The names of our Guardian Angels

Happy feast of the Guardian Angels!

I’ve read so many lovely things online today about them, like If Jiminy Cricket Had a Halo at the Dominicana Journal and Pope Francis: Respect and listen to your guardian angel on Vatican Radio. Reading about St. Pio and his guardian angel has always fascinated me (“Send me your guardian angel”: Padre Pio, by his assistant Fr. Alessio Parente, is my favorite) — I love telling my boys how St. Pio’s guardian angel was his childhood playmate! (Their eyes get huge!) My boys also received Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s Angels for Kids last Christmas, and Fr. Pascale Parente’s The Angels in Catholic Teaching and Tradition is on my wish list.

Of course, I’m also interested in their names, so I found it somewhat striking that St. Pio (at least in the book I mention above) never referred to his angel by name. He’d call him things like, “My little friend,” but never a name. I came across a while ago something that may explain why:

“217 Popular devotion to the Holy Angels, which is legitimate and good, can, however, also give rise to possible deviations … The practice of assigning names to the Holy Angels should be discouraged, except in the cases of Gabriel, Raphael and Michael whose names are contained in Holy Scripture.” — Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments, Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines, 2001.

I’m familiar with the idea of asking God, in prayer, to let you know your angel’s name, as mentioned in the post Everything you ever wanted to know about your guardian angel,

(“The following question and answer study of the guardian angels is based on the Summa Theologica I, qq.50-64 (angels in themselves) and qq. 106-114 (angels in relation to creatures). STI, q.113, is particularly enlightening, since it is a question devoted wholly to the guardianship of angels over human beings …

Does my angel have a name? Most certainly, God has named all his angels – or perhaps the higher angels have named the lower ones.

How do I find out my guardian angel’s name? You could try asking. But it is also possible that it will not be revealed to you immediately. I should think that in heaven, we would all know guardian angels’ names.”

But I’d never heard of the practice of assigning a name to one’s angel. It must be widespread enough that the Vatican needed to address it though — are you familiar with this?

Taylor Marshall says,

We cannot name our Guardian Angel because naming another implies authority over the other. I name my children and I name my pets. I have authority over them.

However, my Guardian Angel is OVER me in authority:

Angel of God my Guardian Dear
to whom God’s love commits me here
Ever this day be at my side
To light, to guard, to *RULE,* to guide.

Therefore, I do not have the authority to name my angel. My angel is not my dog, he’s my instructor.

When God gives a new name to someone (Abraham, Israel, Peter), he is signifying His authority over him as that person acts as His vicegerent in His name. Notably, God revealed the names of Jesus, Mary, and John the Baptist to their parents before they were born to show His special authority in human redemption.”

He doesn’t give a source for this idea, though, so I’m not sure if it’s simply what he thinks, or if he got it from somewhere. Mark Shea offers,

[When the idea of naming one’s angel came up in conversation] Fr. Pacwa instantly had on the tip of his tongue the teaching of some mediaeval pope who had condemned the practice. I’m not clear on the reasoning, but the basic idea seems to be that angels are not our chums, but super-powerful spirit beings who should be treated with respect and not back-slapping bonhomie. Or so I gather.”

And a more frightening thought is argued:

There’s a deeper concern in naming, or trying to discover the name of, our guardian angels. The difficulty lies in discerning which spirits are responding to your seeking. Be assured that evil spirits are as interested in getting close to you as your guardian angel. They will find and use any way possible to derail your efforts to grow closer to God.

You won’t immediately be dragged down with the devil by naming your Guarding Angel, but you will be opening yourself to suggestions that may eventually lead you away from salvation.”

This last point doesn’t have any source offered either, and I admit I’m conflicted on it … on the one hand, how scary, if it’s true! On the other, if it was a real risk, wouldn’t that have been pointed out in the Vatican document I cite above? Also, if one prays to God to know the name of one’s guardian angel, why should one be afraid that an evil spirit might answer? It seems to me that line of thinking would lead one to question all answers to prayer, and perhaps even to think that one’s private conversations with God aren’t protected by Him. I can’t imagine any of that is right.

What have you all heard about all this? Do you know of any other Church sources regarding it?

25 thoughts on “The names of our Guardian Angels

  1. In the 5th grade our teacher had us draw a portrait of what we thought our guardian angels looked like and also instructed us to name them. I thought long and hard and ended up naming mine “Caryn” for reasons I can no longer remember. This is how I still address my angel and honestly I’ve never thought about it since. A quick google search tells me that it is a form of Karen, which is a form of Katherine. I dunno–I guess I’ll keep calling her that!

