Traditional Catholic naming practices required parents to name children after a saint, a virtuous biblical figure or a virtue itself (like faith, hope or charity). Although many Catholic parents no longer feel bound by traditional naming practices, I suspect a lot more Catholic babies would be given saint’s names if the range of choices were wider and more contemporary.
Linda Rosencrantz’ illuminating article presents a list of 22 names of patron saints along with historical and biographical lore to identify what each is the patron saint of. For example, Pelagia is the patron saint of actresses. Dunstan is the patron saint of wind instruments. Eligius is the patron saint of jewelers, Genisius is the patron saint of actors and comedians. And Theimo is the patron saint of sculptors and engravers.
If these names seem ancient and obscure it isn’t by chance. I purposely selected examples from the list of 22 saints compiled by Rosencrantz to point out how difficult it can be to find a patron saint’s name that would be comfortable for parents born in the 20th century to select for their children who will be born in the 21st century.
So, if you’re a Catholic parent, happen to be an actor or actress, and the idea of naming your son or daughter after the patron saint of actors and/or actresses appeals to you, you seem to have this choice: Pelagia for girls; Genisius for boys. If you’d like to name your child after the patron saint of dancers, you can choose Vitus for your son, although no female patron saint of dancers was identified. Likewise, only a male patron saint of jewelers, Eligius, was mentioned. As you can see the range and variety of saints’ names in general and patron saints’ names in particular is limited.
For the purpose of considering the relative appeal of the saints’ names, l’ve divided them into two broad categories: names that have an ancient or medieval aura and names that have been commonly used in the 20th and 21st centuries. I’m not referring to the birth dates of the saints or the dates when the saints were sainted. I’m simply trying to identify names likely to be comfortable for use as names for babies born in 2014 and beyond.
Female Saints’ Names
Ancient/Medieval Aura: Pelagia
20th or 21st Century Aura: Barbara, Cecilia, Clare, Catherine, Veronica
Male Saints’ Names
Ancient/Medieval Aura: Augustine, Benedict, Celestine, Columba, Dunstan, Eligius, Francis, Genisius, Thiemo, Vitus
20th or 21st Century Aura: Gregory, Claude, Gabriel, John, Luke, Thomas
As you can see, five of the six female patron saints’ names have been commonly used in the 20th and 21st centuries. However ten of the sixteen male patron saints’ names have been rarely used in the 20th and 21st centuries. Half of all the patron saints’ names listed in Rosencrantz’ post seem unlikely to be comfortable choices as names for children who will be born in 2014 or beyond.
One possible explanation is that investigative journalists would do anything to interview a candidate for sainthood or expose a “miracle” as a scam. That’s why the range of choices for contemporary Catholics wanting to name their child after a saint is both limited and shrinking. (Names like Celestine and Augustine don’t seem to be making a dramatic comeback—and they’re not getting any “fresher,” either .)
I assume traditionalists would argue that it’s not the job of the church to provide appropriate names for children born in 2014 and beyond. And because ramping up the recognition of saints to broaden the range of name choices for traditional Catholics isn’t likely to happen, it’s no surprise that contemporary Catholic parents are becoming more open to contemporary naming options (like Protestant and Jewish parents).
Linda Rosencrantz seems to have set out to write an interesting article about the names of patron saints and she has succeeded. But her post seems to have unintentionally made two other points as well:
- It isn’t easy for Catholic parents to find saints’ names that are both appropriate and appealing for use in 2014.
- But when the list of saints’ names is limited to patron saints of different jobs, crafts or arts, the task of finding an appropriate name for your child can be even harder.
If Rosenkrantz wrote the post to interest readers in the idea of naming their child after a patron saint, I’m afraid it may have the opposite effect. It’s more likely to convince readers how difficult it would be to find an appealing patron saint’s name for the baby they are expecting.