Consensus naming

Have you ever heard the phrase, “The Holy Spirit works through consensus”? My mom says it a lot, and I’ve found it to be so true in regards to my husband’s and my naming process.

I’m sure you’ve participated in or witnessed a similar scenario: Mom likes these names, Dad hates them all. Mom asks Dad what names he likes; he either doesn’t have any suggestions, or his suggestions are the total opposite of Mom’s taste. My husband, who (as I mentioned before) has always joked (?) that “Bob” is his naming style, has teased me that if the naming of our children were left up to me, they’d be named Nicodemus and Hezekiah . He uses that example to point out how lucky our kids are that they have a dad who tempers their mom’s crazy taste! Maybe he’s right. (I do love Nicodemus.)

But if the naming of the children were left up to my husband, I have a sneaking suspicion they’d have names like Boy #1 and so on (George Foreman style), or whoever his favorite football player happened to be at the time, or he’d end up asking for my help because he didn’t have any ideas. I could see this happening especially in the beginning of our parenthood– now that we’ve named a few kids together, he’s definitely gotten some good ideas.

I have found time and time again, though, that they absolute height of baby naming satisfaction for me is when my husband and I hit on that name that we both agree on. It might not be my very favorite name or his, but I find that I’m much happier and more peaceful with our choice knowing that we agreed on it together. I think I would actually hate it if I got my way, if my husband gave in– I want him to love his children’s names too.

I know this might not be the case for every couple– I know more than one couple with naming agreements, where, for example, the mom gets to name the girls and the dad gets to name the boys, or the firstborn son gets named with a tradition important to dad’s family, so mom gets to choose son #2’s name. And I do have a list of beloved boys’ names that I’ll never get to use because my husband just does not like them (hmmm … future post?). But in the end, I really do love that we named each one of our children together.

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I do want to note, in light of the post where I explained that Raphael’s name was one I lobbied hard for and that my husband eventually came around, that my husband is the kind of man that will not be forced to do anything he hasn’t already firmly, prayerfully, thoughtfully decided is something he wants to do. He owns all of his decisions and choices, and it’s one of the things that I both admire the most about him (he’s no pushover) and find the most infuriating (if he won’t be moved, he won’t be moved). So even though it may sound as though I coerced him into agreeing to the name I liked, I’ve never worried that that’s actually the case (because I would really hate feeling like I bullied him into something). Rather, he truly decided that he liked it, that it grew on him (all that lobbying can’t have hurt!).

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How I named my kiddos

I was discussing names today with a few friends (surprise surprise) and one of them noted that the thing about names she loves the best are the stories of the hows and whys of the choice. I completely agree that the stories are just the best — there have been times where I’ve really warmed up to a name that I previously didn’t care for or felt lukewarm about after hearing the story behind the choice.

Even with my own kids that’s been the case. Each of my children have a first name-middle name combo that I am completely head-over-heels about, but I didn’t always feel that way in the beginning.

Robert: My first son’s name, for example, was my father-in-law’s first name. It’s a fine name, a normal name, a traditional, masculine name, and the name of a great saint. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about with that name. But at the time we were choosing his name, I just didn’t feel like that name fit my style. But it was non-negotiable — I felt as strongly as my husband did about honoring his dad with our firstborn son; for his middle we gave him a name that’s connected to my dad in a strong and meaningful way. I fiddled with all sorts of interesting (non-traditional) nicknames for his given name, but in the end we just ended up calling him the full name all the time, and it totally suits him.

Raphael: I lobbied hard for my second son’s first name. It was a name I’d loved my whole life, but my husband just wasn’t feeling it. But over the nine months (and really, I started with the conversations about naming #2 months before #2 was actually on the way) (my poor husband), I brought the name up again and again. And I’d be kind of sneaky — I’d say, “What do you think of Raphael?” even though I’d asked him the same question a bunch of times before. Even though he started out saying, “No, sorry” each time, by the time the end of the pregnancy was rolling around, my husband had warmed up to it. Ladies: let this be an example! Funny though, my husband liked the name’s natural nickname, which I did not, and I was determined my son would only ever be Raphael. It only took a couple of months before I was calling him Rafe too, and to this day, all his names — his full name and his sweet nickname, as well as his middle name, which is after my husband — totally suit him.

Dominic: We had a totally different first name-middle name combo picked out for our third little boy, and for most of the pregnancy we were sure we were going with it: Oliver Joseph. We both just loved the name Oliver, and Joseph was my father-in-law’s middle name. We also loved that Joseph was a nod to Pope Benedict XVI. It seemed perfect all around … until it didn’t. One night, in my sixth month, I told my husband that I wasn’t sure of Oliver Joseph anymore. Funny enough, he said he’d been feeling similarly. And in the course of that conversation, had while were falling asleep, we decided on a completely different name. Dominic’s first and middle names are the exact same as my husband’s grandfather, and reflect other family names as well, and as a bonus have a connection to the Dominican Order, of which I am a lay member. As with Robert’s name, Dominic’s wasn’t one I ever saw myself wanting to use, but I love it now, and it totally suits him.

