6 Rules Before Naming Your Catholic Baby

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The following post was written by my friend, Todd Aglialoro and was originally posted at Catholic Answers. Todd gave me permission to repost it here.

The other day I read a charming GQfeature on the do’s and don’ts of naming babies in the modern world. As someone who has had this privilege seven times over, and who likes to gripe about how the culture is going to hell, I took a specially keen interest in it. And I could not disagree with its major premise:

Seemingly rational people are naming their kids Baylynn, and Daxx, and Nirvana. Ethans are becoming Aythans. Marys are becoming Jazzmins. Wannabe elitist parents keep trying to one-up each other, as if a uniquely horrible name serves as some kind of guarantee against little Aston Martin growing up to be merely ordinary. Soon we’ll be staring down an army of Apples, and the entire country will collapse upon itself.

Now, I’m guessing that there aren’t many Jazzmins running around Catholic homeschool co-ops, or sitting in the front pew with mantillas on. But when it comes to baby-naming, we Catholics have our own temptations, and pitfalls to avoid. And so we need our own rules. Let me propose a few:

1. Meet the new names, same as the old names.

In a classroom full of Baylynns and Apples, former standbys like Mary and John are now unusual, if not downright subversive. Think of the opportunities when you take your daughter on a play date to her friend Linoleum’s house and you get asked if “Mary” was like, a family name or something. What a chance to evangelize! Or mess with their heads. Either way.

2. Curb the impulse to saddle your newborn with the most obscure saints’ name you can find.

But maybe your taste in saints’ names runs to the more exotic. This is a special temptation for parents with even a little training in theology or history. Fine, but be careful.

True, St. Artaxes is a wonderful example of an early witness for the Faith; yeah, Quadragesimus  was a shepherd who raised a guy from the dead; but the momentary satisfaction of re-introducing these names to the world by attaching them to your offspring is not worth the grief Artaxes will feel going through life with people thinking he was named after a minor deity from Scientology, or that you will suffer every time you have to spell out young Quaddy’s full name when you sign him up for soccer.

We have a wide range of names available to us, new parents. But if you absolutely must dig down deep into Butler’s so that the world will know your little daughter is under the patronage of Queen St. Kundegunda of Poland, hey, that’s what middle names are for. But that brings us to another rule.

3. Go easy on the middle names.

A common tic of Catholic families that I have noticed (and have demonstrated myself) is to introduce or refer to their children by all their names. Instead of, “This is my oldest, Bill, his sister Sarah, and little Henry here just turned one,” we get, “Here’s Joan Clare Marie, her brother John Paul Aquinas de Sales, and I believe you’ve already met Michael Augustine Loyola Chesterton. We call him ‘Kolbe.’”

The middle name is a wonderful place to stash more obscure saint names or testaments to personal heroes (I’ve done it). And the temptation can be strong to keep the music going: One more heavenly patron can only be a good thing, right? Not to mention, you worked hard to make that baby and keep him alive; the least he can do is be a sort of walking billboard for your spiritual and historical interests.

But moderation, moderation. There’s a fine line between jolly plenty and wretched excess. Leave some names for the rest of us.

4. Get a good night’s sleep before you sign anything.

My wife and I once failed to heed this and ended up giving one child a middle name after a character from a Broadway musical. We’ve all since agreed to pretend we didn’t.

5. Call him Ishmael?

Some Catholic parents don’t feel the need to give their eldest son middle names after each and every one of the Martyrs of Agaunum (first name: Steve). They prefer to go digging into the Old Covenant.

I admit that this has always puzzled me a tad. Once I heard it plausibly asserted that the practice of giving Old Testament names is a particularly American and Protestant one. Without a canon of saints, without the living presence of Christian history around them, New World Protestants marked out their own tradition with a slew of Jemimahs and Jebediahs.

I don’t know if that’s true, but it is true that names like Jacob and Noah, Abigail and Hannah, consistently find their way near the top of annual American baby-name lists. (Then again, so does “Madison,” a girl’s name that started out as a joke in the 1984 Tom Hanks film Splash. Who knew?)

There’s no absolute reason, I suppose, why Catholics ought to avoid Old Testament names. We honor Jacob, David, and the rest for the part they played in salvation history. But if it’s true, as I hear anecdotally, that once upon a time it was expected for Catholics to go with saints’ names and only saints’ names (with some priests even refusing to baptize children without one), well, I can understand why. To me it makes sense to want to shine the brightest light on those models of faith who knew and lived for Christ by name.

6. For God’s sake, don’t name your child “Todd.”

There was no such saint, or prophet, or patriarch. And it rhymes with “odd.” Other kids will figure that out.


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23 thoughts on “6 Rules Before Naming Your Catholic Baby

  1. As for #5, CCC #61 states, “The patriarchs, prophets and certain other Old Testament figures have been and always will be honored as saints in all the Church’s liturgical traditions.” I’m thinking that might have something to with why Christians name their kids Old Testament names.

