The famous Sinatra song, “I Did It My Way,” was a triumphant cry and not a dirge. That’s how Americans hear it, because we prize independence and trail-blazing, or, at least, we think we do. Even in the names we give our children. It is very American to want an unusual name for one’s child, like Apple, or Cash, or the now ubiquitous Nevaeh (Heaven, spelled backwards.) But expectant Catholics also want a name connected to the tradition of saints into whose family the child is being born. For, just as each child has a family name, or last name, identifying her with a kin group, so a saint’s name identifies a child with the kin group that is the Church.
There are over 10,000 names in the book, each with its claim to a place in the Catholic tradition explained.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way:
2156 The sacrament of Baptism is conferred “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”85 In Baptism, the Lord’s name sanctifies man, and the Christian receives his name in the Church. This can be the name of a saint, that is, of a disciple who has lived a life of exemplary fidelity to the Lord. The patron saint provides a model of charity; we are assured of his intercession. 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.”86(232, 1267)
2158 God calls each one by name.87 Everyone’s name is sacred. The name is the icon of the person. It demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it.
2159 The name one receives is a name for eternity. In the kingdom, the mysterious and unique character of each person marked with God’s name will shine forth in splendor. “To him who conquers… I will give a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it.”88 “Then I looked, and Lo, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.”89
When our American aspirations and our Catholic instincts clash over baby names, there is an answer to be found in The Catholic Baby Name Book by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur and published by Ave Maria Press.
There are over 10,000 names in the book, each with its claim to a place in the Catholic tradition explained. Just be warned that you may have to explain to your parish priest exactly who Eulampius is (a Greek martyr, whose namemeans “brilliant,” from the 4th century, who died with his martyr sister, Eulampia.) Twins, anyone?
And don’t count on being able to find saints’ medals for St. Bladulph, St. Theneva or St. Ailbhe. Though a nice wolf picture might work for Ailbhe, since he is their patron. And, if you do find a medal of St. Kentigern, you might give that to a young Theneva, since she was his mother. With Bladulph you’re on your own.
This is such a fun book. You’ll find all the usual Catholic names, plus hundreds you’ve never before heard. Fagnant-MacArthur provides the meaning of each name as well as a short biography of the more prominent saints. If a name is in the top 100 most popular names, she tells the reader that, too. We only wish she had found a way to divide the names, by national origin and not only by gender, but this is a minor complaint. Put The Catholic Baby Name Book high on your list of baby shower gifts for every expectant Catholic parent you know. And buy one for yourself, even if you’re not expecting. You’ll enjoy the read.
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– Melissa Musick