Latest CatholicMom column, and a namey question

My July column is up at CatholicMom.com! It’s the winning essay of the second year of the St. Francis de Sales Writing Contest I instituted at my alma mater, in which the student discussed his devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

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This student won first place last year as well! The judges were the editor of my diocesan newspaper, the superintendent of schools for my diocese, and the campus chaplain at Siena College. Very impressive!

I’ve also been thinking about something a couple of you mentioned on a post last month — Sarah said,

My aunt was born the day after the Assumption so her grandmother named her Mary Virginia, but my grandma didn’t like her mother naming her baby so she re-named her Carole Jean

and Annie said,

My parents technically named me, but did so after my grandma’s wishes after she made her wishes very clear

and I’m still trying to wrap my head around how grandparents got to have such a strong say? It sounds like Sarah’s great-grandmother especially wasn’t merely voicing an opinion, but was actually naming the baby — I’ve seen references to this kind of thing from time to time and always wondered about it. I think it’s likely an older custom, which explains a lot; I can also see this being a cultural custom. Do any of you have examples of this happening in your family? Do you have any insight into how this happened, including from a generational or cultural perspective?


My book, Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys: Over 250 Ways to Honor Our Lady, is now available to order from ShopMercy.org and Amazon! It’s a perfect for expectant mamas, baby showers, and just because. Click here to read reviews and endorsements (and if you feel moved to leave a review on Amazon, it would be greatly appreciated! 🙂).

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Baby name consultation: Baby girl needs less popular, sounds-like-it’s-spelled name

Gwen and her husband are expecting their third baby — a girl! Little Miss joins big sibs:

James Robert (“Named after my father, my husband, and his Father. LOVE James, [and] I used Robert because it’s a generations-old tradition.”)

Evelyn Blanche (“My first name was my father’s favorite girl name which is special because each of my siblings has two family names. We continued that with our Evie … Evelyn is hubby’s (and my) favorite girl name; Blanche is my middle name and I was named for a childless great-great-aunt who was an incredible self-made woman in the very late 1800s/early 1900s.”)

I love the stories behind these kiddos’ names! I love that James Robert honors Gwen’s dad, husband, and father-in-law, that’s a pretty amazing feat with one baby’s name! And Evelyn Blanche—what a cool combo with a great nickname, and Gwen’s great-great-aunt sounds amazing! I love that Blanche is her middle name as well, so nice for a girl to have a connection to her mama in that way.

Gwen writes,

Here are our parameters —

  • At least one family name (or variant of a family name) and the other must have a special story. We’d love to name this girl for my husband’s grandmother (Anna Katherine). We are strongly considering Katherine, but I don’t like any nicknames except “Ryn” and I just don’t know if that works? I honestly don’t love Katherine as a first name and would prefer to use it as a middle name … unless there is a variant or nickname (none of the Kathy/Katie/etc) that I don’t know of.

  • Girl Family Names: Anna, Katherine, Kjerstin (Swedish version but would consider variations), Vera, Juliana, Florentina,  Juliette, Elna, Leona, Elana, Philomena, AnnNancy, Rose, Bernadine, Loretta, Jane — names in red would have to be a variant of those names

  • Boy Family Names (perhaps a variant for a girl): Francis, Otto, Henry, Anders, Notley, Sebastian, Cosgrove, William, DeCourcy, Patrick, John, Charles

  • “Special Story” — if one name isn’t a family name we’d like there to be some connection. Perhaps it’s a traditional name that honors our heritage or has strong saintly connections

  • Our ancestral homes include: Scotland, Sweden, Ireland, Poland, Sicily

  • Her first name should be a classic/traditional name that isn’t top 10-15. Evie ended up being WAY more popular than I like and it bugs me. I wouldn’t mind a name that’s popular in another country, but it can’t be going crazy here in the states. It needs to sound like it’s spelled which, unfortunately, eliminates most Irish names 🙂

  • Strong “No” names that we won’t use — Margaret/Margot, Karen, Kathleen, Clare, Mary, Rebecca, Aidan

