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Godparents...The Rest of the Story

Here at The Christian Gift, personalized keepsakes for Godparents are some of the most popular items in the store. That got me thinking about baptisms, baptism traditions and baby names.

For starters, what's the story behind Godparents? As we know, they're not referenced in the Bible.

The idea of Godparents - or sponsors - dates way back to the ancient church. When a person wished to convert to Christianity, he or she had to find a Christian witness to vouch for the sincerity of his or her belief. This "sponsor" would also assist the new convert in becoming a faithful member of the church.

A natural extension of this practice was sponsors for infants at baptism. In this way, young children would also receive assistance to help them grow into their faith. Though it appears that mothers and fathers served as sponsors for their own children until sometime around the ninth century, by the Middle Ages the practice of selecting other individuals as Godparents was well established.

When we think of infant baptism, many of us picture the christening gown - still popular today. That dates back at least to the Middle Ages. And while we associate white with baptismal dress, English babies wore brightly colored gowns throughout the 17th century. The christening dresses of French babies were typically yellow or gold until the 18th century.

By the time of the Victorian Era, lavishly embellished gowns adorned with intricate embroidery and lace were all the rage. After the firstborn in the family was baptized, the gown was carefully packed away and used for each of the children to follow. Many of the gowns were passed down through families, becoming heirlooms. (It's amazing to see the prices some of those ornate antique christening dresses and bonnets fetch today!)

As for naming the new arrival, here are just two of many historical traditions: in Elizabethan England, babies were named at their baptisms, often after one of their Godparents. Elsewhere in Europe many hundreds of years ago, the infant was often named by the priest after the patron saint whose feast day was close to the day the child was born or baptized. That limited the pool of names from which to choose - unlike today where it seems the possibilities are endless!

Of course, names are not unlike fashion and hairstyles in terms of popularity; what's "in" today could very well be "out" in a few years. According to the Social Security Administration, the top five baby names in 2005 were:

Boys: Jacob, Michael, Joshua, Matthew, and Ethan

Girls: Emily, Emma, Madison, Abigail, and Olivia

Compare that to 1975:

Boys: Michael, Jason, Christopher, James, and David

Girls: Jennifer, Amy, Heather, Melissa, and Angela

Have some fun and check out the popularity of baby names. You can go back all the way to 1880!

And if, like many of our customers, you've just welcomed a new arrival into your family and are looking forward to baptism day, congratulations!

For mementos to present to your child's Godparents, here are some great ideas.

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