    1. The Puritans were the first Christians to name their babies Old Testament names, in protest (sound familiar?) against the Catholic practice of naming children after saints. If you look at lists of historical baby names in the US you’ll see Saint names heading the list for a long time. Then in about the 80s, the OT names came back, as, SURPRISE! a fad.

  2. Fun article, i think the final rule was my favorite. We just named our first son Ignatius Michael. We love his name and we figure while Ignatius may seem obscure to the secular world he is well known amongst Catholics and week read Protestants

    1. My husband was named Ignatius and hated it so much because most could not ‘get’ it, especially when he called himself Nace for short. He insisted on simple names like Daniel and Stephanie for our children.

  3. Haha… but many of the Saints were not named after saints themselves!! Rebels. For example, St.Francis of Assisi was arguably the first Francis in history, his real name being John with “Francesco” initially a nick-name before before becoming the preferred name, akin to meaning “Frenchy”.
    Who knows, in centuries to come, babes may be baptized as “Fradderic” or “Fraddeline” and be considered very Catholic names?!?

  4. I wanted to use Ignatia as my confirmation name, but thought it sounded pretentious. I wish I’d had the sense to use Loyola (which sounds female and is easier to us). As it is, I added Marie to the Ann, as my birthday is March 25th), though I don’t use it.

  5. Such an entertaining post! Its giot me in stitches. And very informative and has given me alot to think about as Im 29 weeks pregnant with a bouncy baby boy. I plan to name him John Paul Gerard (first name John Paul after our dear pope JP2, and Gerard after St Gerard Mejella, a very sweet and beautiful boy). They’re great saints and I prayed to them to help me to become pregnant and subsequently to keep the baby safe and Jesus has certainly heard their prayers for me. They’re very good friends and it helps that they happen to have rather nice names that a child could live with.

    1. Interesting thoughts but we can be confident that God is much Greater than we can know ” – paraphrased St Therese of Lisieux…and can make any child a saint no matter what his name. In addition I imagine many old testament people are now in heaven and therefore saints. I think its beautiful to have a patron watch over our children but Ive heard simplicity is best and God usually appoints one to three saints for each person. Also, many of our brothers and sisters in this world are not Catholic but are certainly not starved of God’s love as’ He shines his light and sun on the good and the bad’ (paraphrased bible passage). We dont even have to be good for God to love us; He is going to love us no matter what! Though its beautiful to respond to His great love in many little ways…perhaps in the form of naming our children after saints. But I think we should refrain from insulting Todd’s and Daxx’s … I know each of them and they’re lovely people. Good challenges to parents though and thx for sharing !!

    2. My brother is a John Paul (no middle name) and we have always called him John Paul or JP. Now that he is in college he has gotten so sick of people of calling him John that his is legally changing his name to remove the space.

  6. Very funny and informative. We’ve been able to evangelize in the delivery room as the doctor and nurses have wondered about Maximilian, Bernadette and Leo. Parents don’t have to make up some snazzy name, choosing a traditional name will ultimately make your child and their name more unique than ever.

  7. Many OT names *are* Saint names as Maureen pointed out. What truly puzzles me (and what I thought you were going to say), is this trend to choose names of less-than-saintly characters in the OT (like Delilah). I don’t see it as much in Catholic circles, though, more in secular circles. I kid you not, I was once on a baby naming forum where someone wrote in, “Do you think Judas has too many negative connotations?”…

    1. My husband and I were reading the bible together when we first got married and came across the name Naphtali and we really liked the name. However, in actually looking at what the person was in the bible for, it didn’t have a very good reference, so we thought it in appropriate to name our child that. And besides, we’re too boring of people to do that! So we have Caroline and Christopher which are traditional enough for us.

  8. i am very musical but a failure and still struggling with music, so i figure why not start with a for adam and then go on to b for benedict, i thank you God bless you.

  9. It’s funny my dad doesn’t have a middle name and really no one knows why and I have no idea if anyone ever asked my grandparents why….but your #5 makes sense now 🙂

    1. Hi, Beth Anne!
      My Italian grandpa had to give the army a middle name when he enlisted so he just made up Robert. We were always told Italians, some cultures, ethnicity, just never gave middle names. I would have thought that side would just to give mom more to yell. 🙂

      1. My Catholic grandparents left the middle name blank. It was chosen by the child at his/her confirmation. My dad chose Michael as his middle name. That was my understanding of why middle names were not on the birth certificate – they were meant to be chosen at Confirmation.

  10. Great article!
    As a grandparent I’m helplessly out of the discussion but intimately effected by the names picked for our grandchildren.

    BTW I have a new grand daughter and would love to get her one of the ‘Cradle Catholic’ onesies you have pictured. Are they available anywhere?

  11. My great-grandfather, whose name was Emil, always said that a man had enough to fight about in this world without fighting about his own name. I always think of his sage advice when I meet a Kunegunda or an Artaxes.

  12. A married couple I know took their son to be baptized…
    Priest: “What do you want the boy’s name to be?”
    Mom: “We want to name him Troy.”
    Priest: “What?! You can’t do that – there’s no Saint Troy!”
    Mom: “Well, there’s gonna be one now.”
    Priest: “I can’t really argue with that.”

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