David Cameron at a Downing Street reception for religious leaders)

I would be very happy to write something about this.

Yours sincerely,

Jeanne Rathbone


Having read the article in The Big Issue about young fathers I thought I would write to you about non-religious Baby Naming ceremonies and the two-in-one Naming/Wedding Vows ceremony.  I am a Humanist celebrant and we have been conducting these significant ceremonies for those who do not have religious beliefs. Our naming ceremonies are very different to christenings when a baby is initiated into the church. Such ceremonies are, in effect, ritual infant exorcisms whereas our naming ceremonies are very personal and each one is unique.

I agree that young Dads and their role is not given much prominence and that their role is not clearly defined and therefore there is little understanding and support for them. Indeed, in a changing society where gender roles are still evolving  I am not sure that it is clear what fatherhood means and what it involves.

Most couples in Britain live together without getting married first and then have a child. However, for many young Mums and Dads the pregnancy happens before they have lived together and set up home. This is a crucial time for young Mums and Dads. Sadly, it is about a year after the baby is born that the break–up of the relationship occurs. I believe that this is partly due to the lack of defined role, respect and support for young Dads. This is why I feel so strongly that a simple naming or combined naming/commitment ceremony can give the due respect and support that any young couple needs as they start a family and become adults. As the article acknowledged young Dads can feel excluded or patronised by parenting services and indeed by society. A simple ceremony that acknowledges the couple as parents and a new  family can go some way to establishing this and give the necessary confirmation by their families and friends of their new status.   Even if the young parents are not yet sure of their relationship to each other it is very important that they can both state their commitment to their baby.

I became a Humanist ceremony celebrant because I believe that the milestone events in our lives should be properly honoured in a way that reflects our outlook on life that does not involve religion or the supernatural.  As we believe that this is the only life we can know and experience then those significant events like birth, weddings and death should be celebrated properly.

A  naming ceremony  is a welcoming, a thanksgiving for the baby and, besides formally bestowing upon the baby his/her names, it is, in many ways, a ceremony that acknowledges the importance of family and community of friends in our lives. It allows  the parents to affirm their love and commitment to their baby before their family and friends. It also affords the opportunity for grandparents to express their joy with the presence of the little grandchild in their lives. Finally it is to appoint the baby’s ‘oddparents’.

Usually there are short spoken  contributions from parents, grandparents, others/children and mentors/oddparents after an introduction by the celebrant and the formal naming of the child. There might well be a brief section where the parents introduce the oddparents and say why they have chosen them. If the Dad and Mum are together as a couple there might also be a section ‘Why are we here today- two people met and fell in love the story so far’ and they could make some vows/promises/statements to each other as part of the ceremony.

This is what I mean by a 2 in 1 – a hatching/matching ceremony  without ALL the palaver, expense and extravagance of a traditional wedding.  All this is done with humour as it is an essential ingredient of a Humanist ceremony as it is in life. We would usually includes child centred readings/songs. All this makes for a relaxed and intimate occasion. It often ends with a toast whilst the children might blow bubbles and have indoor sparklers.

I also strongly recommend that the couple get a nameday book for their little one and invite all those coming to bring along something for it so that that he/she has something to look back on and cherish in years to come, eg a poem, an acrostic(a little poem using the letters of a child’s name), a piece of advice, a recipe, a list of their favourite things, a promise, a photo, picture etc.  I have seen some wonderful and creative contributions. Handwritten ones, especially from grandparents/greatgrandparents will be treasured in the future. There is often  a video made of it all for the little one to appreciate as they grow older.

I am very happy to help any young couple to hold such a ceremony and give further suggestions about what it might contain. I am based in London and would be prepared to be a celebrant without my usual fee for any couples who cannot afford it who wish to have a naming ceremony. Indeed, it might be an idea to video such a ceremony to show others how they might go about holding one. Such ceremonies can be held anywhere, anytime – at home, in the garden, parks, fields pubs, restaurants etc.

I love these ceremonies. It is a delight for me to get to share in a charming, intimate, joyous and funny occasion with someone’s family, enjoying their food, their bubbly and the bubbles for the kids and kidults. It is no wonder I love them. As they say ‘What’s there not to like’.

Jeanne Rathbone

May 2011.


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