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  2. I don’t feel the need to name my Guardian Angel, but I balk at the idea that it opens a person up to sin. Maybe for an adult…maybe… but in young children I think it is a natural way to feel a connection to something that isn’t visibly present. Ever since my daughter first really understood that she had a Guardian Angel, she has given it a name. She is 6 now and she first gave her angel a name at 3, before I had ever heard about the naming a guardian angel controversy. I haven’t discouraged it, but we have talked about how God might have a different name for her angel and some day he will share that name with her in heaven.

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  3. Awesome presentation! I think, too, of a certain protection if a sincere heart approaches this…& i honestly never heard of naming your guardian angel, but rather understanding what the name might be…such a blessing …good info! Thank you!

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  4. I have read we are not supposed to name them. I also have seen this concept be part of a larger issue of veering off into dangerous territory (usually in a new-agey way). I think this practice was/is often wrapped up into some strange spiritual beliefs and practices that do indeed open the door to spirits we shouldn’t we cracking the door for. Since there have been recorded instances of demonic activity pretending to be holy (like various condemned Marian “apparitions”) I do see their point she concerns (and have seen some creepy stuff on a smaller scale with folks dabbling too much on their own in the spiritual realm). I think part of the problem in our culture is that angels are often portrayed as cute or pretty, and we are kind of removed from the more serious spiritual warfare aspects at play. That said, I LOVE to ask the angels for intercession. I know St. Michael’s name and protection is very powerful and sometimes I’ll ask a cherish choir to intercede. I also love to pray to my guardian angel. I just don’t try move things beyond the normal prayer practices I would have with any Saint, you know? I trust that they are there and powerful. I also read that since Angels are like mirrors of God (reflecting His image and character) that we probably couldn’t look directly at one if he or she appeared in all their glory (and it’s significant that Gabriel could appear as an angel and not in disguise to Mary). That’s enough to give me a healthy respect for them!

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  5. I have somewhat mixed feelings on this subject. While I know several wonderfully holy people who have prayed for the names of their angels, I also have seen how practices like that can encourage attitudes in some of us who are susceptible that aren’t very obedient. One friend, for example, swears that not only is the name she received for her angel feminine (which is certainly not an issue,) but that her angel is a girl. The Church teaches that angels have no gender, but are to be addressed and considered as masculine. Despite knowing this is Church teaching she sometimes goes around loudly disagreeing with it and proclaiming that her angel is a woman and a mother. I think it’s all well meant, but for myself, I’d rather my angel’s name be revealed when the Lord thinks it best (perhaps, God-willing, when I reach Heaven?) Whatever his name is, he is my dear friend and Lord knows I’d be lost without him. 😉

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  6. I have always understood that we are never to come up with our own names for our guardian angels. Dr. Marshall’s reasoning makes sense to me even if that’s not the official reason. And I don’t think the Vatican NEEDS to give a “reason” when they say not to do something. The risk of the demonic is always present. Above the altar of the Cathedral in Salt Lake City is the words of Galatians 1:8: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.” (“Accursed” can also be translated here as “anathema”.) The clear implication being that the “angelic” revelations of the Mormon religion could have indeed been supernatural in origin—but not of God. I feel we can never take the threat of demonic activity too seriously.

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    • This is a great point too.

      I was hoping Marshall would give a source because it’s contrary to what Fr. Ryan at the New Theological Movement said, and I quite like him and have found his info to generally be trustworthy. And then Laura said St. Josemaria encouraged the practice of naming one’s guardian angel. So when faithful people (including a saint!) disagree on something, I feel more comfortable finding the official Church stance, including the reasoning, if such exists.

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  7. These are some interesting points. I certainly agree that we must be careful; however, I think it bears remembering that no matter how far above us in authority and power our guardian angels are, the role of a guardian is in fact a very intimate one. As such, I do not think it’s unreasonable to try to relate to our angels–respectfully–in the only way we simplistic humans know how. I do not fool myself into thinking that my angel’s name is actually what I call it, nor do I think it is actually female, even though I think of it with female characteristics. It’s just that my tiny human self doesn’t know any other way to facilitate that intimate, beautiful connection other than to make it analogous to a human one.

