Pope told parents to name their daughters after Mary?

Whew! My head is spinning after yesterday’s post! You all had so many good thoughts! I do want to let you know that my computer (or WordPress?) has been acting up recently and I can’t always interact with the comments the way I want to — sometimes I’m not able to “like” them in the notifications, sometimes I miss them completely … just this morning I started writing down all the posts that had new comments so I could go back to each one to like all the comments (since the notifications thing wasn’t working) and decided I just can’t — it would take me all morning! But I love each one of your comments, I love all the feedback, I love that this blog is exactly what I hoped it would be when I started it — a searchable database of Catholic name info. You’re all the best! ❤

I also have some more thoughts on yesterday’s post, but I think I need to sit with it all for a while more and organize my thoughts. Stay tuned!

So this is the post I was going to post yesterday before I got sidetracked by Abby’s post. I was doing some name research the other day (you don’t say) ( 😉 ), chatting with some family members about family names, and one of my cousins said she thought, in reference to the many Marys in our family of a certain age (mostly born in the 40s, though there are a bunch of older relatives named Mary as well), that the Pope had told parents to name their daughters after Mary.

You know me, I was immediately like a prairie dog up on my hind legs, totally alert. How interesting! I’d never heard of such a thing — and I assume whatever truth there is to it, if any, is surely not an official statement but perhaps an informal comment, or perhaps something like, “Mary is a wonderful role model for your daughters” which got mistranslated into, “Name your daughters after Mary.” So I took to the internet, searching mostly for anything similar attributed to Pope Pius XII, who was Pope right when the women we were talking about were born and named (1939-1958), and who was pretty Marian, what with his Consecration of the World to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and his definition of the dogma of the Assumption, but wasn’t able to find anything. My history-teacher friend and suggested maybe it was the local bishop and not the Pope, so I looked for info about him — also very devoted to Our Lady — but couldn’t find anything like what I was looking for. A priest friend suggested maybe Pope Benedict XV, who was Pope from 1914 to 1922 and who both instituted the old Code of Canon Law (1917), which said that Catholic parents must give their babies saints’ names and if a baby didn’t have a saint’s name the priest was to give one at baptism, and also authorized the Feast of Mary, Mediatrix of all Graces, so he was namey *and* Marian, and I could see that being the source of this belief. But again, I wasn’t able to find anything official (I did find this interesting article while searching, which talks about naming requirements and practices among different groups, including Catholics. It’s not accurate Catholic-wise, but an interesting read nonetheless).

I also found this article, which says that “For very many years the Catholic Church in Ireland would not baptise a child unless the name chosen was that of a saint or, in the case of a girl, was a version of Mary,” but it doesn’t cite any official source — I’m thinking like any kind of Church documents or regulations that were actually written down and not just unwritten local custom. (Written local custom would be fine!)

Have any of you heard this idea before? Can you shed any light on all this?

29 thoughts on “Pope told parents to name their daughters after Mary?

  1. I can’t shed light but to share an anecdote: all my mother-in-laws female siblings and cousins (1940’s-50’s birth) are named Mary-something. Mary Ann, Mary Catherine, Mary Clare, Mary… ALL OF THEM. And they go by it fully, not just Ann or Cathy or anything. Full name.

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    • Yes! That’s exactly the case with my dad’s cousins, all born during that time period! In their case they almost all go by their middle names, but so interesting that you also have the first-name-Mary thing in your family! If you ever find out from your mother-in-law why that was, I’d love to know her answer!

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    • That sounds familiar- my sisters and I (five of us) were born between the years 1955- 1963, and all of our first names are Mary! In my mom’s case though I think she wanted to emulate Zelie and Louis Martin’s name example.

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  2. I’d heard before that it was a longstanding tradition in Catholic families to name the first girl Mary, in honor of our Lady, but to my knowledge it was only (small t) tradition and nothing formally advocated by the Church. However, I liked the idea, which is one of the reasons why we gave our eldest daughter (and firstborn child) the middle name of Mary.

    And didn’t Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin name all of their girls Mary as well, but called them by their middle names?

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    • Yes, I do believe the Martin girls all did have Mary/Marie as their first name! Everyone seems to *know* that this is the tradition, but I can’t find any official thing discussing its origin. I know it’s not a huge deal, I would just love to find something like that.

