Looking at Church of England parish registers from the 17th-18th centuries, some pages are titled "baptisms" while others "christenings". Now we use the terms more or less interchangeably, but would they have been interchangeable three hundred years ago?

When it comes to entering the event into my genealogy program I have the option of entering either. For the sake of accuracy, which should I enter it as?

4 Answers 4


This came up recently on a mailing list on which I participate, and I think the best answer was this (from a retired Minister).

In summary:

the bottom line is - if you are Christened in a Christian Church you are “Baptised with water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” It is one of the ‘Sacraments’ of the Church on which all major denominations are agreed.


basically, you can choose how you record the event but the generic term is Baptised if you want consistency, regardless of the recipient’s age.

Do read the whole post.


In the Church of England the term Baptism refers to a ceremony at which an individual makes a conscious decision to accept the ways of the Church and is so accepted by the Church.

As an infant cannot make such a decision, the ceremony of Christening represents the acceptance into the Church of the infant and the vows of the Godparents to bring it up in the ways of the Church.

The terms are often used interchangeably and have been so for many years. In particular, the use of Baptism for an event that is actually a Christening.

The word Baptism also refers to the action of anointing the head with water. This of course takes place at both forms of ceremony.

To add a summary:

  • The act of baptism takes place in the ceremony of baptism for an adult
  • The act of baptism takes place in the ceremony of christening for a child
  • By metonymy the ceremony of christening is often known as a baptism
  • 1
    The wikipedia "Church of England" article indicates that they do perform infant baptism. I've encountered reports that this was an issue with Welsh Baptists (who perform only adult baptisms) during the time when the Church of England was the official registrar of births.
    – cleaverkin
    Jan 28, 2014 at 20:55

I struggled with this for some time, and managed to use both without any kind of consistency so that some people in my database had Baptism events and others had Christening events, but in the end I decided that I would just standardise on Baptism and went through fixing up my database to use that for everybody.

I can't remember exactly how I decided which one to use, but looking at the Wikipedia article we see:

In some traditions, baptism is also called christening, but for others the word "christening" is reserved for the baptism of infants.

Which certainly suggests that my choice was a reasonable one in that Baptism is the more generic term whilst, at least in some traditions, the word Christening would only apply to infants.


I had an inconsistent mish mash of the two in my database till I decided to make a distinction between the decision of parents to Baptise or Christen their infant (which I will refer to as Christening) and a later informed-consent decision of the child or adult (which I will refer to as Baptism). Yes, I know that the term Christening technically refers to the ceremony of giving a child a Christian name, hence Christening them, but the issue comes down to whether it is likely the minister skipped the part where he (or she) also sprinkled or baptised the child with water. That's not likely. One might argue that infant baptisms often don't include a naming ceremony and the minister just accepts the name presented as a fait accompli, so why not just use the term Baptism universally throughout the database. But then we would be left without a distinctive term to apply to a later informed consent where a person converts to or reaffirms their faith in a particular creed. So I'm reserving the term Baptism for that event.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.