Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

What’s in a Name

Names in today’s society are treated like a dime a dozen.  Scripturally, however, names are not just what you call someone or something but a revelation of whom or what you are addressing is – it is the special meaning of the “thing”.  For a person, this is more important.  Traditionally, a person’s name has been broken up into three parts:

  • First name – This name is chosen by the parents.  It is the Christian and person name of the individual.  We should remember that in Genesis, The Father gave Adam the responsibility of naming those things which he was given authority.
  • Confirmation name – This name is chosen by oneself.  While a pious tradition it is technically not required.  The choice is a reflection of the ideals and virtues the individual desires to live by.  Tradition also holds that it helps the individual understand their mission and invokes the intercession of that saint.  Sometimes it means choosing the given baptismal name.
  • Last name – This name is chosen before one is born.  The Catholic Source Book on page 280 states: “The family name is over and above the Christian name. The use of a surname originated in the late tenth century, though it became common practice only much later. Its purpose was to specify an individual, usually according to parentage (patronymic: Johnson, Ivanovich, MacCallum, McDonald, Novinski), trade/occupation (Baker, Taylor, Schumacher, Smith), personal/physical characteristics (Short, Strong, Klein [small]), or place of residence (York, Westerfield, Berg [mountain]).”

The Catechism of the Council of Trent mandated that the name given to child during the Sacramental Rite of Baptism is to be taken from a person whose sanctity has been recognized. This was a challenge for the Gaelic Christians who did not like to name their children with sacred or holy names.  As a result, a number of permutations have appeared in our name lexicon.  For instance, variations of Mary or Muire in Gaellic became Maire.  In present time, the 1983 Code of Canon Law states,

Parents, sponsors and the pastor are to see that a name foreign to a Christian mentality is not given. #855


From the earliest times names were given in baptism. The priest is directed to see that obscene, fabulous, and ridiculous names, or those of heathen gods or of infidel men be not imposed. On the contrary the priest is to recommend the names of saints. This rubric is not a rigorous precept, but it is an instruction to the priest to do what he can in the matter. If parents are unreasonably obstinate, the priest may add a saint’s name to the one insisted upon.[1]

A name of a Christian saint really should be given to the child, either as a first or second name, or both. This saint then becomes the patron saint of the child. Not only out of Christian sentiment but to encourage the intercession and patronage of the saints.

Information about Christian names and saints is available at the following sites:

[1] Fanning, William. “Baptism.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 4 May 2010 <>.

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