Christenings: Frequently Asked Questions

Prospective parents and in particular those from Christian backgrounds, may be considering whether or not to get their child baptised and the significance of doing so. Confusion is understandable; the intricacies of the ceremony can appear daunting, especially to parents who aren’t particularly religious themselves. What follows are a few answers to questions commonly asked about the ceremonies. We will deal here principally with practices common in the Church of England; other denominations of Christianity may have their own various idiosyncrasies.

Family Christening Portrait

What is a Christening?

The term ‘christen’ means to admit someone as a Christian. This is almost universally done through baptism – or immersion in water. The two terms are used interchangeably – some churches may announce that they are to hold a ‘baptism’; others may announce that they are to hold a ‘christening’.  There is no substantive difference between the two.

From where do Christenings originate?

In Christianity, the ceremony’s origins date back to Jesus’s baptism by John in the river Jordan, but baptism had long been practiced before then. The crucial difference between Christian baptism and its forebears is that it is open to everyone, rather than just those of a certain lineage. It holds significance for a number of reasons, not least of which is the washing away of our original sin.

What actually happens in the ceremony?

The specifics of the modern ceremony are fairly constant throughout the Church of England. The priest will bless some water and pour it over the baby’s head and then make the sign of the cross over them using a special oil. Promises will be made, by both parents and godparents (more on them later), on behalf of the baby. Finally, the church may also present the parents with a gift – usually a candle. The ceremony will invariably include some hymns and readings – the parents will be able to choose which. In the case of infant baptism, the immersion is only partial – for the obvious reasons of safety and practicality. Baptisms involving adults involve full immersion in water.

When do Christenings take place?

Christenings take place as part of the Sunday service, though they can be scheduled for other times if the parish allows it.  If you would like to arrange a christening at a different time, then speak to your local priest or vicar.

Am I allowed to have my baby christened?

In the Church of England at least, the answer is almost always yes. The Church welcomes families of every shape and size. You do not have to be married, you do not have to attend church regularly, and you don’t have to have been christened yourself. In this sense, the church is remarkably accommodating.

Does the Christening give my baby a name?

While the priest will use the baby’s name in the ceremony, christenings do not give baby’s names.  This is given when the birth is registered and then in confirmation when they are teenagers (if they wish to go through with this).

When can I have my child christened?

While most ceremonies take place shortly after a child’s birth, the truth is that a child of any age can be christened. While there is no upper age limit, once a child is older than seven they will generally be expected to make the promises themselves, rather than having their parents do it on their behalf.

What exactly is a Godparent?

A godparent is someone who aids a child’s parents in religious upbringing, though in secular households the role of godparent might be broadened to include ethical training as well. A godparent will help a child think about big concepts which might otherwise escape them. Parents should therefore select godparents they judge to be of excellent moral character.

When it comes to godparents, the Church of England is a little less flexible than it is when it comes to the parents. Godparents must themselves have been christened and they must also be of sufficient age to make promises on a child’s behalf.

The church stipulates that a child should have ‘no fewer than three godparents and at least two of the same sex as the child’. Since parents can be godparents, this means that a baptised couple need only have one additional godparent – though in many instances, it may be better to have more than one.

Where does a Christening take place?

In the vast majority of cases, christenings will take place in the parish local to the family. In some instances, however, the parents may desire that the ceremony be held at another parish – perhaps one which holds significance for the family. Look out for a directory of suitable Christening venues coming to the site in the New Year.

Are Christening’s free?

Church of England parishes will perform the ceremony for free; it is common, however, for families to make donations to the parish. There are costs associated with the ceremony, such as that of the robes your child might wear and the family party which almost always accompanies the ceremony.

I wasn’t baptised as a child. Can I get baptised now?

The answer to this question is invariably yes. It is far rarer for adults to get baptised but arrangements can definitely be made. If you would like to become baptised, then speak to your local parish priest.

I was baptised as a child.  Can I do anything further?

The main criticism of infant baptism is that a child has no say in the matter. There is undoubtedly merit in this objection; after all, you can hardly be expected to hold to a promise made when you were only a few months old. In many cases, the child does not grow to have any strong religious conviction. In some cases, however, the faith of a baptised child becomes particularly important as an adult.

Many Christians seek to reaffirm these promises later in life, in a ceremony known as a confirmation.  In this ceremony, the bishop will ask the candidate a series of questions, such as whether you have decided to turn away from evil and turn instead toward Christ. These promises will be made in front of the congregation, who will in turn promise to help you to keep them by offering their support wherever possible.

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Top Boys and Girls Baby Names Infographic

Deciding on the name for a new baby can be very tricky. You obviously want to avoid anything that might embarrass them in later life, but you also want to choose a name that will make them stand out from the crowd. Here’s some information about the most popular boys and girls names around at the moment. Who knows; maybe the facts below will help you to make a decision?

