Christening vs. Baptism: Are They Different? What Do They Mean?

Baby baptism with water

Christenings or baptisms – are they the same thing? If they are then why do they have two different names? This used to really confuse me. I remember searching for a baptism card at the shop, but all I could find was christening cards. Is there a difference?

Baptism and christening are two words used by different groups of people for basically the same thing. The main difference today is that the word christening is often used when a baby is baptised. But when an adult is baptised we normally use the word baptism.

Let’s look at some interesting facts and trends in how the words baptism and christening have been used in history and what they meant and how they are used today. I learnt a lot when researching this, and it’s helped to change my view on things. But first let’s look at what baptism is.

What is Baptism?

Baptism is really a sign that you belong to Jesus. That you believe in him and want to follow him and his teachings. In the case of baby baptism the parents believe on behalf of the child and state their intention to raise their child to know and love God.

The baptism ceremony usually occurs during a regular Sunday church service. The parents and godparents are invited to the front of the church by the pastor and asked some questions about faith on behalf of the child and their intentions in raising the child in faith. The parents and godparents respond together. For a full step-by-step run down of what is usually said and done by godparents and parents during the baptism I’ve written this article based on my own experience.

The child then has water sprinkled or poured on their forehead to baptise them – this is the main part of the baptism/christening service – the actual baptism. Some churches practice full immersion for a second or two, like the Eastern Orthodox church.

Baptism is instructed by Jesus to all who believe in him. For a deeper look at what baptism is and why we get baptised see this short article I’ve written that breaks it down.

What is a Christening?

A christening service is nearly identical to a baptism service, but may vary slightly from church to church. It may include a part in the service where a christian name is given to the child. However, all christenings include the vital act of baptism with water and the Holy Spirit.

Can you be Christened and Baptised?

There is no reason to be both christened and baptised as they are really the same thing. The bible only commands baptism once, and it lasts a lifetime.

Interesting History of The Words Baptism and Christening

The word christening was first seen in the English language around 890AD, but the word baptism wasn’t seen until 1377, according to research by The Revd. Sarah Lawrence.

So the word christening was used for many years before the word baptism was used.

The bible translation in 1382 by Wycliffe used the word christen when Jesus was christened by John in the River Jordan.

The 1494 bible translation by Tyndale used the word baptism, and so did the well-known King James version of the bible in 1611. This new word came about as theologians were wanting to discuss the act of baptism separate from becoming a christian.

Around 1500AD the word christen often meant christian, but it also meant the act of making someone a christian (through what we now call baptism). This shows how becoming a christian and being baptised meant the same thing to them – you can’t have one without the other. If you believe in God then you are baptised – which is how God planned it.

Christening became a word used by every day people, but baptism was used by the church and theologians. Thereby causing a split where two different words meant the same thing – depending on who was speaking.

This research surprised me. I always assumed baptism was the original word used and christening was a newer word that people used to describe baptism plus a naming ceremony.

However, it seems that the original word was christen – to make someone a christian. I really like that!

When the word christian was first used in the bible in the book of Acts it meant “little Christ” (from the Greek word christianos). The first believers of Christ Jesus were following his lifestyle so closely; they were helping the poor and loving their neighbour just as Jesus did.

The words christening and christian are both centred on Christ which seems to me very fitting.

Main Differences Between Baptism and Christening Today

The main difference today between the words christening and baptism depends on the age of the person being baptised. When a baby is baptised people often use the word christening, but when an adult is baptised we usually call it baptism.

If you are wondering the best age to baptise your baby, I’ve broken down what the bible says and why I baptised my children around 2.5 months old.

Another difference in the terms christening and baptism may be related to the christian denomination:

The Modern Catholic Dictionary defines christening: conferring the sacrament of baptism, with stress on giving the person a Christian name at baptism. I believe the Catholic church do have a part in the baptism ceremony where the priest asks the parents what name they give their baby, so I assume this is the part where the christening may be a little different to a normal baptism. When the parents have answered the child’s name the baby is then baptised.

My children were baptised in a Lutheran church and there was no part in the service where we were asked our baby’s name. I believe it is the same for most other protestant churches.

However, the main difference today between the word baptism and christening is that different words are used by different groups of people not realising that they are the same thing.

The Church of England (an Anglican church) often uses the word baptism, as do most churches, but when designing a website about baptism they’ve decided to use the word christening in the website name: They have decided to use christening instead of baptism as the vast majority of the UK use the word christening instead of baptism when searching online.

