A reader emailed me with this intriguing bit of info:
“I was reading an article a while back (I wish I could find it again) about Catholics and how we shouldn’t use Old Testament names. Instead of going back to the old covenant, we should look towards the saints for name inspiration and looking at the Old Testament was a protestant thing to do. What do you think about this? Do you think using names from the Old Testament is fine as a Catholic?”
I might have felt the tiniest bit ragey while reading it, because my initial reaction was That’s a bunch of bologna! and whoever is spreading this kind of info is spreading untruths, and can’t you just see a good-hearted well-intentioned mama of an Elijah or Esther starting to twitch upon hearing that the names she gave her babies in good faith are actually not okay?
I hate that kind of thing. We have enough to worry about without worrying about things we don’t need to worry about. Right? I mean, really.
I get that sometimes it’s an honest mistake. I also get that certain things used to be different from now, so the older generations might have a certain idea about things that the younger generations are unfamiliar with and vice versa. Just in the arena of baby names, as I noted on my “About this blog” page,
“In the old days, you may have heard, parents who wanted to have their babies baptized in the Catholic Church had to bestow a saint’s name — or the priest would. Indeed, the old Code of Canon Law (in effect from 1917 until 1983) did stipulate that the baby needed to be given a Christian name, and if not, the priest was to add a saint’s name to the baby’s given name. (Canon 761)
The Code of Canon Law changed in 1983, and the new naming requirements are not so strict. Canon 855 states that, “Parents, sponsors, and the pastor are to take care that a name foreign to Christian sensibility is not given.” That’s it. Basically, most names are totally fine.”
So I decided to look into it, and found this post on Nameberry, which asks,
“I posted here last week that we finally found our perfect boys name: Tobias. I love it, and so does my husband. I’m just a little confused about using Old Testament names, as a Catholic (I’m new to Catholicism). My mother in law told us that Catholics traditionally use New Testament names/Saint names for Catholic babies, and that Old Testament names like Tobias are traditionally considered to be Hebrew/Jewish names. I would love some clarity on this subject. Is the name Tobias traditionally considered a Jewish boy’s name? Of course, it won’t make or break using the name for us; I am just curious. Thanks!“
I immediately zeroed in on “My mother in law told us” which, to me, smacks of older generation vs. younger generation. I’m sure her mil was not trying to deceive her — the mil likely believes that New Testament and A.D. Saints’ names are the best to be used — perhaps that was even the definition of a “Christian name,” since I suppose pre-Jesus names aren’t considered technically “Christian.”
So then I looked into whether or not the Old Testament holy people are considered Saints — I always thought they were, but maybe not? I found this good article, “Old Testament Saints?” by Fr. Ray Ryland on Our Sunday Visitor’s site, which explains that “the Church does in various ways venerate and ask for the intercession of Old Testament saints,” as in the litanies of the saints, the First Eucharistic prayer, and one of the general prayers of the funeral liturgy. Fr. Ryland also notes that the Roman Martyrology, which lists “all the saints whom the Church had officially recognized up to” its publication in the 1600s, “remembers, among others, the following Old Testament saints: the prophet Habakkuk (Jan. 15); Isaiah (July 6); Daniel and Elias/Elijah (July 20 and 21); the seven Maccabees and their mother (Aug. 17); Abraham (Oct. 9); and King David (Dec. 29).”
My own grandfather’s first name was David, and he was born in Ireland and baptized Catholic (an interesting example, considering he was born in 1904 — definitely “old generation”). Another good example, using David again, is my other grandfather, who was a convert to Catholicism, and when he converted, since neither his first nor middle names were recognized as “Christian names,” he changed his middle to David.
And what about St. Isaac Jogues? Isaac is OLD TESTAMENT, and yet (as far as I can tell) Catholic parents in the very early 1600s gave it to their son. (I say “as far as I can tell” because I can’t find any evidence that Isaac is his religious name rather than his birth name. But even if it was not his birth name, it only bolsters my argument that Old Testament names are fine fine fine for Catholics, if even a priest can choose it for his religious name.)
Have any of you heard this perspective before, that Catholics should stick to New Testament and other post-Jesus Saints’ names?