A humanist naming ceremony for two brothers

A humanist naming ceremony for two brothers

Alastair and Kat wanted a humanist naming ceremony for their two boys, but there were times when it seemed like this would be impossible. Cancelled first due to Covid and then a cancer diagnosis, when the ceremony finally took place it was full of meaning and emotion. Alastair explains how a humanist celebrant helped them to create a day that the family wanted and needed.

“There were three of us when we first started thinking about a naming ceremony: me, my wife Kat, and our son Teddy,” says Alastair. “We planned to hold it on Teddy’s first birthday, but then Covid happened.

“We wanted a humanist ceremony, but I hadn’t really thought about the difference that having a professional celebrant would make. We thought at first that we could ask a friend to lead it for us. But we changed our minds once we started thinking about the role we wanted our friends to play in the ceremony – we wanted to invite them to celebrate with us, not to work.”

How we found a humanist celebrant

It was the experience of attending another humanist naming ceremony and a humanist funeral that solidified for Alastair and Kat the value of getting a Humanists UK celebrant.

They used the ‘find a celebrant’ function on the Humanists UK  website, found three in their local area and then chose one. By now, Kat was pregnant with Teddy’s younger brother, Rupert.

“By the time we met our celebrant Katy we were planning a naming ceremony for both boys. As we hadn’t been able to do the ceremony on Teddy’s first birthday, we thought we might as well wait to do both together. We set a date. It moved from Teddy’s first birthday to the summer, when Rupert would be four months old.”

Alastair and Kat came to the meeting with lots of ideas for rituals to include. But they wanted the celebrant to bring gravitas and professionalism to the ceremony. They agreed on a script, but it had to be revised many times due to changing circumstances.

“Only a few weeks before we were supposed to have the ceremony, Teddy was diagnosed with stage four cancer, so we had to postpone. Our celebrant was lovely and supportive throughout all the changes.”

More cancellations and changes

A new date was set, but later had to be cancelled due to a change in Teddy’s treatment dates.

“At that point, we considered just having the celebrant, immediate friends and family, filming the ceremony and sending the video round to everyone else,” remembers Alastair. “I mean, twice we’d invited people and twice we’d had to cancel…”

Instead, ever hopeful, they changed the script yet again and set another date.

“We said, ‘If it goes wrong this time, that’s it!’ Then, the day before the ceremony, Teddy had to go into hospital. We thought we would have to cancel – but his hospital team said he could come out for a few hours.

“The ceremony was for and about both boys. We didn’t want Teddy’s illness to overshadow everything. In the original draft, there was a lot about the role of the community of extended friends and family in supporting us. That felt even more poignant now.

“His grandparents, guide parents, aunts and uncles had been incredibly supportive. We wanted to thank them, and all of our guests, and to celebrate with them all as well. Those themes were still there in the original script, but now they felt deeper and more real. It was very emotional. There were so many people that we wanted to thank, but we couldn’t name everyone.”

A naming ceremony for older children

By the time the ceremony took place, Rupert was 18 months old and Teddy was four. Both children were old enough to be able to take part and to enjoy being centre stage for the day!

“Rupert loves being around lots of people, and hates his brother going into hospital, so he loved the day,” explains Alastair.“ Teddy enjoyed the attention too.

“As part of the ritual, we gave the boys beads of courage. These are coloured beads which Teddy receives after various medical procedures or trips to hospital. During the ceremony, Rupert got a ‘little brother’ bead and Teddy, a ‘big brother’ one. Teddy was very tired, we had to carry him around everywhere, but they both had a fantastic day!

“A standout moment for me came when we played ‘Beautiful Boy’, a song my dad used to sing to me. The four of us hugged as it played. I felt such a sense of relief. If it had been cancelled again, not to be morbid, but we didn’t know if we’d ever be able to do it.”

Why choose a humanist celebrant for a naming ceremony

The naming ceremony took place in the local scout hut – informal and friendly, just as they wanted it to be.

Even on the day of the ceremony, there were some unexpected hitches! “The oven wasn’t working,” remembers Alastair. “And we had to sit on benches because someone had taken the key to the room where the chairs were stored. Then there was the last minute dash to get the sound system! But it gave people opportunities to help, which wouldn’t have happened if the organisation had been perfect. This added to the sense of community.

“That’s another reason why we wanted a professional celebrant and not a friend – to provide a high quality focal point. There might have been chaos all around, but the celebrant brought a calm professionalism. If you’ve been to a humanist ceremony, you’ll have seen that having a trained and experienced celebrant really is worth it.”

Humanist values in action

“We were worried about having to delay multiple times. We wondered if after waiting all this time, it would feel perfunctory. When we spoke to the hospital to get their permission to take Teddy out, we weren’t sure if they’d understand the importance of a humanist ceremony in the same way they would if it was a christening.

“But actually it was brilliant. Everyone got what we were doing. Religious friends and family understood the level of importance of this to us.

“My advice would be – don’t worry about whether other people will find it meaningful. If it’s meaningful for you, everyone else will respond to that.”

The celebrant featured in this story is Katy Barrett. Katy is an accredited Humanist Ceremonies celebrant based in Brighton, she has had a long career in the NHS as an occupational therapist and currently works with children in a community setting. When she’s not working she enjoys socialising with family and friends, visiting art galleries, and independent cinema.

Find out more about Katy on her website.

You can read a letter from Alastair to his boys about the ceremony, on his blog.

Read more about humanist naming ceremonies

What is a humanist naming ceremony?

What happens at a humanist naming ceremony?

If you’re thinking about having a naming ceremony to welcome a child or young person to your family, find a celebrant here.

Your humanist celebrant will write a unique script to celebrate the naming of your child.

Find interesting ways to create a unique ceremony that engages children and adults alike.