Catholic baby naming in the 21st century

My nine-year-old son told me yesterday that “Daniel” is a “kind of a strange name” because “not many people use that name.”

The statement seemed to me a perfect example of the current naming landscape, where “Daniel” is a “strange name” and “Jayden” made the top ten for 2013 (incidentally, so did Daniel, but that’s the thing about names — you only know what you hear. There are pockets where certain names are popular and pockets where those same names are unheard of. Unless you’re a name enthusiast who regularly checks out sites like The Baby Name Wizard and Nameberry and Swistle, all you know is what you hear around you. For a lot of people — most people? — the pool of names one hears is somewhat limited).

Such a landscape is an interesting one for the modern day Catholic parent. Names like Mary and John, mainstays of Catholic families in the past, have slid out of fashion (#121 and #27 in 2013, respectively); choosing such names now might come across as plain, old-fashioned, or contrary/nonconforming, none of which are bad associations unless the parent doing the naming considers them to be so. Such parents might be more interested in the kinds of names contained in the “Saints” section of the 3rd edition (book) of The Baby Name Wizard, introduced thus:

“Names like Francis and Mary, borne by over 50 saints each, are the bedrock of the Roman Catholic naming tradition. Yet you can explore the farther reaches of name style while still inspiring your children with role models for a spiritual life. The selective list below focuses on less common names, exploring the quirkier corners of 2000 years of religious history.” (p. 446)

So where do you fall, as a Catholic parent? Do you love Mary, Joseph, Francis, and Theresa? Do you prefer Xavier, Elodie, Chiara, and Ivo? Or do you see all the names as belonging to one big family and feel somewhat free to mix and match? Share your stories with me, I love to read them all.

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9 thoughts on “Catholic baby naming in the 21st century

  1. I am just peppering you with comments today 🙂 I think I’m a both/and kind of girl. Though I do love the straight-up classics more than most–there’s just something kind of rock n’ roll about Mary and Ruth and Joan, even apart from their religious significance. I like the frankness of an un-elaborate name, one that’s been worn bare of most associations through much use. I personally would rather be a Mary than a Maristela, gorgeous though that name is, and that personal preference (though my children may not share it!) guides me as well. Having said that, there are some very rare names I love as well–Casimir, Melchior, Apollonia. (All with more accessible nicknames, though! That’s essential.) I’ll probably end up with a potpourri that will completely baffle my extended family. Ah well. 🙂

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    • I love your style and articulation! And I agree 1000% on accessible nicknames, they make most names doable imo. I think Catholic naming often equals potpourri, and it’s only when looked at through the lens of the saints that the theme/style becomes evident, so people without that background probably are baffled! Haha! And pepper away — I love comments!

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  2. I’m definitely on the tried and true side of the divide. In addition to a personal preference for familiar names, I very much like be able to attend Mass and have my children’s feast day celebrated. It’s also fairly easy to find saint books for my children as so much is known about their patrons.

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  3. When we named our last baby John, we got many raised eyebrows and comments like, “Wait, what?” and “You mean, like, J-O-H-N?!” People could not believe their ears, the name seemed so unusual to them.

    My naming taste falls toward the very traditional end of the spectrum, but the names we’ve chosen are, at least where we live, so traditional that they’re unusual, so I ACTUALLY consider myself to be a counter-cultural namer. Even among our Catholic friends, our naming choices are unusual because we haven’t chosen to honor any of the currently popular saints: we have no Therese, Gianna, Zelie, Max/Kolbe, etc.
    That said, if I have another boy, Xavier will be his middle name. I think that’s leaning towards very traditional (St. Francis Xavier lived many hundreds of years ago now), but it’s not quite a Mary, John, Elizabeth, Francis, Catherine, or James.

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