Help me put together a secular/humanist baby naming ceremony
July 20, 2014 9:26 AM   Subscribe

Baby WanKenobi will be six months old on Saturday, and we're finally giving her a Hebrew name. Help us make our backyard ceremony cool without getting too God-ish.

This Saturday, in celebration of six months of waking up to this face, we're asking friends and family to gather on our back deck for a secular/humanist naming ceremony. We're culturally/ethnically Jewish, and plan on giving her a Hebrew name to honor her cultural heritage and traditions, but religiously we're agnostic humanists.

In attendance will be Baby Molly, Daddy, Momzors, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and two family friends we want to name as "guideparents." There will not be an officiant. We want to keep the whole thing fairly brief, but I need some ideas for readings and rituals we can incorporate. Some Hebrew or Jewish stuff is fine, but we would prefer to avoid outright prayer unless it's of a very humanist stripe. No G-d, please.

I attended a very small wedding celebration a few weeks ago where an unbroekn geode was passed around--each person held the geode and said a few nice words for the couple, then the rock was broken open. I liked the interactivity and sense of community the whole thing, but am at a loss for what sort of object we could use. I'd hoped we would be homeowners by the time Molly's six month anniversary of existence rolled around so we could plant a tree on the placenta that's been in our freezer for these many months, but alas! We rent, and I think a placenta in a pot would attract bears.

posted by PhoBWanKenobi to Religion & Philosophy (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You could say the end of the Shehecheyanu:

Shehecheyanu, vekiyimanu, vehiggiyanu, lazman hazeh

"Who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this moment in time."

I mean, obviously, in the traditional prayer, you start this off with a "Baruch ata" and you're talking about God. But if you just do the end, you're expressing gratitude without identifying any particular source of the blessings you're grateful for. And for your relatives it will be a familiar song associated with feelings of joyous family occasions.
posted by escabeche at 9:42 AM on July 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

What a squishy face! So sweet, what a shayna punim!

I'd do a modified Pidyon Haben. VERY Jewish, but easily modified. So rather that paying redemption to the Kohen, perhaps you can say that Molly was born to the universe, and that you've taken the responsibility to rear her to care for humankind and the earth. Since she is dedicated to the world, you will support and teach not only her but as many other children as you and your resources are allow. In that vein, you'll then gift her with a Tzedakah Pushka into which you'll deposit some silver coins. Let your guests know to bring some change for a contribution and everyone in attendance can help her start her pushka.

So you get a very culturally relevant ceremony, and you can do a mizvah for others. You can contribute the money to Unicef or a women's shelter or CASA.

I wish you nothing but naches!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:38 AM on July 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Vonnegut was a secular humanist -- his "hello babies" thing, even paraphrased, or one of the several selections he's got on the importance of kindness? Even the bit about noticing and honoring a happy moment as it occurs makes for good advice (and ended up as the title of a collection of his commencement addresses). I think Atwood holds to some of the tenets of humanism, too, if you're looking for more readings. (Off the top of my head I feel like she's touched on the persistent beauty of this world, despite how we've mismanaged things, on the regular.)

As for a ritual of some kind: wrap up a (signed by the attendees?) plate in a towel and break it with a small hammer. Then everyone in attendance works to glue the pieces back together, in turn but also in tandem. Your daughter may experience some difficulties or go through hard times, but she will never suffer through anything that is truly, irredeemably broken; all of these people who love her will help her, doing their best both individually and by working together, to put the pieces back together again. (You can guide her hand at one point in the reconstruction process, so she's contributing too.) (In a similar vein -- pass around a cloth, and everyone adds a stitch to it.) Then frame the plate (or the fabric) in a shadowbox. P.S. -- your girl is lovely, and congratulations!
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:47 AM on July 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You can shift the emphasis of the ceremony a little bit -- you can use it to celebrate the people who are being honored by the name, rather than make it all about the religious rite-of-passage stuff of the baby. If you've chosen the name to honor people, of course!
posted by cgs06 at 11:24 AM on July 20, 2014

Our rabbi's idea for part of a baby naming ceremony was to awaken the baby's senses using things with meaning in our family. So scent could be a beloved flower, or beloved family member's perfume or cologne, taste could be something yummy and special (sorbet? She's 6-months-old but something like that in a tiny quantity should be fine), hearing could be a favorite lullaby, touch could be a gentle massage or being caressed by her own blankie, that sort of thing.
posted by fantoches at 11:39 AM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are a number of scripts/resources online for Unitarian Universalist child dedication ceremonies:
1 2 3 4 5
Maybe these could help with humanist readings and structure for your own ceremony? Or I've seen dedications where the people in attendance offer their promises or blessings to the child, via a dish of water as its passed around, and then the water is dribbled on the baby's head or hands/feet.
posted by unknowncommand at 12:11 PM on July 20, 2014

Best answer: Ooh ooh me me. I went to this exact event a few weeks ago (minus the jewish heritage). Guess what my surprise takeaway was?


