Okay to name a baby after a Servant of God?

I received an email from a worried mama about wanting to use the name Léonie, after St. Therese’s sister Servant of God Léonie Martin, but she’d heard that we’re not supposed to name a baby after a Servant of God because it’s celebrating someone who isn’t yet a saint or blessed.

After prayer and study, I’d say that it’s totally fine to name after a Servant of God. The Church has no requirements regarding naming any more, other than that the names chosen must not be “foreign to Christian sentiment” (Canon 855). She still has a preference for names being given after Saints (no. 2156), but since there’s no requirement of that, it follows that there’s no rule against naming for a Servant of God. Indeed, there’s no rule against naming after anyone (except some of those discussed on the blog last week, like Lucifer, for example, because the name is “foreign to Christian sentiment”). I think of all the babies named after family members and friends and celebrities and athletes — as long as their names aren’t foreign to Christian sensibility, there’s no issue at all. Especially since many (most?) names can trace back to a Saint anyway! For this particular example, it might be helpful to know that there’s a Bl. Marie Leonie Paradis who predated Leonie Martin by just a little bit, and any of the Sts. Leo can serve as patron as well, so the name Leonie itself is no problem whatsoever. I suppose it’s always wise to remember that because a Servant of God hasn’t yet been fully researched, there might still be unsavory elements that show themselves that would prevent him or her from moving on in the canonization process — that could be hard for a little namesake, and a back-up saint (like Bl. Marie Leonie Paradis) might be good idea from that perspective as well.

Bottom line, in answer to this question: As far as I can tell, there’s no problem naming a child after a Servant of God.

In doing research though, it became clear that it’s probably important to discuss what’s okay in terms of venerating a Servant of God, and whether naming a baby after a SOG counts as veneration and if so, is it still okay.

First, according to the Catholic Dictionary the definition of veneration when used in regards to the saints is:

Honor paid to the saints who, by their intercession and example and in their possession of God, minister to human sanctification, helping the faithful grow in Christian virtue.”

There’s a difference between public and private veneration. For example, the web site for the cause for the canonization of Ven. Fr. Michael McGivney explains,

Several members of the Father McGivney Guild have asked about the possibility of developing a Father McGivney holy hour that could be celebrated before the exposed Blessed Sacrament.

The norms of the Church in this matter are very clear. Eucharistic holy hours are to be encouraged but, when praying before the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the monstrance, all prayers should be directed to Christ, who is present in the sacred host. The Church does not permit us to pray to Father McGivney in our public worship.

You will note that all the prayer cards you receive from the Guild are directed to God, not to Father McGivney. We are humbly asking God to hear our petition for the canonization of Father McGivney. Only at a later stage, with the permission of the Church, can we publicly address Father McGivney in prayer.”

The Mother Teresa of Calcutta Center points out that,

Beatified persons are called Blesseds. They may receive the veneration of the faithful within certain limits set by the Church, but may not be venerated in an organized public manner throughout the whole Church.

EWTN points out in its explanation of the canonization process that,

Blesseds may receive public veneration at the local or regional level, usually restricted to those dioceses or religious institutes closely associated with the person’s life. “Public veneration” in this use of the term doesn’t mean that it is done in public; rather,that it is an act done by the clergy, or delegated laity, in the name of the Church (Mass, Divine Office, images in churches etc.), even if done in private. On the other hand, “private veneration” means veneration by individuals or groups acting in their own name, even if done “in public.” While the Church restricts the public venration [sic] of Blesseds, Catholics are free to privately venerate them.”

And while this private v. public veneration has so far focused just on Blesseds and beyond, I did find this, from “Servants of God” by Wilhelm Schamoni in The Irish Monthly, September 1947; published by the Irish Jesuit Province and available here:

The individual Christian is quite at liberty to venerate as saints those Christians of whose holiness he is convinced. On the other hand, the Church permits official veneration, that is veneration in public worship, only after ecclesiastical inquiry.”

