This past February Pope Francis and Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia met in Cuba, a meeting which was called “the first in history.” Though Kirill doesn’t speak for the whole of the Eastern Orthodox Church (being that the Eastern Orthodox Church is a group of self-governing churches in communion [including the Greek Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church], though without a single head — different than the Roman Catholic set-up with the pope as head), he’s certainly an important figure in Eastern Orthodoxy, and, movingly, in Francis and Kirill’s Joint Declaration they said,
“It is with joy that we have met like brothers in the Christian faith who encounter one another “to speak face to face” (2 Jn 12), from heart to heart … With grace–filled gratitude for the gift of mutual understanding manifested during our meeting, let us with hope turn to the Most Holy Mother of God, invoking her with the words of this ancient prayer: “We seek refuge under the protection of your mercy, Holy Mother of God”. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, through her intercession, inspire fraternity in all those who venerate her …“
When today’s mama — who’s Eastern Orthodox — emailed me for a consultation, I felt a similar joy and gratitude and “heart to heart” connection, as I do with all of you who love the names of our faith!❤
This was a new kind of challenge for me, as I’m most confident with Roman Catholic saints and naming practices, both of which are sometimes somewhat different in the Eastern Orthodox church. Fortunately the mama, Arielle, was eager to help, explaining:
“We are Eastern Orthodox, and our naming conventions are a bit different. These are not hard and fast rules, but in general, a child is given the first name of a saint, and this name is very liturgically important – they are ceremonially named on the eighth day of life, they are baptized with that name, the priest gives them communion by name each week, they are married with that name, etc. If for some reason they are NOT given a saint’s name (some people give their child a family name or just a name they have always liked), they still receive a saint’s name at baptism for all those liturgical uses, so in practice they have two names (or their middle name is their saint’s name). Which works for some, but we like to avoid that and give all of our children their saint’s name as their first name. Children do not choose a confirmation saint (they are confirmed at baptism), so this is the only saint’s name they get, unless they are ordained or tonsured.
It also is conventionally the saint’s actual name – not a place related to it (like Avila would be). Marian title names are a possibility (like Despina, Panagiotis). Translations of the name are fine (John/Johan/Ioannis/Evan/Ivan or Mary/Miriam/Maria/Mariam for instance), as are names related to major feasts – Evangelia/Evangeline would be named for the Annunciation, for instance, or Theophania would be named for Theophany (Epiphany in the West).”
It’s also really helpful that we share all the saints canonized before 1054, including Biblical saints, so:
“Many names are shared (like Catherine would be for Catherine of Alexandria, instead of Catherine of Siena) but others, like Claire are not, without a real stretch (like Claire for Photini – similar meaning).”
It was easy enough to focus on those shared names, and fun to be challenged in a new way!
Arielle and her husband aren’t currently expecting, but they’re planning ahead for the possibility of Baby #5 (as she said, “I also really wanted to ask you about #4, but she was born before I got to it!“). Their kiddos’ names are:
James Benedict (“James is named for his grandfathers and for St. James the Brother of the Lord (Iakovos). Benedict is for St. Benedict of Nursia. I like the idea of including names from among the ‘Western saints’ (Benedict, Ambrose, Augustine, Brigid, Genevieve, etc.) as a nod to the fact that while we are of the Eastern Church, we are of Western heritage.”)
Miriam Anna (“Miriam Anna is named for the Theotokos (Blessed Mother) and the grandmother of Christ, who we always call St. Anna.”)
Sophia Catherine (“Sophia Catherine is named for St. Sophia of Thrace, the Mother of Orphans, and St. Catherine of Alexandria. Both are a nod to my husband, who studied ancient Greek and Roman history and philosophy. [Sophia = wisdom, St. Catherine studied Greek rhetoric and philosophy]. He also stayed at St. Catherine’s monastery in Sinai, and we have both been to the top of Mt. Sinai where her body was taken by angels.”)
