difference between baptism and christening

Discussion in 'English Only' started by kate1811, May 14, 2007.

  1. kate1811 Senior Member

    Italy -italian mothertongue
    Could someone please tell me the difference between baptism and christening -and when am i supposed to use one instead of the other?
    Thank you!
  2. The Scrivener Banned

    On the "naughty step".
    England. English
    Hi Kate.

    Baptism is a Christian ceremony when a baby is welcomed into the Church. It has holy (blessed by the priest) water, from a font, poured on its head three times - in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It symbolises being "born again". Jesus was baptised by his cousin, John the Baptist, in the River Jordan. Some churches baptise babies (and adults) by total immersion in water.

    Christening is the giving of a Christian name at the time of baptism.

    The terms "to be baptised" and "to be christened" have the same meaning and you may use either. They belong together.

    Non-religious people can opt for a naming ceremony, without the rite of Holy Baptism, but this is quite rare.
  3. Ecossaise Senior Member

    Technically "baptism" is the rite in the Christian Church by which immersion in water symbolizes the washing away of sins and admission into the Church, whereas "christen" is to name (a baby) at baptism as a sign of admission to the Christian Church.

    They are generally used interchangeably.
  4. LouisaB Senior Member

    English, UK
    Hi, Kate, and welcome to the forums!

    I totally agree with The Scrivener's and Ecossaise's definitions.

    The only time the two words would not be interchangeable (at least that I can think of!) would be when referring to the kind of adult baptism The Scrivener mentions. Because no name is usually given on these occasions, they are definitely 'Baptisms' rather than 'Christenings'.

    Also, 'Baptism' is the word used most frequently in Church circles. 'Christening' is a more secular (ie non-Church) expression.

  5. hbklas Member

    English, US

    In the United States, "Have you been baptized?" can mean are you a practicing Christian. In the South certain faiths, as in the Baptist faith, see baptism as something like an adult conversion and not something done when you are a few months old.

    In my understanding, baptism has a more charged meaning depending on where you are using it.... don't want to muddy the waters for you!
  6. kate1811 Senior Member

    Italy -italian mothertongue
    You've all been really helpful..thank you!
  7. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    This is a theological and denominational question with linguistic overtones.

    At one time, these were precise synonyms. In recent times there has come to be a distinction, in some contexts.
    Christening is a naming ceremony.
    Baptism is a sacrament.
    For many, the two are not interchangeable. It is possible to be christened but not baptised. Different denominations have different practices and principles.
  8. sandpiperlily

    sandpiperlily Senior Member

    I disagree. The word christening is a Christian word, and is not used in secular or non-Christian contexts.

    Readers of this thread should understand that "Christianity" includes a large group of related religions and organizations, many of which have very different views about what baptism is and should be. As you can see from this thread, some Christian organizations (such as the Catholic church) baptize infants, while others wait for each person to be "ready" for their baptism, and so on. Some sprinkle a little bit of water on the head, some require full immersion. Some perform the ceremony in a church while others travel to a natural body of water. To understand how the word "baptism" is used in any given circumstance, you'll need to understand a lot about context.
  9. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    Also, in the case of adult baptism, you can be baptized and not christened. You have already been named.
  10. George French Senior Member

    English - UK
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2011
  11. franc 91 Senior Member

    English - GB
    A christening can also include the idea of the family celebration that follows the religious ceremony, whereas the word baptism wouldn't. It's a bit like the nuance between a marriage ceremony and the wedding that follows - a wedding can be taken to mean a marriage ceremony, but the word wedding can also mean the family celebration with food, drinks and dancing, speeches and so on.
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2011
  12. Davidvs91 Senior Member

    English - American
    Sandpiper, maybe the term secular is not the best phrase. I see the word christening as applying to a larger event than just the actual baptism. for example:

