Skip main navigation

Family and support

Watch humanist celebrants describing the importance of families and friends
A humanist naming ceremony is generally a very joyous occasion and it serves a number of purposes. So, firstly, it’s the opportunity to welcome the child into the world. A welcome that’s given by the parents but also by the wider circle of family, so it’s an acknowledgement of the child, often it’s an acknowledgement of the journey that the parents have been on in that first year of the child’s life but it’s also an opportunity to really acknowledge the familial relationships, the new familial relationships, that have come about as the result of the child having been born, and it’s an opportunity for the parents to really consolidate what they want for their child, what they believe is important, what they want to commit to in terms of their child’s upbringing.
It’s also an opportunity for the parents to acknowledge those people that they want to be significant to the child throughout their child’s life. So rather than godparents we have ‘odd parents’ or guardians or similar, who also have the opportunity to stand up and say what they want to be able to commit to in order to stand by that child and help them through the difficult times as well as be there for the fun times.
It is specific to that family and that situation, it is deliberately designed really by the parents to mark the occasion but not by referring to any sort of deity or particular faith but by talking about the people who will actually be in that child’s lives, not just the parents hopefully obviously, but grandparents aunts and uncles and guideparents. It’s interesting how a humanist naming ceremony reflects a humanist approach to life. I think what I really like about a naming ceremony is a sense of creativity, and a sense of flexibility in approach and of expression.
So at a particular point in the ceremony where we were talking about the family tree and this new child joining the family tree, and the cousins who she was going to become part of this extended family, I invited each of the cousins to come up and to take an acorn and as I talked about the fruits of this tree that were already in existence each of the cousins came and put the Acorn that they had chosen and hung it on one of the branches of the tree, and the parents then hung the last little baby acorn on the tree representing the new baby who was joining this family tree.
Often parents will decide to incorporate something within the naming ceremony that gives other people there the opportunity to have their input. So, for example, I’ve had a parent recently who had a tree, and some branches arranged, and some luggage labels, and what we did was be asked everybody present to write a wish for that child and then tie it onto the branches of the tree, and after the ceremony the tags were going to be removed and kept for the child, and it’s just a really lovely way to get everybody there thinking about what they hope for, for that individual child.
It ended up reflecting lots of different perspectives, lots of different angles on life, lots of different ideas, lots of different experiences. So rather than just being one or two voices you hear, you get a much more of a sense of the range of people in that child’s life. One of the best naming ceremonies that comes to mind is one which took place recently on a little beach in West Wales.
The family had flown over from Brooklyn in New York, and come back to where the father had spent his childhood, many days playing there, and they’d wanted something which they could bring people from all corners of the world to come and celebrate the birth of their son, and they decided to mark it with a very very simple piece of symbolism which was a stone cairn, which they built below the waterline knowing that it’d been washed away with the tide and everybody just wrote their little messages with a piece of charcoal or chalk onto the stones, and just seeing that little boy they’re just playing stacking them, and realising that everybody would take away wonderful memories of that day.


Under this and the other videos this week, we’ll draw out certain themes that reflect a humanist approach to life. Share your thoughts on these and any others you have noticed with the other learners.

  • Other people are important in our lives and can be a source of support
  • Humanist ceremonies will often recognise our connections with each other and with the natural world, of which we are a part
  • The arrival of new life can provide an important moment to reflect on how our own lives are changing and on the circle of life
  • Creativity and flexibility are important to humanists when choosing how to mark important events in our lives

Question: How important is it that we mark important events in our lives with other people?

Stone cairn naming ceremony images credit: Charlie Tierney
This article is from the free online

Humanist Lives, with Alice Roberts

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now