Non-Religious Naming Ceremonies for Children on the Rise

What's in a Name?

naming ceremony

Naming ceremonies are becoming more and more popular as non-religious rites of passage for children – not just babies, although they are usually conducted within the first year of a child’s life. The opportunity to have a Naming Day means that you can still have all the preparation and celebration to mark your baby’s place in the world even if you are not a church-goer. The intent of a Naming and a Christening are fundamentally different, but the effect is the same – both occasions draw in the family and friends of the parents to honour and welcome their child into a community.

As a civil ceremony, a Naming gives you all kinds of options – there are no rules!

It can be light-hearted - a family barbecue punctuated by formality, or solemn - sometimes incorporating a tribute to lost children or grandparents. In fact, one of the most tender ceremonies of this kind I have done was for a still-born baby. Another, where the mother, barely more than a child herself, knew the significance of this gift to her child: a name, and a place in her family and the world.

Whether you name your baby after a favourite relative for traditional or sentimental reasons, or coin a new name for your family, a Naming ceremony gives family and friends a moment to pause and reflect on the significance of a name carried by a person throughout his or her lifetime. A name is more than a label: it is a symbol that characterises a person’s nature and actions and builds a reputation. A name tells a story.

A formal Naming ceremony is the first step in that story. It provides an occasion for celebration and contemplation of the future life of your child.

Reaffirmation vs Renewal of Vows: What's the Difference?

Reaffirmation ceremonies are often called Renewal of Vows ceremonies and it is just a matter of personal taste which is applied – maybe Reaffirmation is appropriate if the ceremony comes shortly after the original wedding, and Renewal of Vows more aptly applies on a significant anniversary. In any case, like commitments, reaffirmations/renewals are not legal ceremonies and it is an offence to give the impression that they are. In law you can only be married once.

Yet these ceremonies can have a very important historical place in the process of being married and in living in marriage. I have conducted some of these ceremonies shortly after the legal wedding has taken place – this may have been overseas with a different group of guests and the reaffirmation was a reflection of that ceremony minus the legal wording for the benefit of guests at home. Sometimes a couple has eloped already and has saved the party and some other form of ceremony until another time and location for family and friends. Sometimes this arrangement is for logistic reasons. For more romantic reasons, however, is a second ceremony to celebrate an anniversary – this is where vows are ”renewed” (as oppose to restated ).

Vow Renewals can take place decades after the actual wedding and can be really moving – they can tell a story of a marriage, children reared, homes lived in, travels, careers and changes: and still love endures. The same or different vows can be taken
(not of course the vows from the marriage act) and the ceremony can really reflect on what marriage is according to law – “ to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.” This is an opportunity to create a truly original ceremony with readings and sentiments stored up over the years. The original witnesses to the marriage can be used – and it would be interesting to consider which of the original friends have stood the test of guest-list time!

Surprise Wedding Proposal at High Tea Party


Last time I wrote about how I want to think about commitment ceremonies (i.e.
not to be considered simply as the alienating alternative permitted to the LGBTI community).

I have done commitment ceremonies lately for straight couples – one was married already in a smaller ceremony with restrictions of location and time and wanted the
major celebration to be a commitment ceremony, and another wanted a commitment ceremony followed by the legal marriage.

This is how the latter unfolded:
The bride and groom had lived together for decades, had children, a home – he repeatedly asked her to marry him, but for whatever reasons, it was never the right time. What she really wanted to do was to surprise him at his 40th birthday party with a wedding ceremony. Even though only one of the parties to marriage needs to sign off on the Notice of Intent a month before the marriage (and the other can sign right up to the wedding), this really is not acceptable by law. The issue is duress – there has to be no doubt that a person is entering marriage of his or her own free will – not dragged kicking and screaming as it were. So it’s not a good look if the date on the Notice is the day of the wedding. The bride knew this and suggested we do a commitment ceremony, and this was to be the bigger celebration of their union, when all their family and best friends were gathered for the birthday party. So much thought went into this ceremony! We knew we had to omit any part that suggested that this was the marriage: in fact it had to be stated that it wasn’t; that the actual legal declarations would be made a month hence; the definition of marriage with reference to ‘a man and a woman’ had to be left out (they were happy about that) and no legal documents were signed.

So the ceremony came form the heart and included beautiful sentiments and readings.
At first the groom thought he was just meeting his mother for high tea at the Palais Royale in Katoomba. When he arrived -“ Surprise!” – the whole family and best friends were there for a full-on birthday party, then the bride dropped to her knee, proffered a wedding ring and popped the question. All the guests knew this was going to happen but he had no idea. Of course he said yes! And she whisked him away from the party to get into wedding clothes – a vintage theme was requested and bridal party and guests complied. (Not to mention the celebrant). So fitting for the venue!

I met the groom before the wedding and to be sure asked him if he was willing and happy to proceed. Having been knocked back again the week before, he certainly was.
The ceremony followed the format of marriage but not the marriage act: to no intent nor purpose was it the actual marriage. Yet it had such impact as the expression of the desire of this couple to publicly formalize their union.

In place of the marriage certificates we signed a commitment certificate and the Notice of Intended Marriage. It was official!

Non-Legal Commitment Ceremonies: Explained

Commitment Ceremony

A commitment ceremony is something that was widely understood to be the ceremony you can have when you are not allowed to get married – so was something that same-sex couples accepted as the wedding you have when you are not having a wedding.

However, a commitment ceremony can have great significance and is an option for everyone. It can be for anyone who prefers not to have the state or the church meddling in their relationship. How often have I heard de facto couples say “ We don’t need a piece of paper to say we are married” ? Yet they still want to make a statement to the community of their family and friends to formalize their union and acknowledge their desire and decision to share a life.

Some couples feel the security of their bonding much more strongly simply because it is not based on sanctions from an external authority. Such commitment is perhaps stronger because it does not rely on the act of legislation for its definition : a commitment ceremony comes from the heart, and the “marriage” occurs because you have declared it, not because the law has done so. Then “ marriage” is the word used in the lexicon to mean a binding, a union, the meeting of complementary and sympathetic forces, a pairing …not the definition of marriage “ according to law”.

In such ceremonies then the words of the law, the statements from the marriage act, are omitted and replaced with other words to indicate promises with no less binding or solemn intent than those stipulated in legislation.

A commitment ceremony is a choice.