    In this example the christening includes the party afterwards, but still is associated with the religous rite of baptism.
  13. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    English - US
    This is going to differ by country, region, and denomination. Some people have a big party thrown for them after an adult baptism with no christening.
    In my denomination and several others that I know of, there is nothing called "christening." The ceremony where a new baby is blessed, sprinkled with water, and introduced to the church is called a dedication. There's no party.
  14. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Unless you use it with non-humans. You can say a house or ship or car or some object or animal has been christened XXX. Here it just means named. The objects or animals don't become Christians! :D
  15. There was no distinction between christening and baptism originally. To "christen" somebody meant to bring them into the Christian community by way of baptism, which has always been recognised as the sacramental doorway into Christianity. The reason why christening has been confused with naming is that those being baptised were also given new "Christian" names (i.e. usually named after a recognised saint) at the same time.

    Nowadays, there could be a legitimate distinction in Christian denominations that don't recognise infant baptism but still have a ceremony to welcome babies into their parents' church. In that sense, they could be said to be christened without being baptised.
  16. Oeco

    Oeco Senior Member

    Milwaukee, WI
    English - US
    With all due respect SJRuks, that is what sandpiperlily and others have said. There are varieties of Christian approaches to baptism. "Believer baptism" would normally be a full immersion and an infant in that tradition would have a "dedication" as Miridon has noted.
  17. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    English - US
    ... except my denomination (and others) NEVER use immersion. All baptisms regardless of age are the sprinkling ("wet hand applied to head") type.
  18. Oeco

    Oeco Senior Member

    Milwaukee, WI
    English - US
    Thanks Myridon! I've been a Protestant minister for more than 35 years and this is new to me! Never too old... and all that.
  19. manon33 Senior Member

    English - England (Yorkshire)
    With respect, I don't think you do. The phrase is not 'I christen this ship/house/cow etc...' but 'I name this ship...'

    To 'christen' definitely has Christian religious overtones; to 'name' does not.
  20. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

  21. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    English - US
    Your personal beliefs do not define the usage of the English language, nor do they decide the beliefs of over 1 billion Christians who haven't been and never will be dunked underwater yet consider themselves to have been properly baptized.
  22. sandpiperlily

    sandpiperlily Senior Member

    The word "christen" is used in "secular contexts" (especially for ships). Obviously the object doesn't become Christian in this process, but I agree with manon33 that the word has Christian connotations. I doubt that a non-Christian would use the word in a secular context, because it still refers to the religious practice of dedicating a person to Christ.
  23. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    sandpiperlily, please see links above.
  24. manon33 Senior Member

    English - England (Yorkshire)
    This source illustrates my point exactly. What HM Queen actually says (when breaking the bottle over the ship) is 'I name this ship', not 'I christen this ship'. She is Head of the Church of England (a Christian church), and we should probably accept that she knows what she's talking about. Only human beings can be christened.

    It's only the blog writer who refers to it as 'christening'. In my view, its a rather sloppy use of English.
  25. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    You're welcome to your opinion but it is a common construction. It is also included in several dictionary definitions:

    a. To name: christened the kitten "Snowball."
    b. To name and dedicate ceremonially: christen a ship.
    3. To use for the first time: christened the new car by going for a drive.


    2: to name or dedicate (as a ship) by a ceremony suggestive of baptism
    3: name 1
    4: to use for the first time


    3. to name and dedicate: to christen a ship.
    4. to make use of for the first time.


    2. give name to something or somebody: to give a name to something or somebody, with or without an accompanying ceremony
    christen a ship

    3. use something for first time: to use or wear something for the first time ( informal )
    Shall we christen our new coffeepot?

    This is very, very common.
  26. manon33 Senior Member

    English - England (Yorkshire)
    Interesting! I would suggest that when it is used in a secular context, it is with a sense, if not of bathos ('Shall we christen the new teapot?' appears to invest the activity with a formality/ceremoniousness out of all proportion to the significance of the event!), then of tongue-in-cheek irony: 'They christened the hamster "Albert"...,'when a hamster clearly (i) would be unaware of its name (ii) cannot be a Christian and (iii) probably doesn't care in any case.

