Names “foreign to Christian sentiment”

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?

 

75 thoughts on “Names “foreign to Christian sentiment”

    • Interesting … I wonder though if it would be on the level of priests not allowing it for baptism? Chanel makes me think of Mercedes, which goes back to intention — for the car/status symbol? Or the beautiful Spanish Marian name?

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      • I would completely agree with the intention aspect. A woman I know was fostering a lovely little boy and was on the verge of adopting him. He had a biblical name…spelled a very specific way…and his mother had specifically named him after a mass murderer in a horror movie series. So, even though the name was Biblical, the intention was very wrong. I think once they adopted him they changed his name to a different spelling of his same name, just to take away that association.

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  1. Lucifer is 100% not okay for a baby, and I really don’t want it to become okay for a baby. Names have real power, so of course the name of the Devil has real power too. Also, with Lucifer, why choose that one? Like there are so many awesome Luc- names that aren’t connected to the Devil directly. Like Lucius or for a girl Lucy or Lucia.

    For me, at least, the Adolf variants are still slightly too close to be usable, which is too bad. I don’t quite know how I would feel if I met a little Adolfo or something. It’s just too scary for me to have the potential of my child or myself being linked to Hitler.

    I don’t know if it’s technically foreign to Christian sentiment, but I do worry about using the name Eve. I adore the name Eve, but I’m always worried about the implications of Eve in Genesis.

    Also, what about the name Messiah? I know it’s being used more and more but to me I’m kind of iffy on it. Like Eve I don’t know if it’s explicitly foreign to Christian sentiment, but maybe it just falls in the category of “not explicitly unusable but probably should be avoided”?

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    • I almost referenced Eve! But I was going to say it’s a name that’s been reclaimed really, because I consider it a Marian name now — Mary is the New Eve and all. Interesting about Messiah — I wouldn’t think of it as foreign to Christian sentiment since it’s one of the names of Christ … if it was done in order to be like, “My child’s as great as God” then yeah, totally not okay … but in the manner of the Spanish Jesus? Where it’s a faith-y name?

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      • I feel like also, if someone used Messiah because it “sounded nice” it might be wrong too. Like it’s not recognizing the huge significance of the word/title.

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      • The other thing is that the OT is full of sinners who became great heroes, or who very realistically stumbled in the midst of being heroic. Abraham, Jacob, Judah, and David are excellent examples of this. Adam and Eve, too, are understood to have gone on to raise their children to follow the Lord, despite their sin. Adam himself is listed in Jesus’s genealogy. And Chava, the Hebrew for Eve, has never not been used. A good friend of mine converted to conservative Judaism and took the name Chava. So I don’t think it’s anything we need fear.

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    • Are you troubled by Adam too, or just Eve? I ask because in my work doing marriage prep, I’ve noticed that A LOT of people have the misconception that Adam himself did not voluntarily sin, and one couple went so far as saying that only women have concupiscence, but this is absolutely not Church teaching. (I personally love both the name Adam and Eve.)

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      • One wonders, doesn’t one? They were extremely conservative practicing Catholics (EF mass only, etc.), but also very young and I think just not well-formed in all areas. There were a few times when it seemed like they spewed out some anti-woman/anti-feminine stuff because they thought it seemed conservative, without really thinking about whether it reflected the truths of our faith.

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      • I’ve been thinking about this question a lot and trying to figure out the best way to phrase it.

        I think I don’t have as strong of an association with the name Adam with the story, not because what Adam did wasn’t as bad as Eve or it was all Eve’s fault or something like that, but because Adam is more common, especially among my generation (I’m 20, and know a ton of Adams). Whereas I don’t think I know anyone named Eve. So I think it has to do with exposure to the name, and maybe not the actual name. Does that make any sense?

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      • Oh yes definitely! The more exposure of lots of different kinds we have to a name, the more diluted the associations. In some online comments about the name Adolf, I saw some people arguing that Stalin was just as bad but his first name Joseph isn’t tainted like Adolf, but Joseph is much more familiar to us in lots of different ways, so it’s harder for one association to stick too much.

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      • I totally almost mentioned Stalin in my answer!! I was saying that the name Joseph is still usable because it was popular in the first place/people continued to use it. Though, most of Stalin’s atrocities also came out later.

