Naming of Ewan Philip Mahoney
Chris and I had decided several months before Ewan was born that we wanted to mark his arrival in a special way. Christening was not an option for us because we are not Christians and have no wish to be hypocritical. But we certainly did not want the occasion to slip by without celebration.
We had read of naming ceremonies in "Engineers of the Imagination". Chris had also seen a reference to the British Humanist Association in a Sunday newspaper and bought New Arrivals - their guide to naming ceremonies.
One of our first decisions was that we wanted the ceremony to be out of doors. Some of our greatest pleasures come from activities such as hill walking and orienteering. Indeed we met through orienteering. So we wanted to introduce Ewan to these delights early!
At first, getting to our preferred site was seen as an obstacle. Only gradually did we realise that the walk / journey could be part of the ceremony and a metaphor to boot.
Another factor in choosing a site was that Chris's mum was seriously ill and we wanted a venue that she could easily reach by vehicle if necessary. In the end sadly, she was too ill to make the ceremony and died shortly afterwards. However she and Chris's dad sent a poem and she was able to enjoy the video and photographs we had taken.
Our first choice was a knoll at a local country sports estate with a wonderful panoramic view over Morecambe Bay and a sweep of hills leading up into the Lake District.
We had already planning around this when we decided to ask Sue Gill and John Fox for some advice. John quite rightly cautioned against going much further before sounding out the estate. As he pointed out, the place informs the shape of the ceremony.
As luck would have it the agent for the estate was very suspicious of anything which wasn't clay pigeon shooting or fishing. Chris was heavily pregnant, but when we arrived at the agent's cottage she kept us standing out in the rain whilst she verbally doused more cold water on our idea.
After this reverse we scoured local maps for alternatives. We had more or less settled on a hillside near us when, on a walk with my father, Chris suddenly beckoned us to the top of a small hill and said, "This is it". It was less spectacular than our first choice but had a good feel to it with its grotesquely wind-bent trees, limestone pavement and strangely cropped bushes.
Initially Sue and John had encouraged us to look among our friends for someone to lead the ceremony. Having drawn a blank, we asked Sue, who we knew would be confident, informal and put people at their ease.
The next step was to walk the route together with Sue and John. Even on a mildish May evening it became obvious that somewhere it a bit more sheltered was preferable. We carried on to a lower outcrop studded with trees, which also had a strongly individual character but was enclosed. It also had the advantage of being much closer to a road. Guests whose toddlers could not manage the walk cold take this short cut and gear could be brought in by van.
We were apprehensive that the many young bullocks on the land might worry people, so we asked one of our guests, who happens to be a farmer, if he would keep an eye on this. What we didn't expect was that they would try to eat all our bunting, knocking down all the poles, etc. Ella, our "stage manager" had to mount guard to prevent a re-occurrence.
Far from the cattle frightening our guests, the kids loved trying to stroke their noses. They also provided a photogenic backcloth as they gathered round at a respectful distance.
We agonised about how to involve our relatives in the ceremony and ditched many ideas as we tried to get the balance of ritual, poetry, songs, etc.
The final running order, with a great deal of help from Sue and John, was:
Gathering and welcome. Brief explanation of what we would be doing.
Walk along marked route.
Visit summit of hill. Windsock and red smoke.
Naming venue framed by bunting and banners. Accordion music and brazier for homely atmosphere.
The two aunts, nephew and niece gather in the flowers we had asked people to bring and form Ewan's name on the ground.
I explain the symbolism of flowers.
A friend sings "Linden Lea".
My sister reads a poem.
Chris explains the significance of the journey and the place.
Our niece reads a poem from Chris's parents, who are unable to be present because of illness.
I lift Ewan high and we say in unison, " we name our child, Ewan Philip."
My father calls for a toast on behalf of the grandparents.
A friend sings "Dance to your Daddy."
John reads a poem he has written for the occasion.
Children are each given a "telescope" to help find our way back to the cars and to the hall for tea.
We had lots of very positive responses to the Naming:
"I thought there was going to be vicar and we would have to hand the flowers to him. This was much better. (One of the younger guests.)
"Although we are Christians, because it wasn't a christening we thought much more about it."
"It was so much more personal than many ceremonies."
"I wish we had known about Namings when our children were young."
"If we ever have kids, we should do something like this."
We had been warned that some guests, particularly older ones, might be apprehensive about a Naming and that we should talk it through with them. My sister said that the style of the invitation (featuring the silhouette of a wind-bent hawthorn) put some of her friends in mind of occult goings-on. We also had some Christian friends asking light-heartedly - "There's nothing Pagan about it is there?" I confirmed that we were only biting chicken's heads off. But on the whole this wasn't a problem.
On the practical side, we found that having a third party helped us make our decisions more quickly and amicably!
We found it very easy to forget nitty gritty details like not giving out sheets of paper which might blow away in the wind and making sure there was someone there to open up the hall afterwards for refreshments. It was important to delegate as many jobs as possible: photography and video-ing, cattle monitor, assistance with rigging.
It is also important to make the event your own, to draw on the talents
of your friends and yourselves as far as possible. We have many happy
memories of the day.