  • Another name has come up that might be a really strong contender: Noelle. What do you think about nicknames, style fit, and spelling?! I’m not 100% and I’m not sure if we would do Noelle Katherine or Katherine Noelle (but call her Noelle). My husband is dead set on Katherine so we have to make that work

At first I thought it seemed that Gwen and her hubs were open to using a variant of Katherine, so you had to know that my mind immediately started clicking over their Katherine dilemma as soon as I read Gwen’s email! But then Gwen said her hubby has his heart set on using Katherine, so I’m assuming that’s what they’re going with and I didn’t spend too much time coming up with Katherine variants. If they would still like this option though, this site has all the ones I could possibly hope to share. Of those, some that jumped out at me included the spellings Kathryn, Katheryn, and Katheryne, which Gwen might like because they mirror the spelling of Ryn; Caitlin and Catriona because of their Irish heritage; Kasia (Polish) and Carina and Katja (both Swedish); Katia and Rina (Italian); and Kateri, for our St. Kateri.

I like Gwen’s idea of Katherine nicknamed Ryn a lot! I think it’s perfectly logical and a very cool twist on Katherine. Katherine definitely fits their criteria of not being in the top ten or fifteen names, as it was no. 105 in 2017, and using a nickname like Ryn makes it even less popular, since I think Kate and Katie are the more common nicknames for it.

I think Katherine Noelle is lovely, and I love Noelle Katherine as well. Their baby’s actually due in December, so Christmas names like Noelle work nicely and can provide the “special story.” As far as nicknames for Noelle, I know a little Noelle who goes by Nell and Nelly with her family, both of which I love. I’ve seen Noe as a nickname for it, and I think Noly/Noley could work too. There’s a former child actor named Noley Thornton who played Heidi in a 1993 version of the movie, and I remember thinking she was so sweet and her name was so cool. Noelle is no. 235, which is a great ranking—it’s familiar but not popular. I also think they could easily do Elle/Ellie if they wanted to as well.

As far as spelling, I love the Noelle spelling—it’s so pretty and feminine and makes the pronunciation more obvious in my opinion. Noel is much more used for boys, though it has both male and female usage (no. 386 for boys vs. no. 870 for girls), and can be said like Noelle or like Nole. In terms of style, you all know that I rely heavily on the Baby Name Wizard (no link available because Amazon’s down due to Prime Day!) when doing consultations as it lists, for each entry, boy and girl names that are similar in terms of style/feel/popularity—I thought it was pretty cool that several of the style matches for Evelyn are French or French-ish (Charlotte, Claire, Madeline) like Noelle.

I actually think Gwen and her husband are really set with Katherine as a first name, with or without Noelle as a middle, or with Noelle Katherine as the given name—I feel like they hit all their hopes (family name, special story, etc.). It seems like they have a lot of great middle names for Katherine other than Noelle from their family list, if they decided not to use Noelle—I really like Katherine paired with a variant of Anne, which would honor the Anna, Ann, and Nancy that they have in their list of family names. Katherine Annika maybe? (Annika is Swedish.) Katherine Hannah? Katherine Aine, for an Irish twist, or Katherine Anja for a different Swedish twist? (Both Aine and Anja are said like Anya. I know Gwen said she wants names that are said like they’re spelled, but maybe it doesn’t matter so much in the middle spot?)

Rose from the list is a good option too—Katherine Rose is lovely. I love Katherine Loretta—Loretta was my grandmother’s name, and I don’t usually see it on little girls. I like the idea of Katherine Jane as well, but Gwen said it would have to be a variant—Jane is a feminine version of John, so any of the feminine John variants could honor Jane (as well as the John in their list of males family members): Joan, Jean, Gianna, Janina, Joanna (Joanna could maybe be for Jane, John, Anna, Ann, and Nancy all at the same time?) … St. Joan of Arc is an amazing patron for a little girl—strong, fearless, and faithful. St. Gianna is another great one—a modern saint, full of love and courage. Janina’s a Swedish AND Polish variant! If they were open to using the crazy Irish names in the middle, Sinead and Siobhan are both feminine John variants (and not even that crazy as far as Irish names go—I think most people are familiar with those two names).