        But I was thinking maybe if people were like “who cares?” with Adolf then it wouldn’t be a big deal either, it’s just that people stopped using it with him/it wasn’t uber common in the first place

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    • Eve isn’t a name “foreign to Christian sentiment”. That way, Adam would be forbidden, too. And David, who was an adulterer and murderer. And all the sinners in the Bible.

      On the December 24th, the Church celebrates Jesus’ ancestors. That includes Eve. If she has a feast day, I think we can all agree that her name isn’t foreign to Christian sentiment.

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    • Eve, and its more international version Eva, is one of the most popular and enduring female names in the Christian world. It’s definitely not considered a controversial name in Christian tradition in the case that you love the name, but you’re concerned about what people will think.

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  2. I have always thought Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, Hades, Thor, Juno, Hestia, (and other Greek or Roman or Norse gods)… fall in that category. Also Buddhist, Hindu, etc. names.

    Though some Greek/Roman names like Diana and Apollo have more assimilated into culture as other than mythology and have developed some Christian associations.

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      • Yes, I think that is hard. I always grew up with the idea that those names weren’t Christian, yet early Christians obviously had those names because especially in the early centuries of the Church converts came from the Greeks and Romans. I am not really drawn to any of them so it hasn’t been an issue, but if you really liked a name could still name with different intention — or how about a nn for something like Julia Noelle (Has Juno been included in those nn discussions??? Is that why it came to mind???)

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      • I do personally think Juno’s okay — in my mind it’s 100% a modern twist on a nod to Grandma June, or a cool nickname for Juniper. Of course it was chosen *because* of its mythological association, maybe not so much.

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    • I think that if there’s a saint whose name is one of those mythology names, that justifies the name. Take Dennis, for example. It’s a form of Dyonisius (http://www.behindthename.com/name/denis) and it’s a martyr’s name. Or Diana, which is the name of a medieval beatified nun (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diana_degli_Andal%C3%B2). And even Flora (Roman mythology), is a saint’s name: http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=119.

      And let’s recognize that a lot of Greek people use the names Aphrodite, Achilles and others because they are traditional in their country, and the people who bear them are Christian. The Church has a big history of “Christianize” mythological names, so I don’t think it’s wrong to use those names on your children.

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    • There is a Catholic and Orthodox Saint Aphrodisius, so Aphrodite and its Norse counterpart Freya are Christian. They even have namedays in some countries. There are quite a number of saints that had pre-Christian names of dieties, such as St. Brigid.

      Personally, I like non-Christian names and don’t place them at all the same realm as inappropriate, anti-Christian names, but I respect it if someone wants to give their children names that fall within their faith. It’s always worth doing research on a pagan name because it might also have a Christian history, especially if it is a European.

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      • “It’s always worth doing research on a pagan name because it might also have a Christian history, especially if it is European” — yes! On the flip side, this is also one of the reasons I think it’s a good idea to know, at least roughly, the details of the name you choose for your child so that if you name her Freya, for example, you’re not blindsided by someone saying what?!! You named your daughter after a Norse goddess?!

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  3. If you have never read Bardsley’s Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature, hie yourself off to bookfinder.com and order a copy. It’s written with all the charm of the late 19th C, but it also has some really interesting discussions on this sort of topic. For example, he’s rather scathing of people who think that Jezebel, Vashti, Tamar, Sapphira, etc., are suitable names to christen children with.

    Regarding names “foreign to Christian sentiment”, I have to say, I’m a bit uncomfortable with the idea that any one person could so tarnish a name that the name isn’t recoverable. Why not let the agency run both ways? If Hitler can “ruin” Adolf, why couldn’t someone else who bears the name rehabilitate it? I’ve always liked the Anne of Green Gables phliosophy of names: Living to beautify your name, you can make your name beautiful through the way you act. I think this is true of every name, including “tainted” ones.

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    • I love so much that you referenced Ann of Green Gables!! And I will definitely look for the Bardsley book! Jezebel’s a great one to add to the list. Yes, I think you articulated better what I meant by the list of names foreign to Christian sentiment would change based on time and culture. I do think names can be rehabilitated by an awesome bearer! (Except Lucifer. I just can’t see that happening!)