Elisabeth Eleni (“Elisabeth Eleni is for St. Elizabeth the Grand Duchess of Russia, a nun martyred by the Bolsheviks. Eleni is a common Greek form of Helen, the Finder of the True Cross. I used the “s” spelling both because I just think it is beautiful and elegant, and because our last name is very German and I wanted to use the nickname Elsa (which we do). I’m not sure I love that I mixed languages here.”)
I just love all these names! I love that they’re obviously faithy, and I love their really elegant feel. I also love how Arielle said they “like the idea of including names from among the “Western saints” (Benedict, Ambrose, Augustine, Brigid, Genevieve, etc.) as a nod to the fact that while we are of the Eastern Church, we are of Western heritage.”
A few other considerations:
“I love names that are Scandinavian or German forms of saints’ names, but am rather conservative when it comes to names that seem too ‘weird’ or ‘harsh’ for English-speaking ears. I would love more ideas here. I also love saints’ names from the British Isles (my heritage), especially Irish names, many of which are pre-1054 saints.
Probably no more ‘J’ names, as our last name starts with ‘J’ and one is enough. Possibly for a middle name (I like Joseph and Jude). I like that no one has the same first initial yet, but that’s not a deal-breaker. I love names that start with ‘E.’“
Names they’re considering for a girl include:
Lydia (“current front runner. I love the musical sound of the name, and love that when we shorten the names of the girls it fits right in (Miri, Sophie, Elsie, Lydie!) Downside – we know a lot about our other childrens’ saints, and not a lot is known about St. Lydia. It also doesn’t mean much linguistically – just “from Lydia.” Not sure about a middle name here – Lydia Grace? Lydia Mirabel/Mirabelle? Lydia Genevieve? We love St. Genevieve, and it is the name of my great-great-grandmother. But I’m not sure that suits the musicality of the name“)
Emmelia (“one of my all time favorite saints, St. Emmelia the mother of five saints. I had to do some linguistic research for this one (I mean *ahem* have my husband do it). She is clearly a Greek-speaking saint, and so the common explanation that it is from the same root as Emily didn’t make sense. Turns out it is from a Greek word for “melodious.” I love Emmelia Rose together. Only downside is that it is so close to the common Emily, and might get pronounced like Amelia. Which is a lovely name, but different.”)
And for boys:
“We have a hard time agreeing on boys’ names. Husband chose James really on his own (I wanted Benedict as a first name) and now he really wants a Thomas, so Thomas Ambrose has been on the list. I like that it goes well with James Benedict (Apostle + Western saint). I like Brendan Thomas better. We would like to include Matthew in a boy’s name at some point, for a dear friend who died.”
Names that they like, but probably won’t use include:
Annelise (“love, but already have an Anna and Elisabeth, so seems repetitive“)
Madeleine (“Also love, especially as it goes with the French spelling of Elisabeth, but so very common. We have several little friends named Magdalene (called Maggie), so that version is out“)
Mirabelle/Mirabel (“maybe for a middle, but way to close to Miriam for a first“)
Lucia (“loved, but then a niece got it!“)
“What do you think? Is this too far outside your expertise? I LOVE your site and would love to hear what you think! I feel like I’ve had the same list of names since I was a teenager and have a hard time thinking outside the box for others.
