The ritual of baptism or christening is common throughout Christian societies, and similar rituals are common in other societies.1

A typical baptistening (I just made that up—easier to write than baptism/christening) requires at least two essential roles: someone to do the actual baptistening (usually some type of member of the clergy), and someone to be baptistened (often an infant). In the case of infants, there’s a third role as well, namely the parents of the infant being baptistened.

There are well-established single-word names for the first of these roles that go with both terms for the ritual: someone who baptises you is a baptist, and someone who christens you is a (more transparently formed) christener.

But what do you call the second role? The one who gets his head dunked under the water (if that happens to be the ritual of choice) and frequently starts bawling his eyes out?

The two obvious choices would be baptisee and christenee, but those both sound exceedingly clunky and neologism-like. A simple Google search of the terms yields very few hits (though at least some of them appear to be real, actual uses), whereas the same search for ‘baptist’ or ‘christener’ yields millions of hits.

Not many dictionaries include these words either: Oxford Dictionaries Online includes neither, nor does Merriam-Webster, Collins, or even The Free Dictionary. The OED doesn’t have christenee, though it does have baptizee—but that’s an old entry that hasn’t been updated since 1885, and there’s only one single citation.

In sum, I think it’s fair to say that baptisee is a very rare word, and christenee is downright nonexistent.

I currently find myself needing a word for this in a description of a letter from the 1830s:

The letter gives an account of a christening ball in the house, which was held despite the [baptisee], the governor’s infant son Alphonse, being severely ill.

Of course, a rewrite is possible (“the child being christened” could work), but that ends up being quite inelegant as well. A proper word for the wee bugger would be preferable. (By ‘proper’, I mean something that reasonably unambiguously refers to this specifically, is in at least somewhat common use, and is not limited to highly technical use within church jargon but would be understood by a casual reader.)


Are there any words for a person being baptistened that are actually used by anyone?



  1. There are subtle differences between what constitutes a baptism and what constitutes a christening, but for the purposes of this question, let’s consider them equivalent, since the difference doesn’t really matter in the context I am talking about it. We have a question about the difference between the two that you can read if you’re interested.
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    A quick Google of Rites of Baptism finds the RCC referring to persons to be baptized as 'catechumens', 'candidates', and 'elect' at various stages. The CofE seems to deal mostly in 'candidates'. Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 19:08
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    The Catechumen & Candidate terms mentioned by @StoneyB in RC Church are defined in some detail at e.g. diolaf.org/catechumen-or-candidate. The only one of the three mentioned by StoneyB that I have ever heard spoken (in Ireland) is candidate.
    – k1eran
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 20:57
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    "The tiny unwashed" makes a nice contrast to "the great unwashed." Other informal terms might include "immortal-soul-imperiled infant [or child or adult]" or simply "plungee."
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 22:09
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    The Anglican Prayer Book (1662 edition) uses variously "child" or "infant". Forasmuch as this child hath promised by you his sureties to renounce the devil and all his works, to believe in God... There is another service called The Ministration of Baptism to such as are of riper years and able to answer for themselves....These people are referred to as "the persons to be baptized". Then the priest shall speak to the persons to be baptized on this wise... Incidentally anyone wishing to experience the glory of the English language need look no further than the 1662 prayer book.
    – WS2
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 0:54
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    The best I can think of is subject (of the christening) as in "... an account of a christening ball in the house, which was held despite the subject, the governor’s infant son ..." as per the noun definitions 1, 1.1 of subject in ODO. Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 11:25

1 Answer 1


Candidate for baptism or baptismal candidate is probably the closest you will come to a universal term for people being baptized, but this would be a somewhat formal/technical usage, and has its own problems.

Baptism has different theological significance among the various branches of the faith, and takes place at different stages of initiation into the faithful. Notably, there are traditions which practice infant baptism (e.g. Presbyterians) and those which restrict it to adults (e.g. Anabaptists); and there are some which require baptism by immersion (dunking) (e.g. Mormons), and those which permit baptism by infusion/affusion (pouring) or aspersion (sprinkling) (e.g. Catholics). But even where there is agreement of practice, there is often underlying difference in theology, the details of which are well beyond the scope of this stack; see Christianity.SE.

In most Christian traditions, baptism is primarily a rite for infants or children. The person or people being baptized are readily identified by their minority. No special term is therefore needed— the person to be baptized is simply the infant, the child, the baby, etc.

In Catholicism, a catechumen is an adult who has never been baptized into any Christian faith, who undergoes study and spiritual preparation for initiation into the Church. A candidate, in contrast, is someone who has been baptized but has not come into full communion with the Church through the sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Confirmation. Nevertheless, the 1997 Catechism of the Catholic Church does use the term candidate to refer to all receiving the sacrament, e.g.

Baptism is performed in the most expressive way by triple immersion in the baptismal water. However, from ancient times it has also been able to be conferred by pouring the water three times over the candidate's head.

Candidates may thus be ambiguous.

Another liturgical church, the Church of England, uses candidate as the broad term, but its Liturgy of Baptism— under Presentation of the Candidates— asks

People of God, will you welcome these children/candidates and uphold them in their new life in Christ?

(emphasis in original), indicating that children is accepted in place of candidates when appropriate.

In credobaptist traditions, one is baptized only after making a profession of faith. As such, candidate is not quite accurate, at least in cases where baptism is viewed as symbolic and not sacramental. By a loose analogy, if you retire from work on Wednesday and throw a retirement party on Saturday, you are not a "candidate" for retirement in the intervening days; the party is not what makes you officially retired.

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