‘Naming Ceremonies’ at Any Stage of Life: How Celebrants Create Space for Authentic Identity

Baby Welcomings, LGBTQIA+, Naming Ceremonies

Lehigh Valley Celebrants owner, Donna Forsythe, was asked to contribute to a blog post for American Marriage Ministries on Naming Ceremonies. Not familiar with the term? Read more about this wonderful ceremony here! For the original blog, go to American Marriage Ministries.

Below is the blog from AMM!

Learn about the Naming Ceremony tradition for adults at any stage of life, and how Celebrants and Officiants create space for authentic identity through this important ritual. Like christenings and zeved habat, naming ceremonies are part of both spiritual and secular traditions.

A Naming Ceremony or ritual can be celebrated at any age, including as an adult, as a way to honor the authentic self. 

A ‘naming ceremony’ is the celebration of an individual being given (or announcing) a new name while in the presence of loved ones and community, and can take place at any age.

Common examples of this are a christening ceremony, when a child born into a Christian family is given a first name during their baptism; and the Zeved habat (or Simchat Bat), when a daughter born into a Jewish family is named. 

All cultures have their own unique versions of the naming ritual. Some of them, like christenings and the Zeved habat, are part of a spiritual tradition, while others are simply secular community celebrations with no religious or spiritual aspects. 

Close-up of a woman's hands holding a lit candle. She's wearing artistic jewelry and rings, giving her a spiritual or bohemian vibe.

Naming ceremonies can be celebrated at any age and any stage of life.

Although most common for children, these ceremonies are also held for adults, whenever an individual chooses a new name to reflect their most authentic self. 

In some Native American naming traditions, for example, individuals are given many different names throughout their life, as a way to reflect significant changes in their personality or individual abilities and strengths. And in Druid communities, some adults participate in Naming Rites to celebrate a time of healing and rebirth after making it through a particularly difficult period of life. 

Common elements of a Naming Ceremony: 

  • Close friends and family gather together
  • Wishes or blessings are given to the individual being named (or announcing a new name)
  • Calling out the new name in recognition and joy
  • Group participation in symbolic gestures such as casting wishing stones, candle lighting, tree planting, or chanting 

Why would an adult choose a new name?

When we’re given a name as a child, it reflects our parents’ values and hopes for us, but it’s not always a match for the adult we become. It might be a family name that’s been passed down through generations. Or an aspirational name that our parents hope we’ll grow into one day. And most names are gendered, given to us based on whatever gender is assigned to us when we’re born.

Sometimes we’re given a name we learn to love, or at least learn to appreciate. But sometimes we’re given a name that never matches up with our authentic identity, how we see ourselves or how we want the world to see us. Other times we outgrow an old name and want a new one that fits who we are now, or we simply like the sound of a certain name better than the one we have. 

Luckily, we aren’t stuck with a name we don’t want!

Some individuals choose to change their name legally, and every state offers a process for changing a first, last, or full name. Others might choose to simply go by a new name in their day to day lives, such as when introducing themselves at work or with friends. 

A group of friends sit on a beach at sunrise, with the ocean stretched in front of them. They are holding up bottles as a toast.

Naming ceremonies are as individual as we are. 

They can take place indoors or outdoors, and be casual or formal.

The unique role of Celebrants in naming rituals

Celebrants and officiants are masters of marking time, and of cultivating meaningful rituals to celebrate life’s most important transitions. They create deeply personal, custom rituals based on the personality and needs of the individual. This means a skilled celebrant or officiant can plan a naming ceremony that’s casual, formal, big, or small… and anything in between.

While legally changing a name is deeply empowering — submitting paperwork is not a party

Celebrants give individuals and their communities the opportunity to celebrate a name change in a festive way, giving this important moment the fanfare and attention it deserves… whether they choose to legally change their name or not. 

A Real-world example 

Renowned Humanist Celebrant Donna Forsythe recently found inspiration through the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown, PA, to offer free Naming Ceremonies for members of the transgender and queer communities in her area. 

This special service has been warmly received by folks of all ages.

Donna tells AMM that people have come up to her at various Pride events, saying “I wish there had been something like this for me,” and, “This is something that my parents would really love!”  

She explains that the scale and style of a ceremony is truly up to the person celebrating. As with wedding ceremonies and other types of celebrations, celebrants have the opportunity to form a close relationship with the individual and to create something meaninful and personal:

“It can be a dozen people at most ” she says, describing the various ways a naming ceremony can look, such as a small gathering with the people closest to you. “It doesn’t have to be formal.” And naming ceremonies can incorporate any kind of smaller ritual, from written messages, to wishing stones, to soil blending ceremonies for tree plantings. 

At their heart, she says, naming ceremonies are about acknowledging a transition in life “on your own terms.”

Donna Forsythe is a Humanist Celebrant living just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

She’s the Program Founder and Director for the Celebrant Academy, Vice President of The Humanist Society Board of Directors, and owner of Lehigh Valley Celebrants, a professional wedding service in Pennsylvania.

(Find her: @celebrantacademy & @lehighvalleycelebrants on Instagram)

For most of her career, Donna was an inner-city educator. Then, in 2014 the same-sex marriage ban was lifted in Pennsylvania. Within days she officiated her first wedding, marrying two men in their 70s. Her career path changed its trajectory and she became a full-time celebrant soon after that. 

Two years ago, Donna opened the virtual doors to Celebrant Academy, a comprehensive training program for professional celebrants and officiants in the US.

Thank you, American Marriage Ministries, for sharing information about this important life ritual – and for including us in your article!

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