One very specific thing I could still use help with is a Scandinavian- or German-sounding name that could be a sub for Lydia. I do love Lydia. But I feel like there might be a name I’m not thinking of that goes well with sister Elsa and has that sweet musical sound and Scandi feeling. Annelise fits that bill for me, but just doesn’t go with Elisabeth/Elsa because of being the same base name!“
Whew! All so interesting, right?! Okay, so first, some thoughts on Arielle and her hubs’ current ideas:
Lydia’s one of my favorite names! It’s true that its meaning is not terribly inspiring, but I’ve always loved that Lydia was a seller of purple cloth—it’s not often that a little girl has her very own color! I like how Lydia Grace and Lydia Mirabel(le) sound together, and funny enough I kind of agree about Lydia Genevieve—they’re two gorgeous names, but they don’t sound totally right together … From their girl list, I love how Lydia Magdalene and Lydia Madeleine sound. And Lydie’s one of my favorite favorite nicknames, love love love! It is true that something like Lydia Madeleine/Magdalene technically means “from Lydia + from Magdalene” but I have never really focused on the meanings of names, because they don’t tell the whole story (although I do admit that more recently, a great meaning can sway me to like a name I might not otherwise like). Lydia to me doesn’t mean “from Lydia,” it means “St. Paul’s first European convert, the lady in the Bible who sold purple cloth.” You know? Lydia Madeleine would say to me “gorgeous New Testament name (with her own color!) plus a feminine French middle that has connections to some great, holy women.” I think of names like Francis (“Frenchman”) and Cecilia (“blind”) and Blaise (“lisping”) and even Mary (whose meaning is debated, but I usually see “bitter” and some think maybe also “rebellious”) and those meanings are definitely not what people think of when they hear the names, you know? (Arielle’s email was actually one of the inspirations behind my piece at CatholicMom on name meanings!)
It’s also kind of cool that Lydia and Magdalene are two female biblical names that describe where the women were from — it’s kind of apt to pair them together! And place names are all the rage anyway, so Lydia and Magdalene/Madeleine are way ahead of the curve — place names used before any of the Dakotas or Brooklyns or Parises.
But, all that said, they could play with the meaning of Lydia in terms of connecting to the middle for a meaningful phrase … like Bebinn/Bebhinn/Bevin (and even sometimes anglicized as Vivian!) is apparently Irish for “fair lady,” so something like Lydia Bebhinn could mean “fair lady from Lydia” altogether, which nods directly to Lydia in the bible both by using her name and describing her? Or Lydia Madonna, where Madonna means “my lady” in Italian (and has the awesome Marian significance. But then, Madonna. I do think it works as a middle name though!). Or Lydia Matrona, where Matrona means “lady”in late Latin and was the name of some early saints! (Matryona in Russian, pretty!)
As for some other names that make me think of a Scandi Lydia because of their sound, I wonder what Arielle and her hubs would think of: Linnea, Livia, Tilda, Mila, Lovisa/Louisa? St. Matilda of Saxony and St. Louis of Cordoba make the cut date-wise … Linnea’s not a saint’s name and Livia (St. Agostina Petrantoni) is post 1054, but maybe they’d like them enough to use them as non-saint names? Mila’s a great one I think — I did a spotlight on Ludmila, who died before the year 1000, a great saint, and I think Mila’s a great way to honor her and not use the full name.
Re: Emmelia: I’ve never seen this name! It is beautiful! Emmelia Rose is lovely! Arielle’s right though—it will get heard as Amelia and seen as Emily. Maybe it would be best as a middle name? Brigid Emmelia and Tamsin Emmelia both strike me as lovely combos.
Brigid, Theodora, Anysia, Seraphina, Tamsin, Zoë, Naomi, and Matea are all gorgeous! I do think though that Seraphina is too close to Sophia in sound—do the rest of you agree? I love Seraphina though—maybe as a middle? With a short first name? Like Zoë Seraphina maybe? I’d never seen Anysia before—pretty name! Tamsin is one I myself considered, after a relative named Thomas– it’s so pretty and unexpected! Matea I looooove!! Brigid is beautiful, but strikes me as so different from their other kids’ names … Theodora and Naomi would fit in nicely I think.
I also love all those on their girl list that they love but won’t/can’t use, and I’m glad Arielle included them—they gave me a fuller idea of their taste, and I used them in trying to determine new ideas for them.
Thomas Ambrose is an amazing combo. Really really handsome, and would fit in really well with the other kids.
Matthias, Sebastian, Basil, Cyprian, Gabriel, Silas, Felix, Elias: These all really feel like Arielle’s kids’ names and her faith tradition to me. Love them all.
