Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off one whole year of Unlimited learning. Subscribe for just £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only T&Cs apply

Find out more

Freedom and potential

Watch humanist celebrants describing the importance to humanists of being free to choose our own path in life
So for humanists, a new life is, of course, a wonderful thing to celebrate. Again going back to the sense that we really believe that this is the one life we have that it’s an extraordinary set of circumstances that bring us here and it’s really our responsibility to make the very very best of it. And the sense of wonder, the sense of curiosity, the sense of enjoyment, the sense of investigation and inquiry. All those things are such key qualities for a humanist. And so a naming ceremony is almost like charging that up and valuing and appreciating that this child is just at the beginning of that journey of understanding and experiencing what it is to be human.
I think that is actually very much a humanist idea. We say that humanists feel that this is the one life we each have and it’s about each of us trying to find a way of living that that’s fulfilling and hopefully leave something, something good behind for the generations to come. And I think that sentiment is very much recognised in every naming ceremony, if not directly that’s the, you know, very much the theme that it’s all built upon. To celebrate a new life is, it’s the essential part of being human, because without that life we very obviously do not persist So every life is one which is filled with opportunity, which is filled with potential and filled with so many possibilities.
It’s very important within that ceremony to acknowledge that we’re not labeling the child in any way. So we make it very clear that it’s for the child to choose their path guided by those who are important to them. But we don’t label them as with any -ist or -ism. And the tenants of free choice, responsibility, understanding consequences of your actions as you grow are all underscored, I think, within the ritual that creates a naming ceremony. Most people I’ve worked with to put together naming ceremonies have chosen that way to welcome their child because they want their child to be free to decide for themselves when they’re old enough for what they do or don’t believe.
A lot of couples will choose to appoint guide parents or they might use different word for it but significant adults for that child to develop a relationship with. And often those guideparents would have been chosen because they’ve got particular characteristics, temperaments, skills, something about those people that they feel their child will benefit from experiencing. Now that’s not saying that they want their child to grow up to be just like Uncle Jonah. But it’s saying that they want their child to be exposed to different people’s skills, different, different people’s temperaments. They want their child to be influenced by all sorts of people, so they can sort of work out who they are. And I think that’s something rather wonderful.
With the naming ceremony, in particular, it really strikes me that the, that there is no sense of the child being brought into a community of humanists, that they have now to become part of one belief system or to be able to follow one particular life path from that. Everything within the ceremony is about recognising the child with their individual identity, the importance of their name, the importance of their family and their community, and the importance of choice. The child will be brought up supported by others to find their path, to find their life, to find their ideas and to make choices.


  • Humanists believe we can celebrate new life as we recognise the potential contained in it
  • Humanists believe we should make the most of the one life we have and support others to do the same
  • Humanists believe children should not be labelled but should be free to decide for themselves what to believe and how they wish to live – we each have a responsibility to make such choices for ourselves
  • Curiosity and exposure to a wide diversity of ideas can enrich our lives

Question: How free should children be to find their own path in life? How important is it for us to be the authors of our own lives?

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