Top Boys and Girls Baby Names

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Popular Names for Baby Girls

Looking at the latest publication of the Top 100 Baby Names in England & Wales from the Office for National Statistics, there seems to have been very little change to the top five girls names over the last couple of years – but there have been some big movers over the last decade. Ten years ago Amelia and Lily weren’t even in the top twenty – they are now some of the UK’s most popular names for baby girls. Sadly, some names have disappeared altogether including: Bertha, Blodwen, Gladys and Muriel – you will also struggle to find a Gertrude or a Marjorie at the playgroup.

So, who is in the top five and why are they so popular?

1. AMELIA
Amelia has shot up 24 places in the last ten years to take the number one spot. Unlike Emily (which has a Latin root), Amelia is a variation of the Germanic “Amalia” and is often associated with a hard-working, diligent character as well as a fruitful and productive nature. The Georgians brought the name to England in the 18th century and many royal princesses carried the name. Forty years ago the name hardly featured in the top 100 and its current resurgence is difficult to link to any recent cultural or media trends.

We are pretty short of famous personalities called Amelia. So, while the first one to come to mind is probably Amelia Earhart, here’s one for the pub quiz: The famous actress Minnie Driver was Christened Amelia Driver.

Other diminutives include: Mel, Milly, Amy
Foreign alternatives: Amélie, Amalia, Emilia

2. OLIVIA
Olivia is one of those English names (like Wendy) where we can be pretty confident of its origins. Up until 1601 the name simply didn’t exist, then, William Shakespeare, looking to name a character in his play Twelfth Night, coined the name for the wealthy Countess Olivia who falls in love with “Cesario”. Thought to be Shakespeare’s feminine version of the boy’s name Oliver, the derivation is from the Latin word “Oliva”, meaning olive. For this reason, the name is associated with peacemakers but also strength and reliability.

Ok, we can all name one famous Olivia who sang “You’re the One That I Want”, but can you name two more celebrities called Olivia?

Other diminutives include: Liv, Livvy, Livia, Ollie
Foreign alternatives: Olivie, Vivi

3. JESSICA
Jessica has been in the top ten girls names for the last twenty years or so. The exploits of one Miss Jessica Ennis in the 2012 Olympics will probably ensure it stays there for the next twenty years. Amazingly, the origin of the name Jessica is attributed to an English playwright we have already mentioned here … yes, William Shakespeare is credited with coining the name Jessica as well as Olivia. In The Merchant of Venice, Jessica is the daughter of Shylock. Shakespeare is thought to have adapted the biblical Hebrew name Yiskah which was also spelt “Jeska” in some contemporary bibles. The Hebrew word means “foresight” and the name is now associated with an organised personality who plans ahead.

Jessica Ellen Cornish was born on the 27 March 1988 … you know her by another name … you’ve seen her on The Voice … yes it’s singer songwriter Jessie J.

Other diminutives include: Jessie, Jess
Foreign alternatives: Jessika, Yessica

4. EMILY
Although similar to the name Amelia (which has Germanic roots), Emily is thought to come from the Latin romance languages. The meaning is often cited as “rival”, but another interpretation could be “contender”, “equal” or “peer”. So Emily is her own person, independent and up for a challenge. A very feminine name that was number 2 ten years ago, but still very popular. Corresponding boy’s names include Emile and Max (Maximilian has the same root).

Mini factoid: Hermione Granger actress Emma Watson was Christened Emily.

Other diminutives include: Em, Emmy, Milly, Emmie, Millie
Foreign alternatives: Emilie, Émilie, Emilia

5. LILY
Of all the girls names derived from flowers (like Rose, Violet and Daisy), Lily is by far the most popular. Lilies have always been closely associated with the Virgin Mary because of their pure white colour and the name still conjures up images innocence, virtue and purity. The name has grown in popularity over the last ten years, climbing 23 places to the number 5 spot. A few home-grown celebrities like Lily Allen may be partly responsible, but some commentators have also pointed to a more magical icon … Yes, Harry Potter’s mum was called Lily.

Other variants include: Lillie, Lilly
Foreign alternatives: Liana, Liliana

Finally can you explain this … Ten years ago hardly any girls were called “Lexi” – 1,659 other names were more popular. The name now comes in at position 46 (more popular than Rosie, Emma, Amy and Katie) … It is a pretty diminutive of Alexandra or Alexa, but why the sudden surge in popularity?

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Choosing Godparents

There are very few hard and fast rules about choosing godparents for your child, but there are probably three boxes you need to tick first:

1) The Church of England does ask that godparents have been Baptised. The Church also recommends that godparents are Confirmed, although this is not essential.

2) You will need a minimum of three godparents, two of the same sex as the child and one of the opposite sex. You and your husband/wife can be godparents, but there must be at least one additional godparent.