Based on all that, I feel confident in thinking private veneration of a Servant of God is okay. Is naming a baby after a SOG a form of veneration? I think it could probably go either way. If veneration is honor, than any kind of honor naming could be considered veneration — I think non-Catholics would probably heartily disagree with that, since (1) they freely name after people in the Bible and (2) I think most of them are horrified by the word “venerate” used for anyone but God. Based just on that, perhaps naming isn’t a form of veneration? On the other hand, based on what Wilhelm Schamoni says in the last quote I provide above, veneration could extend to one’s grandmother or parish priest if of their “holiness he is convinced,” so maybe honor naming *is* a form of private veneration, which seems acceptable.

Do you all agree? Are any of you familiar with other resources that discuss veneration/naming in honor of Servants of God? Are there any Servants of God you feel particularly close to? (I love Elisabeth Leseur.) Would you name a baby after any of them, or have you?




30 thoughts on “Okay to name a baby after a Servant of God?

  1. Okay, I’m going to try and make as much sense as possible, but I don’t know if I will.

    So, Servants of God, even though they’re not Saints or Blesseds yet, they’re still really good people who set good examples, even if they never reach the point of being a Saint. So naming a child after them to me, is kind of like naming a child after a super great historical figure, like Eleanor Roosevelt, that someone feels a connection with. It doesn’t seem wrong to me, as long as the parent isn’t treating the Servant of God like a Saint. Does that make any sense to someone not in my head?

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I learned of Servant of God Thea Bowman when researching the name Thea and I don’t believe there are any blesseds or saints by the name Thea. I think (if Thea fit better with our other kids names) I’d be okay using Thea after Thea Bowman with a very saintly middle like Frances or Marie.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I do know that Thea was her religious name so I’ve wondered what her thinking was in choosing it. Perhaps the same rationale could work for a baby named after her.

      Liked by 2 people

      • It made me curious. I did find this: “On 12 August, 1956 Bertha Bowman was given the name Sister Mary Thea, a feminine version of her father’s name.” Her father’s name was Theon. Interesting.

        Also “theos” is Greek for god. Thea was the Greek goddess of light. Theodore or Theodora, meaning “gift of God” would be more common namesakes using this root in Christian circles.

        Liked by 3 people

      • We grew up knowing a large (8 children) Catholic family with a daughter named Thea. It was her given name, not a nickname. I always assumed it must be ok! Lol

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I could be way off base, but this doesn’t feel much different than choosing to name baby after grandma or another family member. Someone who’s life you admire and you want to show that admiration through your naming choices. Does that make sense?

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I think it’s completely fine to name a child after a Servant. After all, it’s in preparation for their next step and perhaps this would bring wider attention to the Servant, more prayer requests and push them through the canonization process as they “prove” their saint status. When I chose my confirmation saint last year, my priest was fine with any Blessed status saints (thus I considered Mother Teresa) and so I would assume a child’s name would also be okay. But he asked me to hold off on any Servant like Dorothy Day or Elisabeth LeSeur (who was my #1 pick and who I turn to “unofficially” quite often.) My diocese at the time (i’ve moved since then) was very orthodox and conservative so i hold that opinion in high esteem.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Yes, I think it is fine for all the reasons you listed. I have to be careful with wording as even recently in a comment I mentioned a name being given to honor a saint when that isn’t really want I meant but it is easy to say and wished I could change it. When we name children after saints I don’t think it is to honor that saint or venerate them, it is more to give the child a patron (someone to recognize, emulate, look to) that same way we would a grandparent or other person we admired. That is why the requirement of a name “not foreign to Christian sentiment” is more broad – the name should be one that is uplifting and would not be counter to Christian faith. A Servant of God’s name could be that.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I just realized I didn’t answer the second part of this! Since I started learning about Dorothy Day when I came to college I’ve felt super connected with her, and now I’m reading her autobiography for my Theology class, and I’m feeling even more connected. I’m praying so hard for her canonization!