Joseph: Though we never went back to Oliver, we never stopped loving Joseph, and so boy #4 received this name. We gave him a name after my side of the family for his other name, and it was all kind of clear cut except for the small sticky bit of my brother potentially having a prior claim on it (which I won’t elaborate on further — you’ll just need to trust me on this point. I know there are no dibs in baby naming but … sometimes there are). He and his wife didn’t have any children at the time, either in- or ex-utero, and had never explicitly said they wanted to use the name; regardless, we thought it would be more respectful to ask if they’d be okay if we used it, rather than just bulldozing ahead with our own agenda. My brother and sister-in-law were most gracious, assuring us it was just fine. (Incidentally, they didn’t share the names they were considering when they were expecting their first, and when he was born my husband and I were surprised to see one of our top choices for another boy was the name they chose. Of course we couldn’t begrudge them their choice — we’d never told anyone it was on our list. And of course, we appreciate that they have excellent taste.) We’re forever grateful that there was no drama with our choice, because it totally suits him.

Maximilian: We had kind of a hard time figuring out a name for boy #5. Augustine had been high on our list since I was pregnant with Joseph, and we strongly considered it for #5 as well, but we always ran into pronunciation difficulties. We wanted au-GUS-tin, and definitely did not want au-gus-TEEN. I totally understand that au-gus-TEEN is a valid pronunciation, but it’s also the pronunciation used when the name is given to a girl, and I know some of you might want to put on your battle helmets about there being nothing wrong with a boy having a name that might be used for girls or even just *seems* feminine and what makes a name “feminine” anyway and what’s wrong with being feminine besides, etc. etc., but I’m just saying: I want my sons to have masculine names. Period the end. So we fiddled with the spelling and considered Augustin but in the end chose Maximilian instead with a middle name that pairs perfectly with it and when his name is said out loud First Middle Initial Last it sounds like a private investigator or a Beverly Cleary character. I just love it, and the nickname Mac, and the whole thing just totally suits him.

Charles: Though I have always been loud and proud about the fact that I don’t care if we have a boy or a girl, and no we’re not “trying for a girl,” and yes I’ll be delighted if we have another boy, and yes it would also be cool if we had a girl, I think that maybe we found it hard to believe that after five boys we’d have another boy. Especially since we had a really hard time coming up with a boy’s name. For most of my pregnancy, we had tentatively agreed on Augustin Francis (that Augustin again! and Francis is a family name on my side and also — Pope Francis! Woo!), but like with Dominic, at a certain point we both realized that we each had stopped loving the name Augustin(e). Even disregarding any spelling or pronunciation difficulties, we just didn’t care for the name anymore. The thing is — I was weeks away from my due date at that point. I had never ever thought that I — a name nerd of the highest order — would not have a name locked down by that point in my pregnancy. At the same time — ooh, I was pretty excited to have to go back to the drawing board. What fun unexpected choice would we come up with? We’d thought about a couple other names in the previous months, names that we’d never in a million years have considered previously, names like Hugo, Conrad, and Cole. It was fun for me to see my husband’s name taste (which he always describes as “Bob.” See firstborn son) being stretched in ways I didn’t know were possible (Hugo was high on his list. What??). He actually challenged me to find a name that went with a nickname we particularly liked, but whose natural formal names were not our taste, and when I had a suggestion that I thought worked, that he decided was genius, and we were totally decided on Charles’ name, my husband told me it was my “greatest naming triumph.” I will carry that compliment with me to the grave. We were so last minute with our decision that when our little Charles was born, nearly three weeks early, I still hadn’t had a chance to tell my dad what our final decision was — he learned when I called my parents to tell them they had yet another grandson. A grandson whose last-minute previously unconsidered name totally suits him.

So those are our name stories, and I’m hoping you see a theme here: that each of my boys’ names totally suit them. No matter what my opinion about any of the names was, or my husband’s opinion; whether one of us liked the name more than the other of us did; or if we weren’t totally sold that the name “fit” our family and naming style, in the end we discovered that each boy was given a name that totally suited him, with all his individuality. I’m happy to say also that, so far anyway, each of the boys seems to really like his name and feel like it fits him. I remember reading years ago about a mom who said she was interested in the idea that God has a name already picked out for each child, and the parents just need to figure out what it is. I don’t know how I feel about that, but I do know that I couldn’t imagine a more appropriate name for each of my boys, and since we prayed about each name decision, I know God had a hand in it.