I think this is a great idea as it helps connect the church to people who don’t usually attend church. This seems to me the type of thing that Jesus would do, he loved connecting with people in a helpful and inclusive way.

The Church of England have this really helpful statement on their website when explaining whether a baptism and a christening are the same thing:

Babies are baptized during a christening service just as couples are ‘married’ during a ‘wedding’ service.

Church of England

The Church of England website also says that there is no difference between a christening service and a baptism service. Some churches use the word ‘baptism’ while other churches use the word ‘christening’.

Baptism and Christening Differences Due to Location and the Media

When looking at Google trends it clearly show that the word christening is searched a lot more than baptism in the UK. However, it is the other way around in the US, people in the US search the word baptism much more than christening. While Australians are split and half the people search for the word christening and the other half search the word baptism.

A strange trend I noticed worldwide was huge traffic spikes in searches for christening in July 2015, July 2018 and June 2019 – the reason? The Royal christenings! Princess Charlotte was christened in July 2015, Prince Louis christened in July 2018 and Archie christened June 2019. My search data only went back 5 years, but if I look back to 2013 I can see an even bigger spike in the search term christening when Prince George was baptised in October 2013.

Note: the above chart excludes the spikes for royal christenings and includes the most recent normal 7 months of data.

It is interesting to note that while the Church of England most commonly uses the word baptism (which is the church where the royal babies were baptised/christened). However, the magazines and newspapers are using the word christening. It seems the media then shapes the words that the general public use when talking about baptism. This makes total sense.

Another commonly used term that always confused me was godparent and sponsor. What’s the difference? If you’re wondering too, I’ve broken it down in this article Goparent vs Sponsor.

Can you give a Christening Card for a Baptism?

In my opinion it is absolutely fine to give a christening card for a babies baptism or a baptism card for a christening. A baptism and christening are really the same thing anyway.

However, for an older child or adult baptism I would try to find a baptism card, as these days christenings usually refers to the baptism of a baby.

My children received both christening and baptism cards when they were baptised and I didn’t really even notice, so I’m sure the it won’t offend anyone if you give a christening or baptism card.

I know when we were attending baby baptisms for family and friends I found it really hard to find a card that said ‘Baptism’ on the front. Most of the cute ones I could find in the newsagency and department stores said ‘Christening’ on the front and not baptism. At the time I had no clue if christening and baptism were the same thing. But I assumed they were similar enough.

Mostly I find that christening cards tend to be cuter and baptism cards are often more traditional looking. However if you shop in a christian book shop then you will probably find a lot more variety in styles of baptism cards.

What is the Difference between a Baptism and a Dedication?

Baby dedication is a part of the Sunday church service similar to baptism but it does not involve sprinking/pouring of water. Churches that offer baby dedication also offer baptism to the child when he/she is old enough to believe in God and confess their faith before the church.

A baby dedication is often held once a month at a regular Sunday service where the parents can choose to stand at the front with their child to show their desire and intention to dedicate their child to God and ask for his help in raising the child. Baby dedication can be formal or informal depending on the church.

The main christian church that I know of that offers baby dedication are Baptist churches as they believe confession of faith by the individual is needed before they can be baptised and as babies can’t do this they therefore don’t offer baptism to babies.

Most other christian churches (Lutheran, Catholic, Anglican etc) offer baby baptism instead as they believe baptism is available to all.

In baby baptism the parents and godparents make the confession of faith on behalf of the child and state their intention to raise their child with faith in God.

Churches that offer baby baptism also offer confirmation when the child is older, around 12-13 years old. Confirmation is a chance for the child who was baptised as a baby to now publicly confess their faith in God. Often confirmation classes are also held to help clarify the christian faith and answer any questions. Confirmation can happen around the same time that a child starts taking Holy Communion.

Baptism vs Christening vs Baby Dedication: Which One Is Best?

It kinda gets confusing with 3 different terms and options for new christian parents when wanting to do the best for their new child. There are a lot of different opinions on which is best and which term should be used. Which is kind of odd because they all originated from the same place – God’s word in the bible.

Which one is best? Is baby dedication better than baby baptism? Who knows? Only God really knows. But honestly, all God really wants is our hearts.

God knows our intentions when we bring our children to him. He loves children. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me. Don’t keep them away. The kingdom of heaven belongs to people like them.” Matthew 19:14

Regardless of whether it is called a christening, a baptism, or a baby dedication, I believe God accepts anything that comes from honest hearts that desire to be closer to him.