Religious Naming Ceremonies

by Benna Crawford
A baptism ceremony both names a child and welcomes it to the Christian faith.

A baptism ceremony both names a child and welcomes it to the Christian faith.

Across religions and cultures, the act of naming a newborn is a deeply significant gesture. With a name, a family gives a baby an identity that may emphasize a desirable characteristic — like Joy — or connection to an ancestor. And the name may bestow religious or community blessings and good will on the new member. A baby-naming ceremony is a celebration with rituals specific to each faith and some universal customs.

Christian

The Christian naming ceremony is usually combined with baptism into the faith. Many Christian sects believe in the concept of original sin, a shadow on the pure soul inherited from the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Baptism removes this stain and initiates the child into the spiritual community. Most ceremonies take place at a designated baptismal font in a church. Babies are traditionally dressed in white for the ceremony to signify their innocence, and they are attended — and held — by their parents or godparents. A priest or minister anoints the child's forehead with holy oil and sprinkles it with blessed water, welcoming the infant to the church and invoking God's grace and mercy on its soul. At that time, the baby's name is spoken and a baptismal certificate with the new name, ideally a saint's name, is signed.

Judaic

Girls and boys have different naming ceremonies in Judaism, although modern Jews may de-emphasize the distinctions between them. The brit milah, or bris, for boys, combines ritual circumcision with announcement of the child's Hebrew name. A bris is conducted eight days after the birth, in a temple or in the home, by a trained mohel. The godparents hold the baby, who is given a drop of wine to soothe him if he cries. For boys who are not circumcised and for newborn girls, naming takes place at the synagogue on the first shabbat after the birth. The baby's father reads from the Torah and tells the congregation the child's Hebrew name. After the announcement of the name, candies are thrown to wish the baby a sweet life.

Hindu and Islamic

Rituals for the traditional Hindu naming ceremony, the Namakarana, may differ by region. Naming usually takes place 12 days after birth, on the first birthday or on the day a horoscope is drawn up for the newborn. In the temple, a priest performs puja, offering prayers to the gods, placing the horoscope on the altar and whispering the baby's Hindu name in its ear through a rolled-up betel leaf. A black cord may be tied around the infant's waist to ward off the evil eye. For Muslims, naming takes place seven days after birth. A lock of hair is cut from the infant’s head and the name is announced, followed by a brief reading from the Koran. Guests may give ritual alms by donating the baby’s weight in silver or currency to a charity. At the actual moment of birth, a child is welcomed to Islam by the whispered Call to Prayer in its ear so the name of Allah is the first sound it hears.

Buddhist and Wiccan

Buddhist babies are formally named in the temple after blessings by a monk or priest. Monks bless newborns at home and a horoscope is drawn up to determine the first letter of the baby's name. Later, at the naming ceremony, flowers, incense, food and other offerings are made to deities and ancestors on the baby's behalf. Some Buddhists invoke the blessings of Kuan Yin, Buddhist goddess of compassion, to safeguard the child. Wiccaning is a baby-naming ceremony filled with symbols, from lighted beeswax candles to flowers like baby's breath and miniature roses. The infant's name is said aloud as its forehead is anointed with a Wiccan cross and circle to "charge" the ceremony with magical intention. The celebrant pours water over the baby's head to invoke the protection of earth and water. Parents pass the child through incense smoke in a prayer for wisdom and harmony with nature and each guest offers a personal wish or blessing.

About the Author

Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .

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