Spotlight on: Damian/Damien

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:

Via Wikimedia Commons

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

By Siebbi (Damian Lewis) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
(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. 😘)


34 thoughts on “Spotlight on: Damian/Damien

    • Yeah, we have a Catholic vowel saint trend going. Mom mentioned Ursula and I immediately exclaimed “like the SEA WITCH”? That movie (Disney’s the Little Mermaid) obviously left some scars. lol – hadn’t thought of it in years. However it is a lovely name and I would use it if another pop culture reference reframed the name more positively.

      Liked by 1 person

      • where I come from the name Orsola is kind of common, but only in my city I think. That’s how we call ursuline nuns: suore orsoline. I like it! Also I think maybe Damian is common amongst hispanic people? I know someone on the internet with a kid named Damian Julio nicknamed Damo (sister’s Evangeline Pilar).

        Liked by 2 people

  1. My husband has this name, but his parents used the “Damion” spelling. He was born in ’78, so he’s always gotten the Omen references. I quote the movie to him sometimes (“It’s all for you, Damion!!”)
    He’s also a twin, and since we’re now Catholic, I think that’s pretty rad. He doesn’t have any nicknames except for what I call him, which is usually “D” or Damie. I always thought the name fit him because he has dark hair/pale skin coloring like the kid in the original movie.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this name too! I like it spelled with an e, and it works wonderfully as a middle name for so many first names. All the St Damiens are such great role models!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Unpopular opinion: I do not like the name Damian and it has nothing to do with The Omen and more to do with where I grew up. I’ve known many Damians (and Damons) and…I just do not like the name.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have to say I’d never heard of those movies or the bad name connotations until reading your blog posts! I’d always thought of St. Damien of Molokai or a Br. Damian I knew growing up!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have known a few Damians while teaching, baby-sitting,etc. . .I did not realize there was still such a negative association with that name!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I just realized that the principal at my kids’ public elementary school is named Damian. I did not think of any bad movies this year or even the saints when I encountered his name; it was just his name. I think in all our baby naming overthink its easy to forget that most of the time we just take someone’s name on face value. He also has a 1-syllable last name that rhymes with day and it sounds super. I could see that being a concern for expectant parents.

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  7. Of all my kids, my Damian actually gets the most *positive* responses from the “wider world”. (The one that gets the puzzled responses is, oddly, my John Paul. I’ve had many people ask if I’m a Beatles fan and many more try to pronounce it with a French accent?!?) We didn’t consider nicknames when we named him but we have organically fallen into calling him Dames, but only as a spoken nickname. (Probably not a coincidence that Dames is so similar to James, our runner-up name, but it was subconscious!)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Yeah… I’ve never seen the movie, but I guess I would never pick that name ‘Damian’
    To me, it would be like naming your child “Lucifer”

    Liked by 1 person

  9. We have a 10-yr-old Damien…born in 2006 after the remake came out. Neither my husband nor I had ever seen the movie and had no idea that was the name used in it….and we’ve only ever had one comment about it from my uncle right after he was born. No one has said anything since. No regrets here! We love St Damien and will totally make a pilgrimage to Molokai someday!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Yeah… I’ve never seen the movies but it’s all I associate Damian/Damien with. I don’t know I’ve ever met one in real life. And if I did I would wonder. I am a big name associater though, which is unfair to a lot of names but I could never use it because of the movie. (Also unfortunate because we are a three-syllable first name family and it’s kind of a task to come up with great names.)

    Do you think it’s a regional thing? Just from reading the above comments and me never having encountered the name before.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thought I would chime in from a slightly younger generation than most others (I think! I’m sorry if I’m wrong!). But as a 21 year old college student, I don’t associate Damian with the movie really at all. I’m sure some of my peers would but I don’t think it would be as overwhelming of an association.

    Kind of like Rosemary and the horror movie. It’s there, we know about it, but it’s not so overwhelming because the movie hasn’t been a big deal in our lives and we didn’t see it (most likely) until we were older and chose to watch it on our own, so The Omen wasn’t our first encounter with the name Damian.

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