Speeches. The funny thing about humans is our huge capacity for love but our often shrivelled-up, rarely-used ability to talk about it. Speeches can be so beautiful, they're this rare time adults cut loose and say heartfelt things in public without being embarrassed. The naming day I went to, the mother and father both made short speeches, so did the two "guideparents". All the speeches were beautiful, and a copy of all of them will be given to the kid when it grows up.
posted by greenish at 12:15 PM on July 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

I once went to an interfaith ceremony where the idea was that the baby was blessing various things instead of the other way around, and I thought this was a really lovely idea.
posted by tchemgrrl at 12:19 PM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have nothing to tell you except that baby is as cute as they come. Seriously.
posted by Dolley at 5:55 PM on July 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Sweet face!!

The whole point of Hebrew names and naming ceremonies is baby taking her place among her family and her people. God doesn't really need to come into it. You can do an address that explains her name and its importance, particularly if she's named for relatives, you can use the time to explain the continuity and what heritage she's getting from her namesakes. What is her Hebrew name? Maybe there's something that can be done with its meaning.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:00 PM on July 20, 2014

Maybe the Society for Humanistic Judaism could be helpful? It looks like the charge for their guides on celebrations, but they may be able to point you to helpful local resources.
posted by MadamM at 7:54 PM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

SING A SONG. If there's a song you always sing to her, a song with "Molly" in it that you find special, a song that's "your" song or whatever — there's a reason so many rituals include communal singing. There's something very special and transformative about everyone singing a song together. Even just a Beatles tune you all know or something; singing together always feels very special to me. Bonus points if someone plays a guitar, even a little.
posted by Charity Garfein at 8:26 PM on July 20, 2014

I grew up in the St. Louis Ethical Society (member of the American Ethical Union). You could equate it to Unitarian Universalist but with a Jewish heritage instead of Christian. Here is the sample baby naming ceremony.
posted by sulaine at 7:18 AM on July 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I attended a bris a few years ago where the entire family did something interesting.

Normally during a bris or baby naming, one person is delegated the task of carrying the baby to the foot of the bimah on a pillow, where they are handed off to a parent or senior family member. Carrying the baby is considered an honor.

In this case, the couple's family was large enough that they could literally line up down the aisle, and hand the baby from one person to another. The smallest relatives stood in the back with their parents and accepted the baby at the sanctuary doors, then passed him along to the next person in line. As the baby moved into the shul, the relatives passing him along were older. The final person to accept the infant into her arms was his great grandmother.

When I first heard about what they were doing, I thought it was corny. Then I watched it happen live, and it was marvelous. From the smallest cousin (with help from her mom) to the eldest grandparents, all the way down the line, we watched their baby boy be welcomed into their family one person at a time -- with an unspoken acknowledgment that they were being welcomed into a rich Jewish tradition and heritage -- something that the mohel then spoke about a few minutes later.

The family could have sung a song during that part of the ceremony but chose not to.

Mazel tov, congratulations, deep blessings and much naches for you and your family.
posted by zarq at 8:18 AM on July 21, 2014

Response by poster: Hey all!

So our ceremony on Saturday went wonderfully! Dad (who wore a colander in observance of his Pastafarian beliefs) opened with Vonnegut's "Hello babies." We explained how Molly's Hebrew name--Libi--was meant to honor her maternal great-grandmother, Frances Libby, and how we hope she has inherited my mom-mom's sense of humor. Then we passed the baby herself around the circle, letting each person there give her a snuggle and/or say a few words. Spontaneously, my mother recited the Shehecheyanu, which was a wonderful surprise. I ended with Kahlil Gibran's On Children, stating that we can't wait to see how Molly grows. The whole thing took about 15 minutes, was perfect and perfectly us. Thank you for helping us welcome Molly into our community and family!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:48 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Awwww! Wonderful! How awesome! :)
posted by zarq at 7:53 AM on July 30, 2014

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