P.S. I can’t tell you what our girl name is, since there’s still a chance we’ll use it. If we never have any daughters, then I’ll share it with you. It’s been the same during all my pregnancies, and is a name particularly meaningful to me.

P.P.S. We miscarried once, a baby that my mother sense tells me was a boy, though it was too early to tell for sure. Though I won’t tell you what his name is, I will tell you we gave him my husband’s confirmation name as a first name, and a Marian name for his middle. We speak of him often, and even have a nickname for him. I ask him every night to pray for his brothers, and I look forward to meeting him in heaven.

Spotlight on: Kateri

St. Kateri Tekakwitha was recently canonized by Pope Benedict XVI– she was the daughter of a Mohawk warrior and converted to the faith when she was a teenager. She lived a holy life, devoted to the Eucharist and Christ Crucified, and died when she was only twenty-four; she has come to be known as the Lily of the Mohawks, and is a patron saint of the environment and ecology, like St. Francis of Assisi. Her feast day is July 14.

Kateri was given to her as her Christian name, after St. Catherine of Siena, and has become a popular choice in Catholic America. It’s easy to see the appeal, in my opinion– it’s the name of an American, a Native American, a version of Catherine, and easily lends itself to the Catherine/Katherine nicknames Kat, Kate, and Katie– lots of different reasons parents might feel drawn to it.

One downside is that there are four acceptable pronunciations, which some might find bothersome:
— ka-TEER-ee
— KA-ter-ee
— ka-TEHR-ee
— GOD-ah-lee (apparently GOD-ah-lee is the authentic Native American pronunciation, but still spelled Kateri)

I know two little Kateris– one says her name like the second one above, the other says her name like the last. I also have a friend whose sister has the third pronunciation. I myself had always heard the first until I became an adult.

Do you know anyone named Kateri? How does she pronounce her name?

On my bookshelf: Dictionary of Patron Saints’ Names

A friend of mine recently shared this quote from St. John Chrysostom:

“So let the name of the saints enter our homes through the naming of our children, to train not only the child but the father, when he reflects that he is the father of John or Elijah or James; for, if the name be given with forethought to pay honor to those that have departed, and we grasp at our kinship with the righteous rather than with our forebears, this too will greatly help us and our children. Do not because it is a small thing regard it as small; its purpose is to succour us.” (An Address on Vainglory and the Right Way for Parents to Bring Up Their Children)

On the one hand, I totally love and agree with the idea that naming our children after the saints will keep those saints top of mind and therefore immediately accessible as intercessors for our children and ourselves and indeed the whole family–a succor indeed. On the other hand, I’m not a huge fan of the wording, which makes it seem like if a child’s name, being a saint’s name, wasn’t given with the intention to pay honor to that saint, that it “doesn’t count”; nor that it seems St. John is saying we should choose saints’ names instead of family names, that we should value our connection to the saints more than to our own ancestors (which is not a requirement of the Catholic namer–remember that the Church only requires that parents choose a name for their children that isn’t “foreign to Christian sensibility”). We know God can work in any way He wants, that sometimes He “writes straight with crooked lines,” and I can totally see the situation where a name was lovingly chosen for a child without any sense of saintliness, perhaps in innocence on the part of the parent, but then later that very name’s connection to a saint was realized and found to be such a help to the parents who previously didn’t have a sense of such things. I also think naming a child after his or her relatives is a lovely way to thank God for the gift of one’s family. In many many cases, it needn’t be either/or–either a saint’s name or a family name–as so many traditional names that pepper family trees ARE saints’ names. Regardless, I believe St. John Chrysostom’s point is to encourage parents to use saints’ names for their children in order to increase awareness of the saints and their intercession, so that we can find help and comfort, and that is indeed a wonderful goal.

In any event, this is a perfect intro to another of the books on my bookshelf that I wanted to share with you: Dictionary of Patron Saints’ Names, by Thomas W. Sheehan, M. Div.

Fr. Sheehan has attempted a mighty task with this book. His intention was to provide patron saints for “English and Irish surnames, nicknames, place names, and occupation names that are now first, or given, names … African-American alternate spellings and inventions … Hispanic names and nicknames.” Basically, he wants to help retrofit a patron saint into a name that was chosen without regard to whether or not it was a saint’s name.

The negatives first: I have to be honest that I don’t agree with a lot of the entries. For example, Keisha is said to be an “African-American double from Hebrew” meaning “The Handsome+The Woman.” Further, “Keisha seems to be constructed out of Ke and Isha. Ke is probably from Kendra [from which he extracts the meaning “The Handsome One” by regarding Kendra as a feminine form of Kenneth]. It also helps to know that in the Book of Genesis Adam gives the name Isha to Eve, which means ‘the woman.'” He therefore lists as patron saints Adam and Eve (feast day Dec. 24) or St. Kennera (Oct. 29). But according to Behind the Name, which I’ve found to be quite trustworthy, Keisha is a “[r]ecent coinage, possibly invented, possibly based on Keziah,” who’s a daughter of Job in the Bible. Not a Ke/Kendra or Isha to be seen.