Okay, on to additional ideas! As I mentioned, I really like so many of the options they have, like Noelle Katherine, Katherine Noelle, and Katherine + so many of the family names Gwen listed. But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t offer some more ideas! As I mentioned, I use the Baby Name Wizard a lot in my consultations, and what I look for when doing that research are names that are style matches for more than one of the names on the parents’ list—that gives a pretty good indication that they might hit just the right notes. When there’s not a huge amount of overlap, as with this family, I then look through the style matches of the names on their list and any that *feel* right, on a gut level that I can’t explain, also make the list. So it’s partly a science, and partly emotional! James goes with most names, I would say—it’s so classic with so many varied associations that James can easily be a brother to children with names of all different styles. Similarly with Katherine I think. So I focused mostly on Evelyn, Blanche, and Noelle, as I thought they’d give me more distinctive ideas (though I didn’t disregard James and Katherine). Based on my research and my gut feelings, these are my ideas for Gwen and her hubs:

(1) Julia
I loved seeing Julia listed as a style match for both James and Katherine, especially after seeing Juliette and Juliana on their list of family names (and Juliette’s honor name needing to be a variant). Julia can easily be Evelyn’s sister, even while being so different in popularity (no. 93 in 2017). I also quite like Katherine Julia. I spotlighted the Julia names here, including patron saints.

(2) Rose
Rose is not only a style match for this family, but also a name on their list of family names. I mentioned it earlier as a possible middle name for Katherine, but I love it as a first name for them too. Rose is no. 141, well outside of the top ten or fifteen. Rosie is a sweet nickname with sister Evie; Rose Katherine is a lovely combo; and Rose can be for St. Rose of Lima or any of the other saints named Rose or with Rose in their names somewhere, as well as for Our Lady (roses are one of her symbols; the rosary literally refers to a crown of roses for her; and she has often had roses with her in her apparitions).

(3) Lucille
I know it might seem weird that I used Blanche as one of my inspirations, but it’s my experience that even when people choose a name for family reasons, thinking it has little to do with their style, it actually still tells about their style. If Gwen really hated Blanche, she wouldn’t have used it, no matter how cool her great-great-aunt was; if she hated it and still wanted to honor her aunt, she likely would have found a different way to do so. All that to say, when I saw that Lucille is a style match for Blanche, I liked it right away for Gwen’s little girl. Evelyn nicknamed Evie and Lucille nicknamed Lucy are so pleasing to me as sister names, and Lucille is no. 264. There are loads of great saints named a variant of Lucy that can serve as patron, and the Lucy names can also be Marian, as they mean “light” and Our Lady of Light is one of Our Lady’s titles. Lucille Katherine and Katherine Lucille are amazing.

(4) Camille
Camille’s a style match for Noelle, and I just thought it was a really pretty name that fit Gwen’s popularity criteria (it’s no. 251). Cami and Millie are adorable nicknames that feel like Evie to me, and there are both male and female holies that can be patron.

(5) Caroline
Caroline is a Katherine match that seems exactly perfect to me. It’s got good popularity (no. 55), sweet nicknames from the familiar to the unexpected (Carrie, Callie, Carly, Caro, Clio), it goes really well with James and Evelyn in my opinion, AND it can honor the Charles on their list of family names! There are lots of patron saint options too. Another not listed there is Bl. Karl, Emperor of Austria, who I wrote about recently.

(6) Willa
This might strike Gwen as a really out-there suggestion, but I was trying to think of ways to make a nickname like Ryn feel more comfortable for her, and I thought of the name Wren, and thought how a W first name with Katherine as a middle could lead to the nickname Wren (W+the ending sound of Katherine). So then I tried to think of a W name that might work for them (you see how my mind works?? So crazy!) and thought of Willa for two reasons—first, because they have William in their list of family names, and second, because Evelyn and Willa are such a literary pair, which I love! (Evelyn Waugh and Willa Cather. And of course James can get right in there in a bunch of ways—James Joyce immediately came to mind because of their Irish heritage.) Then I thought I like Willa Katherine for them so much, whether or not they like the Wren idea. Willa’s so pretty! It’s no. 454, and there’s even a St. Willa of Nonnberg, as well as, of course, all the Sts. William.

