Today’s the feast day of one of my fave saints with one of my fave names — St. Damien of Molokai! (Also known as St. Joseph de Veuster.) Perfect day to post a spotlight of his name!
In the universe of names that need to be reclaimed, Damian/Damien is at the top of my list, as was glaringly showcased in the consultation I posted for Grace a couple of weeks ago. Let’s just get it out of the way: For those who don’t know, there’s a 1976 movie called The Omen in which the boy character, named Damien, is revealed to be the Antichrist; there was a 1978 sequel called Damien: Omen II, and I only recently found out that the original movie was remade in 2006 — I’m not super into knowing every movie that comes out, but I know a fair bit, and it was a total surprise to me to find out this remake (1) exists and (2) is so recent. (Another post for another day: Do writers consider the way they can ruin lives and baby name lists through the names they choose for their bad characters?? I am a writer, and I love saintly names, and I will come up with a solution. Stay tuned.)
(Also, have any of you actually seen any of these movies? I haven’t, and I don’t know anyone who has, and the original was made before most of my friends and I were born, and we’re now approaching the later end of the childbearing-age spectrum, so how is it that *everyone* knows this reference and is *still* allowing their babynaming to be influenced by it??)
So yes, I’m sure the name was chosen for the movie because of its visual and audial similarity to “demon,” but they’re actually not related at all. Damian/en comes from the Greek for “to tame,” while demon is thought to be derived from the Greek for “to divide.” (“Demon”=”to divide” … that’s something to muse on, no?)
Now to focus on the positive: Damian/en is an amazing name!! It’s got similar sounds and rhythm to the Aidan/Brayden/Jaden family of names, with *centuries* of use and lots of holy men so named, with the most familiar probably being St. Damian (twin brother of St. Cosmas — they’re in the Canon of the Mass!), and today’s St. Damien of Molokai. There’s also Doctor of the Church St. Peter Damian, and how cool is that combo?? (I actually know a little Peter Damian — I swooned over his name when he was born and I still do!) Also, the church where St. Francis was instructed by Jesus to “rebuild my church” was the church of San Damiano, and the cross before which St. Francis was praying when Jesus spoke to him is called the Cross of San Damiano. You’re likely familiar with it:
So the name Damian/en has a LOT more going *for* it than it has going against it.
Fortunately, we have quite a few current Damian/ens we can look to as well, like Homeland and frequent BBC actor Damian Lewis
(who has a brother named Gareth and children named Manon and Gulliver 😍 — some good naming genes in that family!), and so many other famous Damian/ens that I really wonder why we don’t hear more of it! Especially since Damian has actually been in the top 200 names for the past 15 years, even breaking into the top 100 in 2012 and 2013 (Damien has always been less popular, but not by too much, and had an unfortunate spike in popularity following the original movie’s release). So is it mostly Catholic namers (like, all of us here) who are very concerned about the connection with the movie? We who have so much less cause than those who are unfamiliar with the faith? I get it, and at the same time I don’t.
Fortunately we have sweet little Damien Edmund, whose birth announcement I posted a while ago, to look to! If you remember, his mama wrote,
“After your consult I realised how much I really love St Damien of Molokai and it seemed like the right name. My husband was hesitant because of THAT movie, but right after he was born my husband said a little prayer and felt it was the right name. And we added Edmund for Edmund Campion and Edmund Arrowsmith. So far, all our Catholic friends love the name Damien, and non Catholics haven’t said anything negative. Reclaim the name!“
Amen sister!! 👊👊👊
I think that maybe Damian/en’s lack of familiar nicknames is somewhat problematic — it’s always nice to have a good nickname to hide behind, if hiding is desired (yes, I do think it’s A-okay to use a name you love that you’re not totally 100% sure will be received well. Choosing a nickname in case you [as the parent] or your child [with the name] wants to be incognito is a great way to manage this. And it [issues with one’s given name] can happen with names with no objective issues at all! I think I’ll do a post on this soon. My own personal example is my beloved Joachim — I totally get that if we were to ever have a son named Joachim, we or he might get tired of the confused looks, botched pronunciations, etc., and so I’m ready with the fab nickname Jake. Easy peasy).
So anyway, I (of course) have spent many hours over the last several years thinking long and hard about nicknames for Damian/Damien, and my favorite is Danny (for Damian) and Denny (for Damien). I think they’re perfect! You could also do just “D,” and I could even see Ian working for Damian. “Dame” is fine as a spoken nickname (not sure a guy would like to put that in writing though). (Also, fun future topic: “heard” nicknames vs. “written” nicknames — Swistle discussed it in a recent post, and I’d love to talk about it with all of you. Soon!)
And one last thought: If we all agree that it’s pretty terrible that some great saints’ name is being avoided because of a pretty terrible pop culture reference (that should really be forgotten anyway, name or no name), can we all agree to stop linking the two? Maybe when the name comes up, you can focus on the awesome saints instead of the negative association? Seriously, the more we talk up the good and ignore the bad, the more helpful we are in making that association fade away. (And conversely, the more we say, “The only thing I think of when I hear ‘Damien’ is that satanic movie!” the longer the names are going to be linked.) I do get that it’s good for parents to be aware of potential issues, but if you feel you must mention it, at least overcompensate by focusing extra hard on the saints. Deal? (You all are the best ever. 😘)