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  3. Just thinking about this…you mentioned the Marian consecration of Pope Pius XII…given that it occurred in 1944 and the world had endured two world wars (God have mercy on us), and you couldn’t find any legitimately authoritative definitive documentation…seems like it could very well have been a world-wide general heightened sensitivity (of all people & especially Church hierarchy, priests, & religious) given a “hyperdulia”* direction by the Pope’s consecration of a very war-weary world to Mary in ’44…kind of like the best thing at just the right time with an amazing impact (a kind of submissive-like cooperation as if a mandate had been “official”)…it comes to my mind what a saintly old Irish priest, whom I loved dearly (God rest him)said when attendance at our Parish novena devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help was so much less then in times past…he said he knew what would increase attendance…another world war…
    Sacred Heart of Jesus, please bless each of us.
    Just thoughts…
    * St. Thomas uses the word hyperdulia for the devotion reserved uniquely for Our Blessed Mother Mary.

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  4. Hmmm, interesting!! Honestly, I think it was just a “thing,” you know? It’s just kinda what you did at one point in Catholic families or even before that also in Protestant families. Think about how long Mary was the most popular girls name.

    It’s still interestingly a “thing” but in different ways. I think we talked about it one the repeating names post you did a while ago, how we all know a few families who’s girls all have like Marie as a middle name or a version of Mary somewhere in their name. Maybe now people are just more creative instead of just Mary because of the wealth of information that is out there about Marian names, so it’s not just Mary any more?

    Sidenote: looking through my family tree, in my Grandma’s family, I’m pretty sure most of the girls had Mary as either a first or a middle name. And they were Irish Catholic. Maybe it’s an Irish Catholic thing? My Italian teacher in high school was telling us I remember once that every girl in her town (in Sicily) had the name Maria somewhere in her name, so I think it’s common else where too.

    Sidenote #2: Today is the feast day of Blesses Thomas Maria Fusco! So a cool Marian name on a boy 🙂

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    • I definitely agree that it’s still a “thing” in different ways! When I see those articles that lament the decline of the use of Mary, I always think that it’s not necessarily a decline in honoring her through names, it’s just, like you said, we’re getting more creative.

      I totally think it’s an Irish Catholic thing! At least the Mary+ doubles. And then the hyphenated Marie doubles are French, and Maria is totally a Spanish and Italian thing. I also love the combo Thomas Maria! I too love seeing the Marian names on boys!

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  5. I also thought this was a small-t tradition. Since SO many American Catholics are more recent immigrants to the US (most arriving in great waves in the 19th & early 20th centuries), and since in general it’s harder to find out the names of our ancestors before they arrived in the US, it may have just suddenly seemed like a rising trend in the 20th century when in fact maybe a lot of Catholics already followed this custom but there just weren’t as many American Catholics before that. (And being American, naming trends in the US are what we’re familiar with.) Then it kind of went out of fashion starting in the mid-late 60’s, when there was so much turmoil stateside (civil rights! feminism! Vietnam war! contraception! abortion!) and so much change in the Church (Vatican II! The mass of Paul VI and the vernacular!), so old customs and ways were sort of overlooked.

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  6. Also, I can’t speak for my own family as my parents are both converts, but my Protestant great-grandmother was named Mary as was my Mormon aunt (different sides of the family, one born in the 1890’s and the other in 1963). So, although not super common in my family, the overall popularity of the name is seen in my non-Catholic family tree. My husband is a convert, too, but his grandparents were Catholic (his dad is Protestant and his mom left the Church when she married him), and his grandma’s name was Mary Grace, and her mother was named Mary Catherine.

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    • I have a funny story about this … I was telling my dad not too long ago that I was interested in the tradition of Mary being given to daughters in Irish Catholic families (around the same time I was talking to the cousins who inspired this post), and he immediately started getting excited about how many Marys are in our Towne genealogy, which is really cool but … they’re not Irish, and they’re not Catholic (my dad’s dad converted to marry my grandmother), so I was like, “Not exactly what I’m talking about Dad …” haha! But anyway he brought the genealogy book over anyway and indeed Mary’s all through our English Protestant family tree.

