Since ancient times, major rites of passage have been celebrated by traditional peoples and tribal civilisations. Pagans--whose name derives from various meanings indicating "of the country"--include many pre-Christian cultures. Today, people who identify as "connected with nature" may choose to adopt perceived versions of ancient traditions to celebrate major moments in a person's life. Soon after a baby is born, she is blessed and introduced to the family, but some parents may choose a separate naming ceremony to formally welcome the child, and proclaim her place in the world.
Today, babies born into Native American, Jewish and a number of other cultures are given their names through special rites. Some of these are similar in nature to Pagan rites, in that the inherent purpose is to affirm the child's life, to publicly acknowledge the parents' commitment to the child, and to secure the child's ongoing care through either a form of godparenting, or the community at large. Ceremonies can be a simple, brief episode in which a person of high rank first says the baby's name aloud, or they can be long rituals composed of many parts, culminating with the baby's name being pronounced, explained and recited, all followed by celebrations into the night.
Not all Pagans are Wiccan or neo-Druidic, and the variety of rites that can be created are endless. Many rites have derived from ancient Mystery Schools, and a good number are cross-linked conceptions contrived due to lack of solid historic evidence. While adhering to some generalities handed down through oral tradition, whatever the parents or group create is deemed acceptable if the tone of the ceremony constitutes a balance of solemnity, harmony and celebration.
Parents will have spent time carefully considering the child's name, or have had an elder observe the baby and assign the name; the name can be withheld until the ceremony. Pagan naming rites frequently involve planning of who will participate, who will officiate, what ceremonial and ritual items will be needed, what the baby and others will wear, and whether or not official documents will be signed. Some parents choose to have a full-circle called in around the baby, followed by an entry parade, bells, blessed water, ornately constructed altars in the four directions, attributes for land, sea and sky, perhaps even a fire started or a sacred tree nearby. Others simply gather at home with a special candle, sage or incense, a chalice or several sacred items. Elaborate staging can be a nice element; however, the focus is on the actual rite of naming the baby.
With family and friends nearby, the parents may take on roles akin to high priest and priestess. If a circle is cast, the group will enter and remain within. The person overseeing the ceremony will call upon the particular pantheon's gods and goddesses, protectors and guides, and state the purpose of the gathering. She will then acknowledge the parents, who will speak aloud prayers, give thanks for their child, and make offerings to the gods they honour.
This may be followed by several options: pouring water over the baby's head as they dedicate the child to universal oneness; lifting the child three times while saying a blessing; turning to the four directions to show the child his world, while indicating the spirits of those directions and the elements for the child to be made aware.
The officiant or parents will be first to speak the child's name. The parents state they will raise the child to their best abilities, loving, guiding and protecting him from harm, while teaching him how to make his way and use his gifts in service to the world. Godparents will be given the baby and they, too, will publicly declare they will assume these responsibilities should anything happen to the parents. Then the community and larger circle will join in a common affirmation on the child's behalf. Thanks are given, the circle is opened or the gathering dismissed, and all proceed out to feast.
These rites are very sacred, and deserve the respect of all attendees. When a long ceremony is planned, everyone invited needs to be made aware of what they can expect. Formal invitations sent out by the parents can include these details in advance. Or, a program can be given out when people are gathering before the circle, if any, is cast. If a general assembly takes place in a building or grove, make sure everyone knows about safety and handling issues regarding fires, candles, incense, ritual tools, athames, swords, herbs, stones, staffs, and anything else that might warrant attention. If you are invited to such a rite of passage, and have never attended one, be sure to get your questions answered in advance. You will not typically be asked to do anything other than be a loving, supportive witness, although sometimes communion wine and crackers, or mead and bannock are offered to all present.
Suggestions for Parents
If you plan to hold a baby naming ceremony, you may want to wait a month or a designated time period before formally naming her. Some people consult an astrology chart for this. Be sure to choose your officiant with care, as well as those who will serve in any godparenting role, since these are great responsibilities. Try not to worry too much about getting it all right; simply honour your intentions and do your best--there is no right or wrong way to do the ritual. If you spent days creating a long program with many recitations and prayers that have to be memorised, just have them printed out and handy. Enjoy the moment. People join with you in respect to joyously welcome and speak to your new family member by name.