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  • Meg Senior

A humanist celebrant explains: Godparent alternatives for naming ceremonies

Godparent alternatives for naming ceremonies - Baby at his humanist naming ceremony
Photo credit: Jane Louise Photography

Can we have godparents at a naming ceremony?

Parents looking for a non-religious alternative to christenings can find themselves wondering, “Can we have godparents at a naming ceremony?” I’m here to tell you the answer is YES.

As a humanist celebrant I conduct naming ceremonies for all types of families, and I can confirm that parents are totally welcome to appoint other grown-ups to have a unique role in their children’s lives.

That may have been the simple answer you were looking for, in which case HURRAH (and do get in touch if you need a humanist celebrant 😉). On the other hand you might still have some non-religious godparent related questions, such as:

Let me see if I can help answer some of these queries, and ease the planning process for you a little along the way. (You might also be interested in this post about the best naming ceremony venues in South Yorkshire, take a look!)

Godparent alternatives for naming ceremonies - Welcome table for humanist naming ceremony

What should we call godparents at a naming ceremony?

Lots of us like the idea of choosing godparents for our children. It’s a way of telling your most loved friends that you value them and their part in your family’s lives. (It’s also a way of encouraging them to buy birthday presents for your kids every year! Joking aside though…) Asking someone to be a godparent is an opportunity to recognise and even strengthen the bond your chosen grown-up has with your little person.

The slight hiccup in today’s modern world is the “god” bit of “godparent”. Obviously godparent has traditionally been a role which is bestowed upon people in a church during a religious service, usually a christening and sometimes a baptism or confirmation.

As you’re reading this article, I’ll take a wild guess that you’re planning a naming ceremony (not a christening), and that the reason might be that you aren’t religious. In my experience parents tend to fall into two different camps on godparent terminology:

First camp: The term godparent is just a word. The relationship between my child and their secular godparent will be the same as any child with any godparent. Therefore we can use the same word and simply acknowledge that there is no religious context.

Second camp: The term godparent is a Christian word. We’re not Christians so we won’t use the word. We prefer to say guideparent, guardian, special aunty/uncle/pibling or another phrase we invent. We’ll simply explain what it means and our friends will go with it.

Which camp you fall into informs your choice. Both are completely fine.

So you see there’s no hard and fast rule about what to call a godparent in a non-religious naming ceremony. In fact, I won’t make rules about what you’re allowed to do at any point. If you want us to say godparent, we will. If you prefer to say a different word, we will do that instead.

Godparent alternatives for naming ceremonies - Family with Meg Senior, humanist celebrant

Questions about non-religious alternatives to christenings

Now that’s settled, here are some quickfire responses to the other questions you might have. Remember that you have freedom to choose the specific details for your family’s naming ceremony, and these are just suggestions.

What are godparents called during a naming ceremony?

Commonly people choose to say guideparent or simply go with godparent. The relationship is what’s important, not the word used to describe the grown-up. Either way during the ceremony your humanist celebrant will give a little explanation.

What do godparents do in a naming ceremony?

Some ways parents might like to involve secular godparents are: Have your humanist celebrant say a few words about why you have chosen these particular people; invite them to make promises directly to your child about how they will support them through life; involve them in a modern symbolic action like sand-blending (or one of the other ideas you can read about here).

Do we have to have godparents for a naming ceremony?

You don’t have to appoint godparents in a naming ceremony. You might consider not having any at all, especially if you’re finding it hard to choose just one or two people. If you like, your humanist celebrant can declare that everyone present at the ceremony is part of your child’s support network. It’s a way to recognise that they make up a mini community who will be there for your little one.

Who should we ask to be non-religious godparents?

It’s up to you! Traditionally families choose two or three grown-ups for each child, but you might just ask one person. Reflect on who is, and will continue to be, a key part of your child’s life and upbringing. Consider people who share the same values as you will, or those who will bring a different perspective.


If you have unanswered questions about planning a naming ceremony, then do send an enquiry via this page. I love to create memorable celebrations for little humans and if I can help you that would make me very happy indeed.


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