3) Godparents are not only making a personal commitment, they are also representing your child at the Christening, so the godparents have to be old enough to understand their role. It may seem attractive to ask a young cousin to become a godparent, but always consider whether they are mature enough to understand the promises they will be making.

Godparents are not taking on a legal obligation. They are not responsible in law for your child and are not obliged to care for your child should anything happen to you – You are not asking them to become a legal guardian. You are however asking them to make a lifelong commitment to your child’s spiritual and emotional wellbeing.

Remember, you are choosing someone who will be a spiritual and emotional guide for your child … It is easy to choose a godparent for the wrong reasons. Just because someone is wealthy, it doesn’t mean they will have the emotional maturity for the job or the commitment. Don’t choose somebody out of loyalty because they are an “old mate” or because you want to show them some recognition as a token of friendship. Also, just because someone has asked you to be the godparent of their child, it doesn’t mean you have to reciprocate and ask them to be a godparent in return. And, finally, think carefully before asking work colleagues, especially superiors, unless of course you are very close friends.

The bottom line: Choose a godparent for your child … not for you. You are choosing someone who you trust to provide encouragement in spiritual and church life and emotional support throughout childhood.

Try not to put your friends in a difficult position. Think about the character of the person you will be asking. If they are not churchgoers but are spiritually aware, they may be happy to make the declarations and commitments required at the Baptism. However if you are considering a friend who holds strong views about religion, or who would find the declarations at the service difficult to affirm, you may be placing them in the embarrassing dilemma of wanting to refuse, but not wanting to let you down at the same time.

Depending upon the church, the vicar and the service chosen, the godparents will be asked to answer a series of questions and make declarations on your child’s behalf … these vary according to recent changes in the service, but here is an example of the sort of responses you will be asking the godparents to say – will the godparents you are considering be happy to do this?:

Vicar: “Parents and godparents, the Church receives these children with joy. Today we are trusting God for their growth in faith. Will you pray for them, draw them by your example into the community of faith and walk with them in the way of Christ?”
Godparents: With the help of God, we will.

Vicar: “In baptism these children begin their journey in faith. You speak for them today. Will you care for them,and help them to take their place within the life and worship of Christ’s Church?”
Godparents: With the help of God, we will.

Vicar: “In baptism, God calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light. To follow Christ means dying to sin and rising to new life with him. Therefore I ask:

“Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?”
Godparents Response: I reject them.

“Do you renounce the deceit and corruption of evil?”
Godparents Response: I renounce them.

“Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?”
Godparents Response: I repent of them.

“Do you turn to Christ as Saviour?”
Godparents Response: I turn to Christ.

“Do you submit to Christ as Lord?”
Godparents Response: I submit to Christ.

“Do you come to Christ, the way, the truth and the life?”
Godparents Response: I come to Christ.

It may be worth reading those declarations again and considering whether the godparents you have chosen will be comfortable making these declarations. Recent changes to the service may have toned down the wording, but the underlying meaning remains the same – ask your vicar for a copy of the service your church uses.

And finally … and I speak from experience … If you are going to ask one of the godparents to make a speech, do warn them in advance. Even the best raconteur needs a bit of time to gather their thoughts … The more time they have to prepare for a speech or toast the more meaningful it will be.

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What’s in a Name – The UK’s Top 5 Names for Baby Boys

A recent survey of birth records by Ancestry.co.uk shows that a number of once popular boys names are now effectively “extinct”. In 2012 not a single baby boy was named Willie, Cecil or Rowland, whilst names like Horace, Leslie and Norman have almost died out. These names were very common 100 years ago, but times are changing and the likelihood of meeting a “Cecil” in the school playground over the next few years is rare to say the least.

Between 1900 and 1930 names like Cecil and Norman held the top spots, so what names are replacing them now that they have fallen from favour? The last records from the Office for National Statistics put “Harry” as the number one most popular name for baby boys in England, followed by “Oliver”, “Jack”, “Charlie” & “Jacob”, supplanting earlier favourites like “Thomas”, “William” and “Alfie”.

So where have these names come from and what do they mean?

1: HARRY

A diminutive or pet form of Henry, Harry has become an increasingly popular boy’s name since the mid nineteen-nineties … Prince Harry and young Harry Potter may have added to the popularity of the name and recent celebrities like Harry Styles from One Direction have probably helped maintain the number one position for the last few years.

Henry was originally a Germanic name for a leader – “Heimrich” – where “heim” means “home” and “rich” which means “ruler, leader or power” …. So Henry and Harry are regal names. The Normans introduced the name in the 11th century and by 1547 England had had eight kings named Henry.

One celebrity “Harry” you might struggle to name is the Prince of Pop himself, Cliff Richard, whose real name is Harry Webb.