(7) Elizabeth or Elisabeth
My last idea breaks Gwen’s popularity rule, as Elizabeth is no. 13, but it’s a match for James, Robert, and Katherine, and when I see a name that matches so many of those on the parents’ list, I feel like I have to include it! One way to get around that popularity is to use the Elisabeth spelling, which is no. 775, but really, I thought the million Elizabeth nicknames could really help. From the common and familiar Liz, Ellie, and Beth, to the lesser used Betsey, Bess, and Betty, to the surprising Tess, Libbett, and even Zelie (we’ve talked a bit here about how Zelie can be a nickname for Elizabeth, and honor St. Zelie at the same time), there are so many options to fit whatever kind of vibe they’re going for. (I personally don’t mind that Elizabeth/Elisabeth and Evelyn start with the same letter, though I would understand if Gwen and her hubs prefer not to do that.)

And those are all my ideas for this little girl! What do you all think? What name(s) would you suggest for the little sister of James and Evelyn/Evie?


My book, Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys: Over 250 Ways to Honor Our Lady, is now available to order from ShopMercy.org and Amazon! It’s a perfect for expectant mamas, baby showers, and just because. Click here to read reviews and endorsements (and if you feel moved to leave a review on Amazon, it would be greatly appreciated! 🙂).

Spotlight on: Shepherd

Happy feast of St. Kateri! I did a spotlight on her name back when I first started the blog, and she’s the first entry in my Sibling Project. I’ve also mentioned the Auriesville Shrine a few times, which is where St. Isaac Jogues and companions were martyred, and where it is believed St. Kateri was born — the Shrine is close to where I live, and I grew up going there and have brought my boys many times. And also, today’s my brother’s birthday and the birthday of my best childhood friend! A great day!

Given all this, it’s funny that I should be doing a post today that doesn’t have anything to do with Kateri! But I promised a spotlight on the name Shepherd to Theresa ages ago, and I woke up this morning full of determination to finally get it done, so here we are. A spotlight on Shepherd on the feast of St. Kateri. 😀

I’ve been digging word names recently, and Shepherd is one of the best for Catholic namers! We can use it to refer, of course, to Jesus the Good Shepherd. Shepherd and its variant Shep(p)ard literally mean “shepherd, sheep herder,” and the Good Shepherd is one of my favorite portrayals of Jesus. Jesus Himself said, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11) and “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27) — such a strong and comforting reassurance! In addition, as far as a feast day goes, Good Shepherd Sunday is the fourth Sunday after Easter, and in “1963, Pope Paul VI designated Good Shepherd Sunday  as World Day of Prayer for Vocations as those called to the priesthood are shepherds of the faithful” (source). I love that! There’s also a pretty great list of patrons of shepherds, if you’d rather go that route to find a feast day.

In addition to being a word name, it’s also a surname, so it can fit in with other saintly surnames (incidentally, speaking of St. Kateri and St. Isaac, Jogues is on that list of saintly surnames!) — this family has three boys with names in this style, including Shepherd — I love them!

Shep is one of the best nicknames too! It’s good for a boy and a man, and it has that friendly vibe that I always like so much in nicknames. I could also see Sheppy, which is a-dorable, and I’m not opposed to Herd as a nickname either, if Shep(py) isn’t quite right — it reminds me of Hart, which I see from time to time and like quite a bit, and in fact the surname Herd appears to be a variant of Hart, which I don’t know quite what to do with but it’s too interesting to not include! (Note that the first link to Hart is for its use as a nickname for Gerhardt, which is a variant of Gerard, and in that case means “hardy,” while the latter link to Hart as a variant of Herd refers to its meaning as a male deer [stag]. Both of them cool meanings, but neither refer to sheep!).

