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.
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