But then the positives: It’s quite a nice idea to find patron saints for each person, related to his or her name. Drake, for example, is explained as coming from the Middle English for “The Sign of the Dragon.” While Behind the Name has a slightly different take on its origin, it does connect the name Drake with the word dragon, and so Drake’s entry in Fr. Sheehan’s book is helpful: “It is helpful to know that Drake means ‘dragon.’ This leads to a number of patrons whose names contain the word ‘dragon.’ They are Sts. Dracona, Dracontius, Draguttin, Dragen, and Drogo. St. Dracona, a native of ancient Greece, died a martyr [feast day Nov. 11].” I think this is especially nice for some of the names today that are very popular but whose origin is murky or lost or very recent and/or with no obvious saintly connection. Names like Braedan, Jayden, Ava, Madison, and even names like “Studs,” which Fr. Sheehan describes as being Old English for “The One with Nail-Headed Ornaments”; he lists for his patron saint St. Studius, who was martyred in ancient Constantinople and has December 30 for his feast day. (Take note, all you Studs.)

To sum up, perhaps it’s best to describe Fr. Sheehan’s book as being like the Wikipedia of saints’ names books — it gives you a good starting place and may lead you down the right path, but be a little wary and double check the information against more reliable sources.

Saintly names

I just read the birth announcements of Saint Lazslo (born August 20), son of Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz, and Ophelia Saint (born August 1), daughter of Foo Fighters rocker Dave Grohl.

I was struck by the use of “Saint” in both names (and especially as a first name) — I’ve never known that word to be used as a given name in English (and I admit I’m a little surprised to see it being used by celebrities who, as far as I know, have not been loud and proud about any religious affiliation. Never mind that “Saint” is a pretty Catholic term — I have heard non-Catholic Christians refer to all of faithful Christendom as saints, but at least in my experience it’s generally more heavily weighted toward Catholic). However, there are common names in other languages that translate as “Saint” or “holy” (which is what “saint” means):

The Italian names Santa (female), and Santo (male) and Santino (male) (does Santino ring a bell? Perhaps with the nickname Sonny? Maybe with the last name Corleone?)

Santos (male), Spanish for “saints”

Eren (male), which means “saint, holy person” in Turkish

Toussaint (male), French for “all saints”

Naomhan (with an accent over the second “a”) (male), said to be derived from the Irish “naomh,” which means “saint” (Nevan is an anglicization common in Ireland, and Niven in Scotland)

There’s also a whole bunch of names that mean “Saint So-and-so,” including:

Malcolm (male, follower of St. Columba)

Malone (male, descendant of a follower of St. John)

Seymour (male, St. Maurus)

Sinclair (male, St. Clair)

Santiago (male, St. James)

Telmo (male, St. Elmo)

Do you know any other names that have “saint” in the meaning? Do you know anyone in real life with any of these names?

Baby on the way: Fisher

I’m so excited that blogger extraordinaire Simcha Fisher just announced she’s expecting #10 in the late winter/early spring! Here’s her announcement of the birth of #9, Benedicta Maribel, who they’ve nicknamed Benny (sooo cute!). I’m only saying Benny’s name out loud here because Simcha actually named her blog post “Benedicta Maribel”; my basic preference is to not reveal bloggers’ kids’ names on here but to provide the link instead (so they can decide the level of public awareness they’re comfortable with). And here’s where she explains why they chose the name they did, and that they’re calling her Benny as a nickname.

You can be sure I’ll let you know when Simcha announces the birth and the name! (And Simcha — if you want any help — I’d be over-the-moon delighted to offer suggestions!) 🙂

Famous Catholics: Campos-Duffy

Ok, so I don’t know a whole heckuva lot about Rachel Campos-Duffy and her husband Sean. I do know:
— They met on MTV’s Road Rules All Stars in 1998
— Sean’s a congressman (Wisconsin’s seventh district)
— He’s one of eleven children
— They gave their children super duper Catholic names:

Evita Pilar
Xavier Jack
Lucia-Belen
John-Paul
Paloma Pilar
MariaVictoria Margarita

They reportedly recently welcomed baby #7 (a girl!), but I haven’t been able to find out the new baby’s name. Anyone?

Read more:
Rachel Campos-Duffy Expecting Baby No. 7
Wisconsin congressman welcomes baby number 7
Rep. Sean Duffy and Rachael Campos-Duffy welcome seventh child into the world