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      • You know, it’s a really beautiful name, the spelling is kind of unique and unlike any other name I can think of, and it’s so mellifluous. I’ve only met two children named Mary since I became a mom 14 years ago, and that’s a real shame!

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  7. I kind of like the idea of a pope saying that, however casually. It’s a tradition that has held in my family over the past few generations (most of the women in my immediate family and previous generations–as well as several cousins–have Mary, Marie, or Maria as middle name, although the most recent first name I can think of was my great-grandmother, born in the 1890s in Italy).
    I read a post a couple years ago about how no one (Catholics included) is naming their daughter Mary anymore. I can’t find the article itself, but the idea stuck with me. Mary wasn’t even on my list two years ago, and now it’s a front runner for our (first) daughter’s first name (see https://sanctanomina.net/2016/02/22/baby-name-consultant-saintly-italian-meaningful-name-for-baby-girl/ :)). I love names that are traditional and also fairly uncommon, and over the past couple years, the beauty of the name itself has really grown on me. I love how simple and sweet it is, and the fact that it can stand up to–and even temper–a more “out there” middle name is also a plus!

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  8. In my family, my dad did name all the girls with Mary or Marie in our names. (all 6 girls – mostly middle names, though the twins are Mary A. and Mary B.). I think he did it because he’s very devoted to our Lady and the rosary. He would have mentioned it if the Pope had so ordered. Many older relatives on both sides of the family also have Mary in their names, but many of these aunts and cousins went by nicknames as to keep everyone straight. Maybe the babies were being named in honor of a common ancestor?

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  9. I too had always assumed it was a little-t tradition for Catholics to name daughters after Mary. In our family (well, my husband’s…my family and I are converts) it is tradition to name the FIRST daughter after the Blessed Mother. Is that just us?

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  10. I wonder if ““For very many years the Catholic Church in Ireland would not baptise a child unless the name chosen was that of a saint…” would also explain the use of John in Irish families. When we named my son his Irish god mother immediately started calling him by both his first and middle name because it is (or was) necessary in Ireland.

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  11. I, too, think it was most likely little “t” tradition, grassroots through communities, fostered by priests and religious. We have to think back to the time before the internet. Communication now makes it so easy for what famous people say to be readily available to the whole world. I remember in my childhood and from talking to my parents about times before that we didn’t actually hear that much of what the Pope said. Only major documents and addresses filtered to the average Catholic. One didn’t hear about every homily or weekly address (or airplane interview – lol – as there weren’t any…).

    So it is likely that popes WOULD feel it was beneficial to name a girl with a Marian name and give instruction to do so – considering that we had very Marian popes in those years. But is why some kind of document or proclamation isn’t likely to be found.

    What is interesting is that using the name of Mary wasn’t common for so many centuries. (From the Catholic Encyclopedia article I mentioned in “foreign to Christian sentiment” comment. “It is strange on the other hand that the name Mary has by no means always been a favourite for girls, possibly from a feeling that it was too august to be so familiarly employed.” – http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10673c.htm) It was considered too holy to use. But then in last 400 years became such a common and a promoted practice. Though now we see it falling significantly in last 50 years as the individuality of naming has taken preference.

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    • It is really interesting that it was considered too holy to use for a long time! I also love how, in Ireland, there was the Mary variant that was reserved only for referring to Our Lady, and a different one that was deemed acceptable for use by the people. (Muire vs Maire)

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  12. My husband’s family is French Canadian, and historically in Quebec, which was really Catholic for a long time but not much anymore, everyone named their daughters Marie (French for Mary) and sons Joseph (Joseph=Joseph in French)– everyone. So, to distinguish everyone apart, they had middle or “real” names after the Marie or Joseph. My father-in-law, who is one of ten children, is Joseph Pierre, and goes by Pierre. He moved to the States and got married, and had three sons, Joseph J-, Joseph C-, and Joseph L-. So, when I married my husband, we decided to continue the tradition with our kids, and give them French names along with it. So my daughter and son both have “Marie” and “Joseph” respectively as their “pre names” as I like to call them, then their “real name”, then their middle name. Legally, they have two “first names”, dropping the middle name since they don’t fit for SS cards. I know it’s confusing but totally worth it to me to keep the Catholic tradition alive. Plus it’s a fun story 🙂

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