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Scott P. Richert

Reader Question: Must Children Be Named After Saints?

By August 19, 2010

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This week's Reader Question is a very common one today:

Is it compulsory to name your children after saints?

For older Catholics, the practice of naming one's children after a saint or a virtuous Old Testament figure (or after a virtue itself, such as Faith, Hope, and Charity) was almost second nature. Over the last few decades, however, more and more Catholic parents have named their children pretty much anything that struck their fancy. What is in a name, after all?

Well, plenty—at least in the mind of the Church. God Himself gave Adam his name; Adam named Eve and all of the living things; the angel revealed the name of Jesus to both Mary and Joseph. And each of these names had a meaning and a purpose. As the angel told Saint Joseph, "You shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins."

So names are not something to take lightly, and the Church acknowledges this. As Paragraph 2165 of the current Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

In Baptism, the Christian receives his name in the Church. Parents, godparents, and the pastor are to see that he be given a Christian name. The patron saint provides a model of charity and the assurance of his prayer.

That final sentence is very important. For Catholics, naming our children after saints isn't an arbitrary rule but an acknowledgment that we truly believe in the communion of saints. Thus, when we choose a Christian name for our child, we should have a particular saint in mind. Is Catherine named after Saint Catherine of Siena or Saint Catherine of Alexandria? Is Francis named after Saint Francis of Assisi or St. Francis Xavier?

As our children grow, we should cultivate their devotion to their patron saint, by teaching them about the life of that saint and helping them to learn prayers to that saint.

As Christians, we never walk through this life alone, but in communion with all the saints. And that reality should be reflected in the names we give to our children.

If you have a question that you would like to be featured as part of our Reader Questions series, you can use our submission form. If you would like the question answered privately, please send me an e-mail. Be sure to put "QUESTION" in the subject line, and please note whether you'd like me to address it privately or on the Catholicism blog.

Comments
August 20, 2010 at 4:54 pm
(1) Michael says:

I am tired of “Catholic” parents who give their children non-saint names.

It is just another chink in the parents’ Catholic armor.

August 20, 2010 at 5:49 pm
(2) Paul says:

But you didn’t answer the question “Is it *compulsory* to name your children after saints?” (In other words, is it a sin not to do so?) Despite the good reasons you have given, I can imagine other reasons giving a child a non-Christian name (for example, a strong naming tradition within a family, naming after a loved one, etc).

August 20, 2010 at 6:26 pm
(3) Scott P. Richert says:

Paul, the passage I quoted from the Catechism is pretty clear. “Parents, godparents, and the pastor are to see that he be given a Christian name.”

Something can be “compulsory” without being “under pain of sin.”

The situations you describe do not preclude giving the child a Christian name. We have used family names for several of our children, but, since the family members they were named after are Christians, the names they were given were Christian names.

Even in the case where you wanted to give a child a first and middle name that come from family members, and neither of those are a Christian name, you can, and should, give the child a third name (or second middle name, if you prefer) that is a Christian name.

August 20, 2010 at 9:05 pm
(4) Martin Christopher Hartley says:

Well, my parents named me “Martin Christopher”. I don’t think that they realised that it means (direct translation) “The War-Like, Christ-Bearer”, or perhaps a better translation would be “Christ-bearing warrior” Both St Martin de Tours and St Christopher were soldiers/warriors at some stage in their lives before coming to God.

In the past couple of months I have quite a few young men named “John Paul” – now THAT is a name with expectations of greatness attached to it!

August 21, 2010 at 12:38 pm
(5) Mary says:

Mr. Richert, any Catholic parents who do not see the wisdom of naming their child after a Saint denies the child the benefits of having a role-model to emulate in their journey of Faith and an Intercessor in the Communion of Saints. It is very unfortunate that more and more Catholics have lost the sense of this very vital Catholic Tradition. How sad that my son-in-law who was not was not a Catholic when he married my daughter 20 years ago searched historical names and came up with the name of Wanda for his daughter (now 14) who is named after me. This name, in Polish means Mother of Christ. If a non-Catholic could see the wisdom of giving his daughter such a fitting name because my parents are named Joakim and Anna and I am their own daughter, it saddens me Catholics are ignoring important Catholic Teachings about the composition of the Church. I do feel it is that decision he made which pleased the Holy Spirit who then inspired him to become a Catholic!!!!

We have the Church Militant which prays for the Church Suffering in Purgatory and the Church Triumphant which prays for the Church Militants. Why, my dear Catholics break this Holy Chain of Salvation. Catechists, you have your job cut out for you on this one for sure!!!!

August 21, 2010 at 5:55 pm
(6) laursaurus says:

My DH is a cradle Catholic and I was confirmed as an adult on Easter Vigil, 2001. His explanation for wanting a Saint’s name for our children was, “it’s good insurance.” There are some concepts that are harder to grasp when you aren’t raised in the Faith. I really appreciate this more detailed explanation. Maybe I overlooked it, but I didn’t see a mention if choosing a middle name after a saint is acceptable, which is what we did. I know there are many girls named Mary ____. That’s what we did for our boys and our Pastor didn’t make it an issue. The again, the kid is already named no matter how soon he’s baptized normally.
Just an idea I thought I’d contribute and see what others think whether this is an acceptable “compromise.”

