During the Covid-19 pandemic, the UK lockdown and social distancing rules have meant that celebrants and families have needed to find creative ways to hold humanist ceremonies.
Humanist naming celebrant, Felicity Harvest tells us about the planning and delivery of an online, socially distanced naming ceremony she conducted recently, which was a meaningful, moving, and memorable occasion for family and friends.
During the UK lockdown, I was contacted by a family wanting a naming ceremony for their son Ben, like the one I’d conducted five years ago for their daughter Roslyn.
In his email, the father of the children said, ‘I realise a similar congregation is somewhat impracticable at this time. However, we have discussed this and, in the spirit of the times, would love to have the ceremony conducted online using a system such as Zoom, Skype, or similar.’
Some wedding celebrant colleagues of mine had already conducted weddings using Zoom during the lockdown, so I knew it was possible and I was happy to agree.
It’s not unknown to hold a family meeting via video conferencing — for instance, when a couple who live abroad and are having their ceremony here in the UK — but this was the first time I’d used a video call to plan a naming ceremony.
During the call, we worked out what we would do which was similar to Roslyn’s ceremony. The parents, Jim and Susie wanted to use the same parental promises to show they hold the children in equal regard.
But, because of the social distancing, there would be differences too. Jim and Susie decided to send a bottle of fizz to all households who would be taking part in the online ceremony, so there could be a collective toast at the end. And, in order to allow time for people to open the bottles, Roslyn would lead all the children in blowing bubbles.
The next stage followed the usual planning process for a humanist naming ceremony: I drafted a ceremony, sent it to the parents, they made some changes, and I created a final script.
The week before the ceremony, I held a technical rehearsal and tried various lighting options and backgrounds until I was satisfied with the results.
Before the ceremony, I ran through the housekeeping arrangements and reminded people how to use the mute/unmute button.
The ceremony began with everyone taking it in turns to introduce themselves and explain their relationship to Ben.
‘Is your glass half empty or half full?’ asked the mole.
‘I think I’m grateful to have a glass,’ said the boy.
‘What’s your best discovery?’ asked the mole.
‘That I’m enough as I am,’ said the boy.
‘I’ve realised why we are here,’ whispered the boy.
‘For cake?’ asked the mole.
‘To love,’ said the boy.
‘And to be loved,’ said the mole.
I told Ben’s story and then introduced the five ‘godparents’. (Even though humanist naming ceremonies are non-religious, the family decided to use the term ‘godparents’ because they felt that it’s a word people understand.)
I asked each of the ‘godparents’ to say a few words about what they hoped to bring to Ben’s life and one thing they promised to do with or for him once the lockdown was over.
Then, I talked about the names which the family had chosen for Ben. He was born in St Thomas’ Hospital and was named after Big Ben on the other side of the river. His middle name was a family name. After the naming, I asked everyone to turn on their microphones and say, ‘Welcome to the world!’
Normally at a naming ceremony, there will be a few restless children, but I couldn’t help noticing that with this ‘on screen’ version, the children (who ranged from 18 months to seven years in age) all watched with full attention. There was just one exception — a boy who hid down the side of the settee throughout – did he think I was Doctor Who?
It was lovely to work with Jim and Susie again and none of that was diminished by the online location. They told me that one day they might even get around to getting married, so I hope I’ll be able to work with them again!
‘Thank you so very much for giving Ben the best naming ceremony in virtual history! It was a fantastic event and, thanks to you, the ceremony was not only smooth in its delivery but also really meaningful, moving, and I hope truly memorable.
‘So many of the guests contacted us afterwards to say how much they enjoyed it and how special it was. Ben is a very lucky boy!’ Susie and Jim.
Felicity Harvest conducts humanist naming ceremonies, weddings, wedding vow renewals, funerals, and memorial ceremonies in and around South East England
Each humanist naming ceremony is unique. In planning one, you can be as creative as you like! You may choose to involve family and friends, singing, poetry, and even symbolic rituals – anything that brings meaning and a sense of occasion to the day. Here are ten ideas for your child’s humanist ceremony.
If you would like a personalised, bespoke naming ceremony, you can use our ‘Find a celebrant’ map to find a Humanist Ceremonies naming celebrant in your area. Your local celebrant will be happy to talk with you about your ideas and the possibilities for the celebration you are planning.