    I might consider the name Dorothy, however, hopefully when I’m having kids, she’ll be a Blessed or a Saint 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Our close friends’ son really admires Fr. Emil Kapaun, who is a SOG, and wanted to choose him as his confirmation “saint.” They asked our priest, and he said it was ok! (Possibly because it’s looking good for Fr. Emil’s beatification? Not sure.)

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I just want to point out that when Catholics name their daughters after Lucia of Fatima, they are doing the exact same thing as that mother who wants to name her child Leonie. In fact, Lucia wasn’t beatified yet, but it’s totally okay to name your child after her.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. On the topic of naming, I think it’s 100% ok to name your child after anyone you admire, as long as it’s not a demon or devil or otherwise “foreign to Christian sentiment.” You could name your child after a sibling you love even if you know they have sinned! You could name your child after a public figure you admire even if they are flawed. Someone who has been granted Servant of God status is really one step holier than that! So I think it’s totally fine, and Léonie is such a pretty name, and I’m sure Léonie Martin will eventually be beatified and canonized.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I love this comment!! Even if people are sinners (a.k.a all of us), that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be honored or aren’t fabulous people in wonderful people.

      I plan on honoring my sister Alexandra because even with all her flaws, she’s my absolute best friend in the world, who I can’t live without. I feel like my love for her outweighs the fact that she has flaws.

      I think sometimes we make the fallacy of thinking that saints were sinless, when really, the only person who never sinned was Jesus. Even Mother Teresa and St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Clare and St. Francis sinned, that does not make me think they are lesser people or don’t deserve to have children named after them.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Super great point! I can fall into the trap of thinking that even if they sinned early in life, they got it all figured out eventually. But Mother Teresa went to confession daily! I’m certain that when you reach a level of sanctity like her, you are just all the more aware of your own sins. I shudder to know all the ways I fail each day while remaining oblivious! The saints have so much to teach us, including about our own sin.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I definitely fall into the trap too! I always have to remind myself that they are people too.

        Mother Teresa to me, is seriously one of the most relatable Blesseds/Saints. I loved reading her journals. It’s so amazing to me that she had that 10 year period where she never really felt God. I think it always shocks people that even someone like Mother Teresa could feel distant from God, but it just goes to the Saints are people too 🙂

        Liked by 3 people

      • 4 and 1 aren’t even that close to each other on my key board, I have no idea how I mistyped that, lol. But yes, I meant about 40 years.

        Liked by 2 people

  10. If we all name our children only after canonized saints, we will never have any new saint names!!! As long as you’re not naming your baby like Dog Poop or something crazy, I just don’t think a saint name has to be in there.

    I know I’m probably wrong in my thinking, especially as a Catholic, but my name is Colleen, and there are no St. Colleen’s. I can stretch to say it was after St. Colette, but it really wasn’t, my Irish mom and dad just liked the name. I like to think that there are plenty of Colleen’s in heaven, so they’re saints, but just not canonized.

    Help me, am I wrong?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dog Poop!! Ahahahahaha!!

      I’m totally sure there are some Colleens in heaven!! It’s totally fine you weren’t named after a saint, but if you wanted to pick a patron based on your name St. Colette’s a great one and makes sense. Or whoever! Sort of connected to your name or not! Or your middle name or whatever! Have you read this? http://catholicmom.com/2015/10/21/finding-your-patron-saint-or-being-found/ I wrote it just for people who lamented not having a saint connected to their name (or maybe you already picked your patron and have it all figured out!).


  11. So I just found out that there is actually a St. Léonie! Can’t believe I haven’t found her before now in my thousands of google searches! She is the foundress of the Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales and was canonized by St. JPII.

    And since I’m also the crazy brained, hormonal, pregnant lady who emailed Kate with this question, I just want to say thank you all for the great discussion and comments. I’ve really enjoyed reading what you’ve had to say and thank you for helping ease my mind!

    Liked by 1 person

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