What’s in a Name?
I never liked my name. I complained about it to my mother once. All my siblings had great saint names. Mom and Dad had great saint names. How come I got stuck with a non-saint name!? She looked deeply into my eyes and said, “It’s your job to make it a saint’s name.”
No pressure there. I liked that Abe Lincoln’s mom was Nancy. That was pretty cool. Back in the dark ages when I was young every Catholic had one or two saint names and added another at confirmation. Why? What’s in a name? Well it’s useful
to be called by a different name from everyone else, just to avoid confusion. Some of us remember, “This is my brother Daryll #1 and Daryll #2 and my other brother Daryll.” Funny but not practical.
Ancient peoples grew into their names through feats of accomplishment. Others were given names by their Spirit Guide. As Catholics we were given names to invoke the strength and prayers of a holy one who had gone before us. It was to honor their memory and to encourage the young to imitate their example. When religious entered their vowed life they took a new name to indicate their new identity as one vowed to Christ and again to invoke the assistance of the saint they were named for.
Recently I was at a party and someone was speaking of a friend who had just had a son and had named him after a favorite beer. I was appalled. Children encounter enough teasing throughout childhood why would any parent deliberately give them a name that invites ridicule? To me it was a cruel thing to do. I resented being called “fancy Nancy” and “four eyes” because I wore classes. I can only imagine what that child’s peers will do to him.
Whether it’s our first or last name we should be able to speak it proudly and never bring shame upon it or upon our family name. That was a rule in my growing up time. For Catholics in days gone by you were not baptized unless you had at least one saint’s name. That is hard to believe in these days of laxity. Names like Candy, Autumn, Jade, China, Pabst or Flint hardly invoke spiritual inspiration. God gave us each a guardian angel to light, to guard, to rule and to guide us through life. Parents give us another guardian soul in the saint they name us after, who resides in heaven as a role model for our us.
Since Nancy wasn’t a true saint’s name, I began looking for its origin and meaning. I learned that it’s a French diminutive for Anne. Much like Beth for Elizabeth. That began my devotion to St. Anne, the grandmother of Jesus. Later, while teaching, I used to look up the meaning of my student’s names in the hope of holding up a name for them to live up to.
Nancy means Grace! Being given a name that means grace and is derived from the name of the Mother of Mary, I slowly learned to appreciate my name even though I still don’t like it. Susie grows up to be Sue, Patty grows up to Pat but Nancy just doesn’t grow up! However it challenges me to grow in grace and look up to St. Anne and Mother Mary as my role models. so it’s not so bad after all.
I would challenge Catholic parents to study the saints and choose names for their future children that will foster faith and courage. If your children are still young then read the lives of many holy ones and hold them up as heroes to your children and perhaps one day they will choose one for their confirmation name. There are great stories in our Catholic history some are ugly and some are inspiring. All provide food for thought, traits to imitate and a challenge for our lives.
I think I might have liked being Jeanne D’Arc ..... but that’s not so catchy in English....Joan.
What can your name offer you to grow closer to the Lord?