What do you think of the name Shepherd? Would you consider it for a son, or have you? Do you know anyone named Shepherd? Does he go by a nickname? Happy feast day to all the little Kateris that are part of the Sancta Nomina community!


My book, Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys: Over 250 Ways to Honor Our Lady, is now available to order from ShopMercy.org and Amazon! It’s a perfect for expectant mamas, baby showers, and just because. Click here to read reviews and endorsements (and if you feel moved to leave a review on Amazon, it would be greatly appreciated! 🙂).

Book endorsements and book signing! (I’d love to see you there!)

You guys! I’m doing a book signing! 😮🎉💃 It will be at my local Catholic book store, Giver of Life Gift Shoppe, and Marian Press will be there as well to do a little interview with me. So exciting! I know I’ve said it before, but I’ve wanted to be a writer of books my whole life, and that my first book is a book honoring Our Lady, and having to do with names, is such an amazing privilege. And a book signing! It’s like all my favorite things — babies, names, faith, and writing — all in one! I’d love to see any of you there that might be able to make it! It’ll be on Sunday, July 29 from 1-3, and not only will you be able to get your book signed in person, but you’ll also be able to see my enormous belly. I mean, it’s enormous. 🤰🤰🤰

Speaking of my book … a few weeks ago I shared the first two pages of the endorsements I received for my book, and I wanted to share the next couple pages’ worth! Check them out:

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I’m so honored by these amazing endorsements!! If you want your own copy of the best book of Marian names in existence 😉 , you can find it on the publisher’s site at ShopMercy.org or on Amazon.

(Several of you have asked for a compilation of the names to honor St. Anne in a boy’s name as resulted from the blogiversary giveaway, which I intended to put up last week while we were away on vacation, but the Wi-Fi situation didn’t work out the way I hoped. Then I thought it would be better to post it on St. Anne’s feast day, which is two weeks from Thursday (July 26), so that’s what I’m planning!)

Birth announcement: Tiber Augustine!

I posted such a fun consultation for Ali and her husband back in February, and Ali’s let me know her little guy has arrived and been given the fantastic name … Tiber Augustine!

If you remember, Ali had said, ““We are charismatic Catholics so if you’re feeling creative and want to put a crazier name in the mix, that would be awesome,” and Tiber was one of my ideas — so fun that it hit the right note for them!

Congratulations to Ali and her hubs and big brothers Max and Zack, and happy birthday Baby Tiber!!

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Tiber Augustine

Annual St. Anne pilgrimage!

Every year since my first blogiversary, I’ve gone on a pilgrimage to a St. Anne Shrine as a way of thanking her for her patronage of my blog and her intercession in the many many prayers I’ve prayed for all of you and my own special intentions. It’s been fun to find St. Anne shrines that are close enough to me to either do a day trip or an overnight at most — there are more than I ever realized! The first year my husband and kids and I went to the shrine in Isle la Motte, VT; the second year was Sturbridge, MA; the third year was Scranton, PA; and this year we went to Waterbury, CT.

Look at the name of this beautiful shrine:

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Shrine of St. Anne for Mothers. So so perfect for this enormously pregnant woman praying for so many of you who are mothers, or who want to be and are struggling with infertility.

It was a huge, gorgeous church:

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(I know you all know my photog skills are lacking … I tried to capture how beautiful it was and failed, as always!)

I was determined that we would attend the 9:00 Mass, and the whole morning of trying to do something good was like a comedy routine, Catholic-style. First, I made sure we were all up and downstairs for the hotel’s complimentary breakfast by 7:30, so we’d have plenty of time to eat before needing to begin our pre-Communion fast as well as get to the church in plenty of time.

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They had several kinds of coffee; both Hubs and I went for Robust.

Apparently we were being way too leisurely, because I glanced at the time whilst finishing my coffee and it said 8:29. I almost had a heart attack! My hubs was still drinking his coffee and a couple of the boys were still picking at their breakfast! And Mass — a daily Mass, likely only a half hour — was at 9! So surely Communion would be before 9:29! “We need to stop eating!” I yelled, and said a quick prayer that something would happen that would delay Communion just enough. I was trying not to be upset — traveling with everyone is so hard, and getting anywhere on time is so hard, and we were trying so hard to do this nice thing, and breaking our Communion fast was definitely not part of the plan!