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    • This makes so much sense too, and I wonder if that’s why the Church’s wording is “The practice of assigning names to the Holy Angels should be *discouraged* [emphasis mine]” rather than *forbidden.* Maybe? It is tricky — I certainly don’t want to do anything the Church thinks is unwise, and I’m sure we all feel that way. At the same time, without further explanation, one could wonder: Does “assigning names” mean the same thing as having a name you think of when you think of your guardian angel? “Assigning” sounds very authoritarian and “I’m in charge,” while thinking of your guardian angel as having a familiar name, all while knowing your angel *has* a name given to him by God and yours is just meant to be an intimate loving kind of “nickname” almost, seems different … is that what the Church meant? I’ll try to go back through St. Pio’s book today and find all the names he gave his angel — all things like “my little friend” — intimate, but not a *name,* you know?

      Actually, Laura, if you read this — do you know the source for this, from the link you gave? I’ve not found any mention of St. Pio’s angel’s name in my readings:
      “I have always advised the young and not so young alike, learning from the pious example of St. Josemaria, founder of Opus Dei (today we celebrate as well its foundation day) and St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio) as well, TO GIVE THEIR GUARDIAN ANGEL HIS OWN NAME -AS LONG AS IT IS DONE WITH AFFECTION (as we fondly call our loved ones with nicknames) AND RESPECT AND NOT A SIGN OF AUTHORITY OR SUPERIORITY OVER THEM FOR THEY ARE FAR SUPERIOR TO US IN MANY WAYS- so that they could easily deal with Him with more friendship, familiarity and naturalness.”

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  8. so interesting what you all have to say…as an older earnest Irish Roman Catholic and lay member of the Dominican Order ( I mention these things simply to say where my heart is) the road of spirituality is certainly fraught (sp?) with seducing highways and byways…just think of all the great Priests who have run into big-time trouble…let’s just mention Martin Luther as one gigantic example…
    All that being said, the path of development exists for each of us…St. Dominic made it simple by two foundational words…humility and charity. In the promises of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary the terms for “levels” if you will, of the state of a soul were directly addressed…Jesus promised that tepid souls would become fervent and fervent souls would rise to a high degree of perfection…
    I guess the point I am trying to make is that my thought usually gravitates toward the proper balance. Using the analogy of the “sea” of life…we weren’t meant to just sit on the shore, or, to stay in the water so long we cramp up…and we sure don’t want to drown! But…let’s not be afraid to wade in with Faith and Trust in God.
    I think the mentions that were made of the beauty of more than an objective stance toward your guardian angel were terrific…a real relationship is an awesome hope…trusting God to keep it on the right track would be what I think St. Pio would tell us.
    I think conversations about spiritual essence (which can get New Age-y) and what we Irish think of as second sight and thin places, can run along the lines of our conversation here…not to be dismissed, but as Scripture speaks of prophecy as not happening when man wills it, but rather at the movement of the Holy Spirit, so, too, with all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. (I guess I think what we are generally speaking of, falls in this category)
    It’s just so much fun talking about all this…we all are helping each other “prink!” (prayerfully think!) I sure feel as if I am thinking out loud! 🙂 I just truly appreciate reading all your thoughts…

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    • I think perhaps I would be more comfortable with the term “nickname” in terms of calling our angels a certain name. I guess to me, a person’s name is just that – their name. It’s a profound part of their identify. If I don’t know a person’s name, I would never make one up. It feels… Disrespectful? (Not saying that those with an angel name are being disrespectful, but when I stretch the analogy to people I might meet on the street, it feels very strange to me to come up with my own name). It also does feel authoritarive (“I’ve decided to call him….”). But a nickname makes sense. A nickname/pet name often is related just as much (even more so) to a *relationship* between two people. Also, by nature, nicknames acknowledge that this isn’t the person’s given name in a natural, positive way.

      Also, I agree that a child is not in the same category as an adult here! Children use fantasy to better connect with and understand reality. At age 3, they can’t even fully tell the difference between the two. A nickname for an angel as a small child seems very natural and can only be sincere and innocent. It doesn’t seem to be the same thing as an adult assigning a name!

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  9. Ps. I have a nephew who is a bit notorious for making up names for people when he can’t remember a person’s name or doesn’t know it. He is a chatterbox who doesn’t care much for details, especially if they aren’t crucial to the fantastic story he is about to tell, lol. We get a big kick out of his creative attempts at addressing people, but yeah, it’s definitely striking when a person you love calls you by the wrong name (I’ve been on the receiving end of his creativity, haha). As an aunt, it doesn’t bother me and I find it funny, but I do feel the need to gently correct him before he gets too far into his story. There is just something about having your own name recognized. Now, if he calls me just “auntie” (kind of like a nickname), that feels right, no need to make him say, “Sarah,” too. So maybe that’s maybe why I prefer the nickname angle over officially naming our angels?

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