August 21, 2010 at 6:32 pm
(7) laursaurus says:

Just saw your comment about middle names, Steve.
Thanks! I feel better.

August 22, 2010 at 9:26 am
(8) Baal says:

I love this! All the troubles in this world and you people take issue with what your fellow Catholics name their children. Forget all the other real problems with the Church…just bicker about names. Are the Mormons this petty? If you want a really good Biblical name try Lucifer…it means ” Bringer of Light” .

January 25, 2011 at 12:00 pm
(9) bhaal says:

Bhaal is so much better a name than Lucifer. I’d rather name a kid ‘Lord of Murder’ than ‘Bringer of Light’. It has a nicer ring to it…

August 23, 2010 at 6:56 pm
(10) Todd says:

I think more should be urged of Catholics that a naming tradition. No problem with non-Christian names, but every child should have a patron saint, and every family observe every child’s baptism anniversary and patronal feast.

January 19, 2011 at 3:13 pm
(11) Barbara says:

I was named after St. Barbara 65 years ago…now she is no longer a saint. What is a person to do?

January 19, 2011 at 3:35 pm
(12) Scott P. Richert says:

Barbara, your comment reflects a common misunderstanding. In 1969, Pope Paul VI revised the Roman calendar to (among other things) remove the feast days of certain saints whose historicity is in doubt. Saint Barbara was one of those saints (Saint Valentine, on whose feast day Paul VI’s motu proprio was issued, was another).

The removal of a saint’s feast day from the Roman calendar, however, does not mean that the saint has been declared no longer to be a saint, or declared not to have existed. There are many recognized saints who do not appear on the Roman calendar.

Paul VI’s order did not suppress devotion to Saint Barbara, which would have been an unusual move in any case but would have been justified if the Church could say with certainty that she never existed.

So it is wrong to say that Saint Barbara is no longer a saint. If she did indeed exist, then she is indeed a saint. And since the Church has not suppressed devotion to her, there’s no reason for the faithful to assume that Saint Barbara did not exist.

July 1, 2012 at 4:48 pm
(13) Manny Perez says:

St. Faustina Kowalska the Divine Mercy visionary had a vision of St. Barbara holding the sword of her martyrdom and St. Stanislaus Kostka also had a vision of St. Barbara and some angels in which she brought Holy Communion to him. The stigmatist, Therese Neumann also had a vision of St. Barbara’s martyrdom. All of this supports the case for St. Barbara being a real saint in Heaven. It’s a shame that Paul VI had to revise the beautiful traditional calendar of the Roman Catholic Church. For instance,he dropped St. Catherine of Alexandria and now she’s back on the current universal calendar again after all those decades of being absent.

July 23, 2013 at 9:55 pm
(14) Question says:

What is the Catholic teaching on naming a child after someone from the Old Testament who is not a saint?

December 10, 2013 at 12:50 am
(15) Sohan says:

The article conveniently leaves out part of #2156!!! See:
Http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c1a2.htm#2156
which ALSO clarifies:
Quote: The “baptismal name” can also express a Christian mystery or Christian virtue. “Parents, sponsors, and the pastor are to see that a name is not given which is foreign to Christian sentiment.”
Unquote.
Clearly names that ARE compatible with Christian sentiment, then ARE fine. So it’s rather absurd if names are considered unsuitable such as Joshua (same hebrew root as Jesus’s name), or Moses, or Eirene (=peace, the word Jesus used when ‘my Peace i give to you’)!!! Obviously such names ARE very appropriate and meaningful for #2156′s intent.
Thus, the reader question’s answer is, no NOT necessary to be mecessarily a CANONIZED saint’s name. Just, would be great idea to have a name that relfects SOME christian sentiment or similar.

April 4, 2014 at 6:53 pm
(16) Joshua Seidl says:

# 2150 CCC states at the end of that paragraph:
Parents, sponsors, and the pastor are to see that a name is not given which is foreign to Christian sentiment.
Considering that the Chruch allows for a “virtue” as a name, a number of naming customs not of traditional Euro-Asian Judeo/Christian traditions can have names of Christian merit, though not drawn directly from the list of those already canonized nor listed in Scripture per-se. A name, Waweshkeshe (meaning Deer) was used. Justified siting “Like a Deer to Running water” from Scripture. Anotehr was Minwahjimo “Give a Good Message,” with can and is sometimes used in Ojibwe language to honor the Gospel of Jesus. When in doubt, the pastor should seek discernment on then matter or ask how to find out — before rejecting the family on the day of baptism. Indigenous parents would do well to discuss this as far ahead of time as is possible.

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