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Catholic Heroes… What’s In A (Saint’s) Name?

October 5, 2021 saints No Comments


Why do we use a saint’s or other Christian name as our given choice? Early Christians took new names in Baptism, just as many of us are given these names at infant Baptisms. We also may take a saint’s name at our Confirmation (or stick with our Christian baptismal name), and religious often take another name when they take their vows.
These all indicate a conscious embrace of new Christian life, the putting on of the wedding garment and making all things new in Christ. So, too, a bride takes the name of her husband as she sheds her single life and embraces the married one.
If you thought you were imagining a trend in odd name-giving, it’s not your imagination. Lack of religion is shown when a quarter of Americans state they are “spiritual but not religious” (What does that even mean?) and two percent of the population of the UK census self-identifies as pagan or Wiccan. Such trends demonstrating today’s populace veering away from Christian values give alarm. Practices from socialism to witchcraft are becoming more mainstream; likewise the embrace of non-Christian names and neo-pagan practices.
Social Security lists the most popular names of 2020 and two of the top ten female names — Harper and Mia (“mine” in Italian) — are not religious.
In the ancient beginnings of the Church, however, there were no great lists of saints’ names to adopt. We are told that it was not uncommon to take the name of a martyr, or of a holy person, however. So, waiting for precedents is certainly not unheard of….And throughout history, explains, in its entry on “Christian names,” even in the Catholic Middle Ages there were a great many names that had no saint’s names as their precedent.
No, it was not a hard and fast rule, but it is nonetheless an excellent one to emulate. Likewise, there are many other Christian types of names, for instance, ones associated with Christian virtues — like Benedict (“blessed”) or Pius. Likewise, there are names like Noel (Christian festivals) or Redemptus (Christian dogmas), and so on.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk named his son X Æ A-12. I could explain but there’s really no point. I thought it might be a car model, but there is a plane model included in there.
When actress Gwyneth Paltrow named her daughter “Apple,” it was quite controversial. She didn’t mean the computer company. She opted for the fruit as she finds apples “wholesome” and “biblical.”
Really biblical would be looking at the obvious Christian example: Christ turns to Simon in the Gospels, saying famously, “You will be called Kephas,” meaning Peter, and upon that rock Christ built the Church. We also think of Saul becoming St. Paul, though we do not know specifically why he chose this name. We must assume, again, that he was taking this name as a symbol of his new life, walking in the light of God made man.
“We are all called to be saints,” said Mother Angelica.
In our journey to Heaven, cannot each of us use a special intercessor before God? This is one of so many good reasons to choose a particular saint for one’s baptismal or Confirmation name. Obviously, something about that person’s holiness should resound with us. Hopefully, we can find that saint a good one to imitate and turn to throughout our lives, and imitate his or her virtues.
Alternatively, perhaps one is devoted to a certain cause associated with one saint, or there is a saint associated with one’s family. In ours, the first boy for six generations has been named for St. Joseph, as protector of the family. We also as a family celebrate St. Joseph’s feast in giving the person named for Joseph a saint’s card and, in doing so, also honor the saint.
I often wondered what would happen if someone in our family had a girl but later no boy came….I thought if I’d married I could have covered this eventuality, by naming a girl St. Josephine “just in case” that girl was the only girl!
This is a lovely tradition, especially as it fosters a love for the protector of the Holy Virgin and the Christ Child, a love for the family, for marriage, for unity, for holiness, for so many virtues. St. Joseph fosters a love in so much depth, because as one ponders the sacred mystery of the “Word became flesh,” it was Joseph who protected the Christ Child and kept Him safe.
So too, he keeps us safe, even as we finish the year of St. Joseph proclaimed by our Holy Father. As a reminder, you might consider special devotions to St. Joseph especially through December 8, to receive special graces and to honor the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of St. Joseph, as Patron of the Universal Church by Pope Pius IX.
Ah, and Mary’s name we honor as she is the greatest and most holy of saints. Even though we do not refer to her as “St. Mary,” we do name churches after her (St. Mary Queen of Grace, and so on). So, for reasons already mentioned we honor her, as Christ honors her, and many opt to have a variation of her name as part of their own. This includes even male religious who may take the name “Mary” or “Maria” as their middle name — Fr. Kolbe’s full name is St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe.
One way to hear the names of the saints and pray at the same time is to listen to or sing the beautiful Litany of the Saints. Hearing the prayer sung in chant is particularly moving, with the intoning of each name, followed by the choir answering, “Ora pro nobis.” This litany is the oldest of those approved for public worship, dating to the sixth century, the reign of Pope Gregory the Great (lived 540-604; Pope from 590-604).
We can expect to hear it again the evening of All Souls’ Day as we prepare for All Saints’ Day November 1. The Litany of the Saints is also heard variously on feasts throughout the year, and is used also at the blessing of cemeteries; the ground must always be consecrated before Catholics are buried there.
Indeed, as the winter nights grow darker, we might also recall that a singular reason for taking the name of a saint is for the protection this affords. Having a saint’s name isn’t a magic amulet, but an extra protection, along with all that the Christian life affords: with primarily the Mass and the sacraments as the sources of tremendous grace we are so blessed to be able to have.
For the Devil roams through the world and we belong to the Church Militant, and the battle rages: “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

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