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This was on the car parked next to us in the hotel parking lot — I should have known it would all work out.

Once we got to the church, we tried the front doors and they were locked, but then we saw someone arrive for what we assumed was Mass, so we creepily followed him down these back stairs at the back of the parking lot and into a back, unmarked door, which led right into the sacristy … being the center of attention is not my favorite thing, which walking into the sacristy with our circus of a crew definitely makes happen, but indeed we were in the right place — Mass was held in a small chapel behind the main church, and we were there just in time.

Oh, and there was the heat. Oh the heat! This heatwave is killing me! I’m a total baby about being too hot anyway, and I’m a total sweat-er, so these past few days, being so very very hugely pregnant (much bigger than a normal 9 mos size, despite only being 28 weeks today) and so very very hot have been interesting. Not to make it all about me, but the idea did cross my mind that this heatwave came at just the right time to make our pilgrimage very pilgrimage-y. Sorry everyone.

Anyway, the chapel was sweltering — like, sweat pouring down my neck, chest, and back the whole Mass — but it was just beautiful and so perfect for our St. Anne pilgrimage:

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The meeting of Sts. Anne and Joachim (left) and the Annunciation to St. Anne (right)
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Education of Mary (left) and St. Anne de Beaupre (right)
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On the wall: “Good St. Anne, grandmother of Jesus and mother of Mary, pray for us”
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St. Anne with Our Lady on the right; Mother Mary down below; and that framed rosary said the most amazing thing on that little plaque: “Every Rosary Bead is a Cannonball launched at the Devil’s Head.” Amen!

Father gave a fantastic homily, which tied today’s feast day (St. Thomas the Apostle) in with the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and he talked a bit about Indian Catholics and how they have such a strong devotion to St. Thomas. It was so reverent and so informative! (I’m not sure if the Syro-Malabar church is the same as what he was talking about — I’m guessing yes? But anyway here‘s a post I did on Syro-Malabar naming traditions.) And he mentioned St. Anne a bunch of times during the Mass. I really felt like I was doing what I wanted to do — I was at a beautiful St. Anne Shrine, and I offered the Mass for all of you.

So back to the Communion-fast bit … wouldn’t you know, but Mass started a few minutes late. And then, despite the heat and poor Father in his vestments (he requested a towel at one point, which one of the church ladies immediately jumped up to get, and I assumed it was something he’d forgotten for the altar, but no — he just needed to mop his face), his homily was so long — much longer, I thought, than I’d expect at a daily Mass. Just after the Lamb of God I snuck a peek at my phone to see the time and wouldn’t you know: it was 9:29. Exactly one hour since I’d realized at the hotel that we needed to stop eating. Communion was a couple minutes later, and I felt like clicking my heels as we went up to receive. God is so good. ❤

After Mass, Father stopped us to chat for a minute, and several of the ladies too, who were kind of swoony over my boys (I don’t blame them 🙂 ) and amazed that I have three months left before this baby comes (them and me both!) — anyway, Father said we were welcome to take a look inside the main church. Oh! It was so beautiful!

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St. Anne and Our Lady ❤
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I’ve never seen a statue of Our Lady and Jesus like this!
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Sacred Heart of Jesus
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Immaculate Heart of Mary

All in all, it was such a wonderful trip. I’m so grateful for St. Anne’s intercession for these past several years, and I’m so happy to make these small trips as a way of thanking her and praying for all of you. St. Anne, pray for us!

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St. Anne, pray for us

(I’m going to add some of these on Instagram, including one of me and the baby taken in the fingerprint-y hotel mirror!)


My book, Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys: Over 250 Ways to Honor Our Lady, is now available to order from ShopMercy.org and Amazon! It’s a perfect for expectant mamas, baby showers, and just because. 🙂 If you feel moved to leave a review on Amazon, it would be greatly appreciated!