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David’s Mental Meanderings

12th May 2003

In the packet that the NHS is handing out to pregnant women at their first pre-natal check is a booklet with an article about naming the baby. It seems that “naming ceremonies” are all the rage. More and more local councils in the UK are establishing guidelines and providing facilities for naming ceremonies, much as they do for weddings at the registry office.

The author of the article suggests how significant this event can be and how it can formally make the baby a part of the extended family.

The author of this article is oblivious (or assumes that the reader is oblivious) to the fact that naming ceremonies are nothing new. They are called baptisms. In the Church, a child has always been named at baptism. This is still true throughout the Church, except in that small fraction of Protestant denominations finding their theological identification in the Anabaptists, and their more recent non-denominational progeny.

Popular in some of these churches are the alternative “dedication” services. These services seem to derive from the dedication of the first born to the Lord in the Old Testament. It seems really odd that a service to set aside a small group is the model for all children, instead of the service that was for the whole community (representative in all males), circumcision, to which the New Testament equates baptism. I suppose it takes a few extra theological hoops to welcome a child into the Church, without really welcoming it into the Church.

For it is in baptism that the child is truly welcomed into the family of God. That is why forenames have traditionally been called “Christian” names. They are given when a person is “christened” – a term for baptism because it is when Christian names are given.

In Eastern Orthodoxy it is common for adults who are baptised to adopt a new Christian name. This is a way of demonstrating that the person baptised into Christ is a new creation, that old things have passed away and all thing have become new. (II Cor. 5:17) This isn’t exclusive to Orthodox folks, though. I have a good friend who is an evangelical Protestant who took a new name at baptism.

But why is naming done at baptism? Because, like baptism, naming is a divine act. The first naming is at creation. “And He called the light Day and the darkness He called Night.” Once Adam is created, this authority is vested in him as God’s vice-regent. “And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name.” It was part of his dominion mandate.

As parents we stand in the place of God, in loco Deus as it were. We have stewardship over our children for Him. That is why we have the responsibility to name them. We are not naming them for us, we are naming them for Him. This is why the Church has always bound naming and baptism together. God names what is His.

Often today parents will pick whatever name strikes their fancy. This is why there are so many name books and websites out there. Most of them will tell you the relative popularity of the name – how trendy it is.

Trendiness was not always a major factor in choosing names. It used to be the case that names weren’t picked haphazardly. It is still the case that after someone finds out the name of a new baby, they usually want to know after whom the baby is named. Some will name their child after great heroes, Christian or otherwise. I have an acquaintance who is planning give his son the forenames Robert Lewis Dabney, after the great 19th century Presbyterian theologian and chaplain and Chief-of-Staff to Stonewall Jackson. Others have appropriated the names of politicians (from a time when politicians were worthy of the honour) with names such as George Washington or Patrick Henry.

For others it is important to carry on family connections. I am named after two great-grandfathers. When we named Aidan, I understood the pressure exerted on poor Zachariah when he named John the Baptist. “Why would you call him Aidan? There is no one in our family named Aidan!” I was tempted to find a tablet and write across it, “His name is Aidan!”

In fact, we did name him for a family member. We named him for a member of the family of God. We named him for someone whose life’s work was bringing other members into family of God from a heathen people called the Angles. Now in post-Christian Angle-land his life will be a witness to the heathen people that once again dominate this land. For most of the Christian era, it has been customary to name children after the great saints of the Faith.

I had originally written this to send out and publish on the day of our ultrasound scan. It was to be my way of announcing the impending birth of our second child. However, things were not as we expected. I have delayed sending this out while Kelly and I worked through the emotions of this experience.

One of the things we needed for closure was a name. It is difficult to say goodbye to a nameless child. Normally, I would exert my patriarchal prerogative to name, but my connection with the child was physically and psychologically less strong than was Kelly’s. Since we didn’t know the date that our child’s soul passed from this very brief life to the next, Kelly chose to name it for the day its body was born.

Because of both dreams and internal conviction, Kelly knows that the tiny child was a boy. We have named him in honour of the Holy Apostle James the son of Zebedee, whose feast day is celebrated on April 30. James is also a good patron as he knows about early death. He was the first of our Lord’s Apostles to exchange earthly intercessions for heavenly ones.

We have printed off a temporary icon of St James to add to our icon shelf. I’m sure we will eventually purchase a proper wooden one. It serves as a reminder to us that our little one safe in heaven. Through it we will venerate the seasoned veteran of heaven looking after him. Though we will never get to watch our James grow and mature through the stages of this life, we will one day see him in that state we will all enjoy.

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