Brendan, Evan, Ciaran: These are like Brigid to me—I love them (you all know how I love the Irish/Celtic names!), but they seem sort of out of place as first names for this family to me. They’d make cool middle names though! (And really, who cares what I think … if they named a boy Ciaran, then all of a sudden it *would* fit in with their family, of course.)
Martin seems to me to be a really great bridge name—it’s not quite Matthias/Basil/Cyprian, but it seems closer to their style than Brendan/Evan/Ciaran. Martin’s great!
Okay! So what I did was I looked up the names they’ve used (firsts and middles) and those they like (even if they can’t/won’t use them) in my trusty Baby Name Wizard, as it lists, for each name, boy and girl names that are similar in terms of style/feel/popularity. My goal was to compile a list of names that I thought Arielle and her hubs would like. Then I whittled that list down to names that are pre-1054 saints. So hopefully all these ideas are acceptable faith-wise, even if they don’t really do it for them taste-wise (though I think they’ll at least think, “Ok, these are definitely heading in the right direction”):
I get all swoony over Natalia, I love love love it. Just gorgeous! There are two Sts. Natalia, the one I’m familiar with (died 4th century, wife of St. Adrian), and one that died in the 9th century—she was half-Moorish and a convert to Christianity, she’d be a powerful intercessor for today’s troubles.
I hesitated to include Felicity, because she’s so obvious to me that Arielle must have considered the name and purposely decided against it, especially since they have Felix on their boy list, but I just had to list it just in case. Such a beautiful name and a beautiful saint!
(3) Lilia or Liliya
This may be flirting with the rules, or breaking them altogether, because there’s no St. Lily as far as I can tell—my inspiration was Our Lady, and lilies are associated with her, but is that too distant a connection? I love the variant Lilia, it’s so beautiful, and then I saw the Russian/Ukrainian spelling Liliya, and I love that too.
Aurelia is so pretty and feminine, and St. Aurelia Petronilla was cured by St. Peter himself, so that’s pretty cool!
Philippa could either be a nod to any of the Sts. Philip, or it could be for St. Philippa who was crucified around the year 220. It also has the awesome nickname Pippa! Philippa/Pippa is a nice nod to Arielle’s English heritage.
The German form is Adelheid, but I was thinking that even with Arielle’s love of German names the part of her that doesn’t want a name that’s too harsh for English ears would prefer Adelaide. It’s so pretty!
What about Phoebe? It’s pretty and quirky and biblical, I kind of like it for this family!
My two favorites inspirations for Clement for this family are Pope St. Clement I, who was the fourth pope, and St. Clement of Ireland, who had strong ties to France (I believe he died in Paris in the 9th century).
Pope St. Leo the Great!! I love the name Leo, a great name for a little boy..
Of course, Pope St. Linus, the immediate successor to St. Peter. A really cool name!
This is a nod to Arielle’s love of German/Scandi names, and also one of the Three Wise Men! These are all legit variants of the same name (as is Jasper, but they don’t want another J name), and they’re each so cool in their own way.
Another German/Scandi name, and biblical, and a 4th century martyr. Such a cool name, I love it.
I love all the names I’ve listed up until now, but since their other boy is James, I could understand if Arielle and her hubs think they’re a bit too exotic for first names. But what about Samuel? There’s the biblical patriarch, with his awesome story, and there’s a 4th century martyr. I love the name Samuel, but what really makes it, in my opinion, is the nickname Sam. So. Great.
Finally, Edmund. Like Samuel, I love Edmund as a brother to James, and it’s an E name, which Arielle said she’s drawn to! St. Edmund of East Anglia (aka St. Edmund the Martyr) was born in Germany but beheaded in England in the 9th century, so it’s kind of a cool way to bring in both her German and English sensibilities.
And those are all my ideas for Arielle and her husband! What do you all think? Is anything here helpful or inspiring? I kept checking and rechecking Arielle’s email as I was working on it to be sure I hadn’t missed a rule, but there’s a good chance I did, inadvertently, so I apologize in advance if some of these aren’t quite right!