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  4. Long-time lurker, first-time poster here!

    I agree about the names of the Greek and Roman gods. I think Apollo is such a great name, and there is a St. Apollo, but I don’t know if the god association can be overlooked.

    I also thought about Delilah and Jezebel. I think those would probably be frowned upon in a Catholic (or any Christian) community;)

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    • Hi VEL! Generally speaking, I think the saint’s names are pretty good, except when there’s a huge overriding association like Adolf, so I feel like Apollo’s okay, especially since St. Apollo came after the mythological stories. Delilah’s so interesting because her story is difficult and I wouldn’t feel comfortable choosing the name, nor I bet would a priest be okay with it, but then there’s the Christian radio personality Delilah — I feel like she might be able to rehab the name for a lot of Christians.

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  5. I think Lucifer is just NO. The fact that the enemy would have a name that points to his former beauty makes sense to me; he is understood to have been the greatest of the Angels, after all. But I don’t think testing the theory of recovering the name is wise. I also don’t like the names Lucian or Lucius for that matter, as they just remind me of it, though I’ve known people with both names.

    For me, it would be names like Hera, Isis, Hecate, Vashti, etc. Ananaias and Sapphira would be out in my opinion, too, as would Judas.

    Speaking of Adolf H., I know someone who told me she encountered a man with a micro-you-know-what in her younger wild days. The story of this encounter was funny as she told it but also very weird and sad. 😳

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    • Yes! I meant to include a reference to him and forgot to, thanks Christopher! Abby pointed out in her post that Lucifer had some Christian use way back when, and that it wasn’t always used as a reference to the devil — so interesting that it was an ok name at one point! But it’s too tied up in darkness now.

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  6. Just overwhelmed by even thinking of Lucifer…brings the screwtape letters to mind…a little step to soften thoughts of Master of Lies…a real slippery slope…to say the least…
    Sacred Heart of Jesus, please bless each of us.

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  7. I found a comment in a forum discussing the topic and thought it was an interesting way to talk about it when referring to names with evil connotations from the culture – their specific example was Damien “…some names enter the public consciousness as ‘Evil’, but I doubt whether the Church cares what the public consciousness sees as evil.” We have talked about some of those here, like Damien and Rosemary, etc. It makes me think of Adolf. The name Adolph I would say is technically “not foreign to Christian sensibilities” in that is does have a strong Christian background including several saints. It is very ethnic and has undoubtedly been carried by many German Christian men through the ages. BUT is has been very tainted by one man and so I don’t think it is prudent to use that name as that is the most common association. I could not use it. But for that reason I think Adolph is different that using the name Hitler as a name for a child – that name has no Christian history per se and is also tainted with an evil/negative association, so the naming really only points to one person.

    And I also read on Wiki that the Spanish/Portuguese variation, Adolfo, is not stigmatized the same way and is still commonly given.

    And as someone living in Colorado I am almost as inclined to think of Adolph Coors when I hear the name as I am to think Hitler. Or even if Hitler is briefly first, Coors comes to mind very quickly. Is that weird?

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    • I think of Adolph Coors, too, but Adolf Hitler first. The -f vs. -ph ending is what triggers which I think of, for me.

      A child somewhere in the US was named Adolf Hitler ____ (whatever their surname was), and a judge forced them to change it.

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    • You bring up such a good point about the difference between naming a child Adolf/ph and naming a child Hitler! And thanks too for clarifying about the Spanish/Portuguese usage of Adolfo, I did wonder. (I don’t know who Adolph Coors is! I’ll look him up!)

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    • My grandpa’s middle name was Adolph, so I definitely associate the -ph spelling with him, but I still don’t think I would use it (Even for a middle) because people can’t hear spelling

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    • I agree. To me Lucifer and Adolf are completely different.
      I don’t necessarily believe it would be wrong or “foreign to Christian sentiment” to name your child Adolf. It is not the devil’s or a demonic name. In fact, as you said, it’s a saint’s name! It is simply a Christian name that has been tarnished by an incredibly evil man. Naming a child Hitler, however, would not be okay.
      Maybe this opinion is also due to the fact that I think of Hitler as “Hitler” and not as “Adolf”.

