Maureen Kettle smiles at the camera in a pub or restaurant type setting. She has a blonde bob of hair and black glasses and wears a dark blue cardigan and light blue shirt.

Humanist Society interview series: celebrant Maureen Kettle on making lasting memories with a humanist naming ceremony

September 12, 2023

Lots of people think that humanists just conduct weddings. In fact, our brilliant team of Humanist Society Scotland celebrants offer funeral services and naming ceremonies, too. These are areas of the society’s work that we’d love for parents, carers, and families to know more about. We think lots of people would naturally opt for a humanist way of saying hello or goodbye if they knew it was an option.

To find out more about humanist naming ceremonies, and to introduce you to another inspiring member of our Scottish humanist family, we spoke to celebrant Maureen Kettle about her work as a naming celebrant: from fingerprint trees to Guideparents and time capsules.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a celebrant?

Hi! I’m Maureen Kettle, I live in Cumbernauld with my husband, James, our son, Greig, daughter, Amy, and our lovely working cocker spaniel, Murphy.

I started my journey with Humanist Society Scotland way back in 2010, in a temporary role looking after membership admin. The catalyst for becoming a celebrant was attending the funeral of a friend’s parent. The ceremony was sadly so impersonal that the minister could have been speaking about anyone. 

Having seen the comfort that our celebrants brought I became a registered funeral celebrant in December 2014. I then trained for naming ceremonies and weddings and I’ve never looked back. I love my role. I just wish that I’d done it years before!

Naming ceremonies aren’t only for babies. Over the years I have conducted them for toddlers, too, and given joint-naming ceremonies for siblings and cousins. One incredibly special naming ceremony was one I conducted for three sisters adopted into the same family. 

A heart shaped bottle filled with sand in different coloured stripes. Text in white on the front reads "George Ralphie Ryce." There  is a white heart to either side of the text.
SAND CEREMONY
Maureen Kettle, humanist naming celebrant

How did you get interested in naming ceremonies?

With humanist ceremonies being so personal, I was keen to find out all the different elements that couples could choose to celebrate their wee one’s arrival. Although I say “wee one,” naming ceremonies aren’t only for babies. Over the years I have conducted them for toddlers, too, and given joint-naming ceremonies for siblings and cousins. One incredibly special naming ceremony was one I conducted for three sisters adopted into the same family. They were taking their new family name that day, and it was so special to be a part of that. 

At least one of my colleagues has conducted a transgender (re)naming ceremony. This would have been a wonderful opportunity for that person to thank the family and friends who have supported them, and to say to the world “this is who I am!”

Whereas baptisms and christenings require a couple to promise ‘before God’ that they will bring up their child in a certain faith, a humanist ceremony allows the child to make their own choices. The parents promise to be there to support them whatever that choice might be.

A fingerprint tree, with leaves made from green finger prints. Writing at the bottom reads "Coen William Quinn 5th May 2016"
FINGERPRINT TREE
Maureen Kettle, Humanist Society naming celebrant

How does a humanist naming ceremony differ from its religious equivalents, such as a baptism?

Well, whereas baptisms and christenings require a couple to promise ‘before God’ that they will bring up their child in a certain faith, a humanist ceremony allows the child to make their own choices. The parents promise to be there to support them whatever those choices might be.

Humanist naming ceremonies are bespoke and fun! And the timetable for the day is often dictated by the star of the show, so we always have to expect the unexpected! On the day, we normally welcome everyone along, talk about the little one’s entrance into the world (the pregnancy, cravings, the mad dash to the hospital, etcetera), and, if there’s an elder sibling, we might ask them how they reacted to the news. Are they a great help in fetching nappies, reading stories, and the like?

We hear the parents’ hopes and dreams for their child. We might also introduce Guideparents (as opposed to Godparents) who will be a constant in the child’s life, always there to guide them when needed. The Guideparents can make promises as can the Parents themselves. All this builds up to the actual naming part.

We often invite guests forward to share some poetry or readings. And there are a few other symbolic gestures that can also be included too.

For a Candle Ceremony, you might rest a large candle, representing the child being named, in the middle of the table, surrounded by smaller candles. Parents, grandparents, Guideparents and siblings can each light one of the smaller candles, illustrating the circle of warmth and protection they’ll offer.

A large candle on a round table with a circle on smaller candles around it.
CANDLE CEREMONY
Maureen Kettle, Humanist naming celebrant

Can you tell us about some of the different types of symbolic gesture that can be included in a naming ceremony?

Well, there’s a sand ceremony, where parents and siblings or Guideparents might take turns pouring sand into a jar or bottle. As each grain of sand falls, we think about how they naturally support each other, just as the family will support each other throughout life. 

For a candle ceremony, you might rest a large candle, representing the child being named, in the middle of the table, surrounded by smaller candles. Parents, grandparents, Guideparents and siblings can each light one of the smaller candles, illustrating the circle of warmth and protection they’ll offer.

You can also make a time capsule. Guests all write a letter or a little note, perhaps about how they feel about the new addition to the family or providing wishes for the future a little knowledge. The letters are sealed and placed in a box until the child reaches a particular age. Then they open them and see what everyone has written.

Some families go for a ceremonial tree planting. As the saying goes, “from little acorns, great oaks grow.” The acorn needs energy from the sun and nourishment from the earth and the rain, and a tree needs support whilst it grows from a young sapling into an oak. The child being named will also need a loving, caring, extended family to nurture them from babyhood to childhood and into adulthood.

You can also make a fingerprint tree, starting with a picture of a tree with branches but no leaves. Pop some paint beside this and ask your guests to dip their finger in and put a leaf on the tree. By the end of the afternoon, the tree’s branches will be covered with leaves. You could frame this as a keepsake.

Parents and Guideparents can also sign a naming certificate to commemorate the day.

What’s in your celebrant’s diary?

Wow, where do I start … well, I’ve got a busy September with weddings and wedding fayres, and there will no doubt be some funerals in the mix as well … oh, and if anyone fancies having their wee one named in a humanist naming ceremony, get in touch with our Ceremonies team.

A small child's feet held in two sets of carers' hands, forming a love heart.

Naming Ceremonies

A naming ceremony is a popular way to mark a child’s arrival into your family, and a humanist ceremony lets you create a naming ceremony that is unique and personal.

Two male adults and three children waving and celebrating

Find your celebrant!

Start looking for a celebrant to conduct your humanist ceremony in Scotland.

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