Other diminutives include: Hal & Hank
Foreign alternatives: Heinrich, Enrique, Henny, Henning, Enzo & Harri

2: OLIVER

Oliver is the Norman French form of the Norse name “Olaf”. Because of its resemblance to the Latin word for olive tree, “oliva”, the name Oliver has come to be associated with peacemakers (the olive branch) and fruitfulness. The religious and cultural importance of the olive in the ancient and biblical worlds has also imbued the name Oliver with a spiritual strength coupled with a reliable and supportive nature.

The popularity of “Oliver” has been mixed over the last few centuries in the UK. During the Medieval period the name was popularised in “The Song of Roland”, an epic poem in which Olivier played the reliable and sensible foil to Roland’s impetuous and impulsive character. Following the English Civil War, the Commonwealth and the Protectorate of Cromwell in the mid 17th century, Oliver became increasingly unpopular. Oliver Cromwell didn’t receive a great press for many years after The Restoration and the name suffered as a result. It was only in Victorian times that the name saw a resurgence, during which time Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist” brought the name back into the public eye.

In 1970, heart-throb Ryan O’Neal played the lead character “Oliver” in a romantic weepy called “Love Story”. The movie played to an audience of millions of swooning teenage girls, so it should come as no surprise that “Oliver” became an increasingly popular name for baby boys born in the following two decades.

Other diminutives include: Ollie, Oli
Foreign alternatives: Alvaro, Olaf, Olivier

3: JACK

“Jack” is another diminutive or pet form, this time of the name “John”, that was derived from the old English name “Jankin” (or Jackin). Whilst John has its origins in Hebrew and close associations with the saints John the Baptist and the Apostle John, Jack is a much more down to earth name. It was so popular in the Middle Ages, that Jack simply became another word for a man … hence “Jack of all Trades”, “Lumberjack” and even the “Jack” in a pack of cards. In nursery rhymes and stories he appears again and again: Jack & the Beanstalk, Jack & Jill, Jack Sprat and Little Jack Horner. And, unfortunately, the name also became a generic pseudonym for an unidentified man such as “Jack the Ripper”.

As far as famous Jacks go, children today are probably most aware of the pirate Jack Sparrow, but anyone who can remember November 22nd 1963 will know that President John F Kennedy was called Jack by friends and family.

Other diminutives include: Jake, Jackie
Foreign alternatives: Jock, Jocky

4: CHARLIE

Derived from the Germanic name “Karl”, Charlie is a diminutive form of “Charles” and can also be used as a girls name. Originally meaning “man” or “free man” in old German languages, the name Charles was adopted by many European royal families after the rule of Charles the Great (Charlemagne) and the rise of the Holy Roman Empire. The name only found prominence in England after the Stuart kings Charles I and Charles II came to the throne in the 17th century.

Because it is a diminutive, pet name, Charlie is always seen as friendly and fun-loving. Many of the Charlies you can think of are light-hearted and fun: Charlie Brown, Charlie Chaplin, Charlie Higson, Charlie Parker and Charlie Watts. Probably the best known Charlie in the world is Charlie Davies-Carr …. does the name ring a bell? Over 700 million people have seen this Charlie’s 56 second video on YouTube … yes, he stars in “Charlie Bit My Finger”.

Other diminutives include: Chaz, Chip, Chuck
Foreign alternatives: Karl, Kalle, Carlitos, Carlos

5: Jacob

The fifth most popular baby boy’s name in England is Jacob. It is the most popular name in the USA.

Up until The Reformation in the 16th century, the name Jacob was mainly used in Jewish culture. This is understandable since Jacob was the third patriarch and the father of the tribes of Israel. The recent popularity of Jacob is not so easy to explain. This Hebrew name means “supplanter” or “usurper” – Jacob cheated his older twin brother out of his birthright and deceived his blind father into blessing him instead of his brother Esau. But Jacob, later named “Israel”, found redemption and forgiveness and the name today is associated with honesty, truthfulness and a warm heart.

Strangely enough, the recent popularity of Stephenie Meyer’s series of “Twilight” books has given the name Jacob added support for a few more years – the enigmatic and brooding character of Jacob Black has grabbed the imagination of many teenage readers who will be parents naming baby boys in a few years time.

Other diminutives include: Jake, Jacko
Foreign alternatives: Jakob, Jago, Iago, Giacomo

So, what for the future? Well, names to keep an eye on include: Hugo (up 51 places), Kayden (up 662 places), Dexter (up 327 places), Ollie (up 306 places) and Jenson (up 242 places). The engravers at CHRISTENINGsilver have got their money on “George” and “Louis” making a big showing over the next few years …. I wonder why?

Don’t forget once you have settled on a name, we have a fantastic range of christening gifts for boys available on our website here, many of which can also be engraved with the chosen name.

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