    I accept that in time, the word may come to lose its religious connotation, just as the word 'Christmas' has done for many users of English.
  27. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    English - US
    This is an article from a respected US national newspaper, USA Today.
  28. sandpiperlily

    sandpiperlily Senior Member

    Yes, the word christen is sometimes used in a secular context, as I acknowledge above. But those links illustrate my other point perfectly -- they're all Christians, and in Christian-dominated countries. A non-Christian would probably not use the word in that way, and I doubt that the word is used in that way in English-speaking countries where Christianity does not dominate.
  29. manon33 Senior Member

    English - England (Yorkshire)
    That surprises me. It contains non-standard spelling and punctuation '('roll' for 'role' and 'your majesty' in lower case, for example...). In my view, it is a poorly-written, advertising-driven travel supplement.
  30. panzerfaust0 Senior Member

    <<Moderator note: I have merged panzer's question with a previous discussion of the issue to prevent duplication. Please read the thread from the top>>

    Hello. I encountered these two words before and I have always wondered about the exact differences between them. I think that (correct me if I am wrong), christening is a type of baptism. It happens when Christian parents have a new-born infant and they try to welcome him/her into the religious community by baptizing them as well as giving him/her a Christian name. Baptism on the other hand, pertains to adults. You can have a christening for babies but not adults. When an adult wishes to become a Christian, he/she undergoes baptism, not christening.

    Christening only happens to infants. It also happens to inanimate objects, such as boats.

    Context for "christening": In Linda Goodman's book Sun signs, under the Libran child section, she wrote: "So quiet and calm. So chubby and dimpled. Surely a gracious fairy touched him with her magic kiss. I don't like to play the role of the mean old witch at the royal christening, but would you mind checking to see if he has a dimple in his chin?"

    Context for "baptism": I first encountered this word watching the cartoon show, "The Simpsons" many years ago. Basically there was one episode where Homer and Marge were deemed to be unfit parents so that Bart and Lisa were taken from them. They were placed under the care of the Flanders'. One time, the Flanders family were playing a Bible game with Bart and Lisa. Both of them did not get any of the answers right. Ned Flander asked them, (paraphrased) "didn't you learn any of this when you were baptized?" Then Bart answered, "we were never baptized as children." At which point Ned Flanders fainted.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 28, 2014
  31. cwervanTes378 Senior Member

    Are the words baptism/christening and baptise/christen interchangeable (obviously in a Christian context)?
  32. rhitagawr

    rhitagawr Senior Member

    British English
    Christening is what happens to a baby. The vicar anoints him with holy water and names him (or whatever the practice is in the particular church).
    Baptism is what happens to an adult. The person is fully immersed in water. John the Baptist baptised Jesus Christ in the Bible.
  33. mplsray Senior Member

    I'm reminded of an old story about men sitting around the stove in an old-time general store talking when the subject turns to religion, specifically baptism. A fellow just arriving is asked, "Do you believe in infant baptism?" He replies, "I sure do. I've seen it done!"

    As this Wikipedia article explains, "Infant baptism is also called christening by some faith traditions."

    Addition: There are extended senses of the two words in which only one of the words is allowed. For example "baptism by fire" can, among other things, refer to a soldier's first experience of battle, while "christening" can be used when naming a boat.
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2015
  34. rhitagawr

    rhitagawr Senior Member

    British English
    The normal word, at least in BE, is christening (although infant baptism may be the technical or formal term in some churches). We had a party to celebrate the christening. ...celebrate the infant baptism sounds odd.
    In the Seventh Day Adventist Church - an untypical church, I agree - in which I was brought up, the minister took the baby in his arms and blessed and named it. No water was involved. This was called christening. When you were old enough to make up your own mind, you could be baptised, i.e. undergo full immersion. I suppose that's the reason why I make the distinction I make. I wouldn't argue with anyone whose views are different from mine. As the Wikipedia article says, practices differ from church to church.
    Footnote: Wet the baby's head means have a drink to celebrate the arrival of the baby.
  35. Silver_Biscuit

