Five minutes before mass at our parish, the commentator goes through the list of persons who have requested that their intentions be remembered by the congregation during the celebration of the Eucharist. We have the birthdays, the wedding anniversaries, prayers for healing, thanksgiving for passed exams, and others with a vast array of personal intentions. Their names (just first names) are recited in litany fashion, and as some have had their intentions included in the roster indefinitely, one who hears daily mass will be able to pick out some names that, for obvious reasons, stand out.
Like Zeus. And Buddha (I kid you not). And just last week, I actually heard the name Google mentioned.
Funny-name jokes are a dime a dozen, and when they turn out to be real names of real people, you’re not quite sure whether you’re allowed to laugh or not. It took me a week to get over meeting the Vanessa Go (nickname Van, c’mon, say it out loud), and I’m not quite sure how I’ll react when I finally shake hands with the famous Edgar Allan Peh.
I even have friends who have named their kids after rock or movie stars, favorite film or literary characters, even their favorite food. And let’s not even get into Kim and Kanye’s daughter North, or Rob Morrow’s son Tu. But hearing names like these recited right before mass–meaning living, breathing Catholics have named their children after an Olympian god, “the enlightened one,” and, well, a multi-billion dollar company–makes me more than wince a bit.
What happened to naming our children after a patron saint? Or perhaps a Biblical character who exemplifies a particular virtue? Or even after a virtue itself? A meaningful name, a Christian name. Or has that tradition gotten old and irrelevant, just as everything else (including faith and morality) has?
Turning to the Bible, the very act of naming carries so much significance. God named things as He created them (day, night, heaven, earth, seas, all the way to Adam), God re-named those whom He called to mission (Abram became Abraham, Jacob became Israel, and so on). Even in the new Testament, we see Simon Peter becoming the “Rock” and Saul becoming Paul after his conversion. With every name comes meaning, and with meaning, purpose.
Sadly, some Catholics have gone with what is cute, trendy, unique. Sure, we’ve given our children a good conversation starter as adults, and it’s unlikely that they will meet anyone with the same name as theirs, but can cute and unique ever substitute for saintly intercession, or has trendy superseded the value of having holy aspirations for our children? Do we not want a saint for them to remember, and to remember them?
The sacrament of Baptism is conferred “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” 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.” —Catechism of the Catholic Church #2156
I have named 3 kids in my lifetime. I must admit, I didn’t really put much thought in choosing a saint behind the name of my eldest child. The first one just sounded nice, and the second was the name of my husband’s grandfather. They were Christian names, both were saints, but I didn’t choose the name because I had a particular saint in mind. I just chose them because, quite simply, I liked them.
All my deliveries were normal and spontaneous, so imagine the goosebumps I got all over when, still lying on the delivery table, my doctor and I had this conversation:
It’s a boy! What are you naming him?
We’re calling him Joaquin.
Oh, you named him after the saint for the day.
July 26, feast day of St. Anne and St. Joachim, parents of Mother Mary.
Even if I’ve always thought that saints choose us long before we’ve chosen them, I still did not see that coming.
Being more aware of this heavenly influence, I was able to choose saints to name my 2 daughters after: one who had always been there (St. Thérèse of Lisieux), and another whom I felt interceded for me during my diplomate exam which I took while pregnant with my third (St. Catherine of Siena). Yes, my 2 girls are both named after Doctors of the Church–if I’m going to aspire for holiness, might as well go all the way, right?
If you are currently in a position to choose a name for your child, please consider what I have written here. What a gift we have the power to give our children, a saint they can always call on for help and intercession! A model of faith, hope and love they can always look up to, so much more than any Zeus, or Buddha, or Google.
By the way, it’s Mrs. Van Go. She married into it. Can only mean one thing: TRUE LOVE.