I had a different post in mind for today — I was actually almost done writing it — when I read today’s Baby Name of the Day over at Appellation Mountain: Lucifer. I had some thoughts that I didn’t want to wait until tomorrow to share, so here we are!
I thought Abby did a great job with the post, providing lots of info about the name Lucifer’s place in history, religion, and current pop culture. Lucifer does have a beautiful meaning, and my 11yo was actually asking me recently about it, the fact that its meaning of “light bearer” or similar is full of faith significance, so why can’t we use it? I explained to him that the Church teaches that babies must not be given names which are “foreign to Christian sentiment.” No matter what Lucifer means, it is the deepest depth of all names that are “foreign to Christian sentiment.” There’s just no getting around that one.
My son and I went on to talk more about such things, and I told him that I thought the list of names that are “foreign to Christian sentiment” was one of those things that changes with time and culture — like Adolf (who’s in the news today for other reasons, oh my). At one time it would have been totally fine to use for Catholic babies — it’s a saint’s name, and before WWII had a decent amount of use so a lot of us probably have Adolfs in our family trees, but now I would definitely consider it to be “foreign to Christian sentiment.” Do you agree? I don’t feel that way about its variants though — Adalwolf, Adolphus, Adolfo are all far enough removed from Hitler in my mind that I wouldn’t think twice if I heard of a baby named those names. For my time and culture (21st century English-speaking northeast America), I don’t think Adalwolf, Adolphus, and Adolfo are “foreign to Christian sentiment.” But is Hitler known as Adolfo amongst those who speak Italian? Do Italians have the same reaction of fear and horror when they hear Adolfo as I do when I hear Adolf? If so, perhaps Adolfo is a name “foreign to Christian sentiment” to them in their time and culture. And maybe one day it will all change again, when some amazing Adolf comes along — perhaps a great saint — and the passage of time and the brilliance of the new Adolf will dim our recollections of Hitler’s evil.
Interestingly, the thought that “perhaps … the passage of time and the brilliance of the new Adolf will dim our recollections of Hitler’s evil” is, I think, definitely something to be feared happening to the name Lucifer. It’s got a great meaning; it’s got a current appearance/sound with the Luc- beginning and its similar rhythm to Christopher (which, interestingly, has a similar meaning: “Christ bearer”); it’s sort of exotic because it’s unusual and edgy because of its associations, which are the kind of characteristics that are catnip to certain modern-day parents. Like the parent from this comment from last year who wanted to name his daughter Lilith *because of* the dark associations. If one of the 14 boys who were named Lucifer last year were to become a saint, I could see the name quickly becoming a possibility, even among parents of faith. Would that be a good thing? Names matter, and saying the name of the devil repeatedly and without worry seems very worrisome indeed. I would imagine a holy person who was given that name at birth would change his name, and then he’d be St. So-and-So. (And then people like me would research the heck out of all names associated with him so as to have lots of options for naming a baby after him, including his birth name. Oh dear.)
Anyway. I’ve said a million times and written that for me, “The intention behind the bestowing of the name can be as important — or more so — than the name’s actual origin or meaning or other specifics.” I hold really firm and fast to that notion — except in this case. In this case, intention is altogether completely trumped by the “other specifics.” I say again, and Abby agreed: Lucifer is not an okay name for a baby.
What other names can you think of besides Lucifer, Adolf, and Lilith that would be on the “foreign to Christian sentiment” list?