Friday, September 28, 2012

Name That Baby

Ah, babies. They can be so cute! But anyone who’s tried to take a baby to church services knows the dangers inherent. If something doesn’t come out of one end, it will likely come out of the other, and none too quietly either! But in the nineteenth century in England, babies were baptized generally in church services in the first or second Sunday after birth. Talk about chances for embarrassing the older brothers and sisters!

Most babies in nineteenth century England were baptized into the Anglican church, at either the morning or evening service. Parents dressed them in long gowns (regardless of whether they were a boy or a girl), and much care went into embroidering the little outfits. In fact, some booklets of the day advised young mothers-to-be to spend their nine months of “confinement” in embroidering and lace making, preparing for the big day. However, if the child was baptized as early as a few days after birth, sometimes the mother was still in bed recovering from labor and missed the ceremony entirely!

On the given Sunday, after the last lesson of the service, godparents and anyone brought along to hold the child (parents, presumably) would approach the baptismal font, which would have been filled with water. Boys had two godfathers and a godmother; girls had two godmothers and a godfather. The minister would ask the godparents to name the child. (I wonder what would have happened if they chose a name the parents didn’t like? “Mortimer. I had a hunting dog by that name.”)

The Book of Common Prayer advises that if the child was healthy, the minister should dip it in the water of the baptismal font “discreetly and warily.” I wonder who he was supposed to be wary of, the child or the mother who’d just spent nine months on that dress only to have it dunked in water? If the child was weak, the vicar would dribble water over its head instead. A particularly sickly child could be baptized at home. The minister then carefully noted the baptism in the parish register. That record was sometimes the only thing that showed a child belonged to a certain family.

That and the highly embroidered, slightly damp christening gown, which was sometimes passed down for generations.

And why am I thinking of babies, you might wonder? I present to you my grandson, Liam—15 days old in this picture. See? I told you babies can be cute!


J.Grace said...

Congrats on your beautiful grandson.

I'm not really sure I would like for the godparents to name my child.

Regina Scott said...

Thanks, J. Grace! I'm assuming that the godparents and parents discussed the matter before hand. I was just wondering what would happen with an errant godfather or godmother who 1) forgot, 2) decided he/she knew better, or 3) accidentally mangled the name. I would also think that the parents might be able to protest, if present, but again, I can see the bedridden mother asking the father for a description of the event, being told, "Yes, everything went just fine for little Parsnip," and crying out, "It was supposed to be Penelope!" It's one of those scenes that will likely end up in a book one day. :-)

Cara King said...

Hello, Liam!!!!

As to the name bit -- when one of my aunts was baptized, my grandmother wasn't well, so she couldn't attend. My grandfather misremembered the middle name they'd agreed on, so my aunt was baptized with the wrong middle name -- and the baptismal name was considered the "real" one, not the one they'd decided on. FWIW!


Regina Scott said...

Thanks for sharing that, Cara! I love it when life imitates fiction. :-)