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      • Interesting, you “think of Hitler as ‘Hitler’ and not as ‘Adolf'” — I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people feel that way, and maybe that’s what will speed along Adolf’s reclamation!

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  8. This reminds me of the “name” Aryan that I’ve seen pop up on a couple of Rising Names for 2016 lists. I don’t know if it’s necessarily “foreign to Christian sentiment” but at the very least it seems in bad taste because of the Nazi/Holocaust connection.

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  9. I think “foreign to Christian sentiment” means “anti-Christian”, which, of course, is different from just “non-Christian”.

    So, for me, names that are “foreign to Christian sentiment” are all of those related to the Devil and also the names of the persecutors of Christians (starting with Herod, and going on to Pontius Pilate, Nero, and so on).

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  10. I’m also a first time poster! (I actually thought I commented earlier, but it never showed up! I probably did it wrong. LOL) Anyway, in my first comment I said this actually reminds me of the name Aryan that I keep seeing pop up on different Hot Names for 2016 lists. I think you could definitely make the case that it is “foreign to Christian sentiment” or at the very least in bad taste because of the whole Nazi/Holocaust connection.

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    • Sorry Just Katie! First comments by first-time commenters (and I think even veteran commenters who haven’t commented in a while? Or who log in with a different email?) have to be approved before they appear — you’re on the approved list now! 🙂 Thanks for weighing in!

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  11. I have been thinking about this more. It is interesting to contemplate what exactly is meant by “foreign to Christian sentiment”. There doesn’t appear to be anything that clearly states what this means. In all the documents that restate it (like parish policy statements, baptismal prep information, etc) we don’t get a specific definition of what is included (or there are varying personal takes, but nothing official) so it really leaves it open to being interpreted various ways. As mentioned here, some see it as not to use anti-Christian names or those that are overtly against Christianity. Having thought about it again and what I think from past formation, I don’t take the against christianity interpretation but rather a “unfamiliar” to Christian “attitude, thought, belief” (taking those definitions of foreign and sentiment). To me unfamiliar is something that is not common or known – wouldn’t normally be associated with. So for me personally that rules out a lot more names I think. I wouldn’t go with mythological god or pagan names; random place or object type names; etc. Again this is me – not saying others wouldn’t choose differently from different interpretation of the canon statement.

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  12. And also just read this article from the Catholic Encyclopedia (1917 – so before current canon law wording) on Christian names and naming practices. Has a lot of history and examples. Very interesting if you have never seen it. It does give some examples of how some Church fathers might have interpreted “foreign to Christian sentiment”. Anyway, I found it an interesting read.
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10673c.htm

    Also touches on confirmation naming which was recently discussed here.

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    • Some specific quotes from this Catholic Encyclopedia excerpt that I found quotable here:

      “But while various Fathers and spiritual writers, and here and there a synodal decree, have exhorted the faithful to give no names to their children in baptism but those of canonized saints or of the angels of God, it must be confessed that there has never been a time in the history of the Church when these injunctions have been at all strictly attended to.”

      “We may note on the other hand that a rubric in the official “Rituale Romanum” enjoins that the priest ought to see that unbecoming or ridiculous names of deities or of godless pagans are not given in baptism.”

      From Arabian Canons of Nicaea: ” ‘Of giving only names of Christians in baptism’ is not authentic, even though it is of early date; but the sermons of St. John Chrysostom seem to assume in many different places that the conferring of a name, presumably at baptism, ought to be regulated by some idea of Christian edification, and he implies though this does not seem to be borne out by the evidence now available, that such had been the practice of earlier generations.”

      Reading it all in context of the excerpt itself is best.

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      • I only stumbled on it accidentally with a google search. I wouldn’t have thought to look there and even if I had wouldn’t have thought “Christian names”. It was a fun read and had things I hadn’t seen anywhere before – like the analysis and categorizing of the catacomb name markings.

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  13. Nameberry has a list today (2/29) titled “Devilish Baby Names” and I’m not quite sure how to feel. I usually love Nameberry lists (and love reading your posts Kate!), but I clicking on this one seems a little wrong 😦

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    • Ooh I don’t like that either. Nameberry’s super secular and really tied into pop culture so I’m not surprised, but I’d stay away from that list. You can be assured my posts over there will never contain anything objectionable!

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