    Silver_Biscuit Senior Member

    English - UK
    I would definitely tend to say that babies are christened, while older people are baptised. But I would also find it more natural to specify 'adult baptism' rather than 'infant baptism', because in the Anglican church (Church of England) anyway I don't think adult baptism is a common thing. The ceremony when you're a baby is supposed to last you your whole life for the C of E, isn't it? Anyway, I say that 'I was baptised' although it happened when I was an infant. Still I would point at the picture of the event and say 'That's a photo of my christening'. I don't think there was ever an option for me to get 'confirmed' or undergo any further baptism as happens in some churches, but then I never actually became a Christian in any real sense, so it's possible I may have missed something.

    At any rate I would never say that an adult who had turned to Christianity after a different upbringing was 'christened'. Those people get baptised, and as far as I know, it's usually a full-body immersion affair. Possibly because, as far as I understand, an important part of the christening is the name giving, and adults already have their names.
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2015
  36. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    The word "baptism" encompasses considerable variation in religious practice between different Christian sects. I can't speak for all, but for Catholicism and several sects which evolved from the catholic tradition, baptism is a ritual involving the pouring or sprinkling of water and the giving of a name. Apart from in the Roman Catholic church, this form of baptism is used by the Anglican churches and Protestant churches such as the Church of Scotland and the United Reformed Church. For these churches there is no distinction between christening and baptism.The baptist churches, however, subscribe to the practice of "believer's baptism", on the premise that baptism should be a declaration of faith - something an infant cannot make. I didn't know that Seventh Day Adventists did the same. In such sects, baptism and christening have distinct meanings.
  37. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    cwervanTes378, I've merged your question with an existing thread on this topic. I hope the combined thread answers all your questions, but if it doesn't, you're welcome to add them here. :)

    English Only moderator
  38. tsoapm

    tsoapm Senior Member

    Emilia–Romagna, Italy
    English (England)
    I came here because I didn’t see the figurative sense of giving a name to something in the online OED, and this surprised me.

    I find it odd that “infant baptism” is a controversial concept whereas “christening” (with its glaring reference to Christ, becoming part of his body through baptism cf. 1 Cor 12:13 & Gal 3:27) has become the cosy term which is fine for kids.
  39. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Are you really referring to the OED? I've just looked, and here are senses 4 and 5:
    And responding to some of the earlier comments: although we talk about christening in relation to the baptism of babies, the Anglican service book only uses the term baptise, not christen.

    Here, for example, is the title in the Book of Common Prayer:
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2016
  40. se16teddy

    se16teddy Senior Member

    London but from Yorkshire
    English - England
    Not sure about this - John the Baptist was doing it before Christianity was invented.
  41. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    Any controversy has nothing to do with the meanings of words. That can only be a cultural matter, which seems to me to fall outside the scope of a language forum.
  42. tsoapm

    tsoapm Senior Member

    Emilia–Romagna, Italy
    English (England)
    Yes and no: I was only referring the online OED. I said, but it’s an easy detail to miss.
  43. Andygc

    Andygc Senior Member

    British English
    That is not the online OED, it's the Oxford Dictionaries online website. It's based on the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, which is not the online OED - a subscription-only service giving access to the complete OED and its supplements - www.oed.com

    PS. for the figurative use, search for "christen", not "christening".
  44. tsoapm

    tsoapm Senior Member

    Emilia–Romagna, Italy
    English (England)
    I see, thank you. I actually have the Shorter as a software application (albeit a very old one) and I find it still differs considerably from the Oxford Dictionaries site.

    P.S. I’m not sure I agree with you about the relevance of the interplay of controversy, word meanings and culture. But arguing about it would definitely fall outside the scope of the forum.

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