So my post on Beretta got a lot of attention! Not only did I get a lot of great comments here, but even Linda from Nameberry weighed in on Twitter! The overwhelming reaction was, “That’s a gun name,” followed by, “Don’t name your child after a gun.”
I posted that post, followed by this one, because a mama had emailed me asking about Beretta used in honor of St. Gianna Beretta Molla. Despite my love for that saint, I admit my first reaction was “that’s a gun name!” (and I have very little familiarity with guns), but I wasn’t sure if others would feel the same, so getting all of your feedback was really helpful to me and that mama, I’m sure. I also loved discovering that the name also calls to mind for many the car by the same name (which also reminds me of Shelby), as well as a hair barrette, and also biretta, which is the name for that square hat for priests, and according to one of our Italian readers also the word for “small beer.” (She also said that Italians don’t use surnames as first names, which is so interesting to me! I love learning about other cultures through names.) In hindsight, I wish I’d left out the part in my post about it being used as an honor name for St. Gianna, just to see if anyone would have that association right away as well.
My FB feed is regularly filled with gun posts — posts by those who are rabidly anti-gun, and by those who have no problem with them, and responses by both sides to the other side (often nasty) — so I can see even in my limited experience that the name Beretta definitely comes with some baggage that parents would need to feel comfortable with. But as the comments showed, as well as some quick research I did, there are some people who *like* gun names, whether because they just like tougher-sounding names, or because they nod to their profession or their hobby. There are many who see this as a negative (see The Frightening New Wave of Baby Names: Aggressive names from Gunner to Raider to Danger are on the rise [Nameberry] and Americans are naming their babies WHAT? We all know American are obsessive about their guns. But this is taking things too far. [Australian web site]), but I thought what Laura (Baby Name Wizard) wrote in her post Son of a Gun: The Firearms Baby Name Report was more balanced and well articulated:
“What does the trend mean? I believe it points to two different cultural threads in the United States over the past decade. The first is the rising role of guns as a cultural identifier. For hunters and firearms enthusiasts, guns can be both a passion and a symbol of a way of life … Some gun owners perceive their lifestyle as being threatened by those who don’t understand them or share their values. Choosing a gun name, then, can summon up happy memories of hunting with your dad — or be a statement of cultural defiance. It’s an in-group statement, designed to speak to those who share your cultural touchstones.”
I’m sure we all have friends or relatives who we can see liking names like this for the reasons mentioned above, and we can certainly all relate with cultural defiance.
Beretta is a particularly interesting name in light of all this, for us especially. What Laura said about gun names being “an in-group statement, designed to speak to those who share your cultural touchstones” is exactly why so many of us choose the names we choose for our babies. Zelie, Jacinta, Kolbe, and Karol are examples of names that will likely only be fully “gotten” by those who share our worldview. It’s likely only we would also be able to understand the saintly significance behind the name Beretta, if chosen by a Catholic family. And in fact, being that it’s an Italian name as well, so many of which are loved by so many of Italian heritage and even those who aren’t, Beretta’s the amazing, solitary result of the Venn diagram of gun names, Italian names, and Catholicky Catholic names. For a certain kind of family, fully informed, Beretta is exactly perfect.
This reader suggested Beretta’s a name that should be reclaimed, because of its faith significance. She wrote:
“I think, as a Catholic, one would have to ask the question: to what extent should worldly associations impact the choice of a saintly moniker for a child? Yes, there is a gun, but it is the maiden name of a saint nonetheless. And when other surname names (or place names) like Kolbe, Becket, Vianney, Avila, Lourdes, etc. get fair usage among Catholic circles, it doesn’t seem like Beretta should be an immediate write off. Actually perhaps there is reason to use it to “reclaim” the name so to speak, and when you are asked the child’s name it can be an evangelization opportunity to inform about St. Gianna Beretta Molla, and the Church.”
I do love the evangelization opportunities that names can provide! But I also think there are some names for which the negative associations far outweighs the positive, names that even I don’t think are ready to be reclaimed (Adolf comes to mind). I’m not saying Beretta’s in the same league as Adolf, but I am saying that worldly associations sometimes *must* impact the choice of a saintly moniker for a child. (Poor holy Adolfs.) Is Beretta one such name? I’m not convinced, not in a universal way anyway (I mean yes, if parents feel that way regarding their own child, but not in regards to a blanket disavowal of the name).
Another good point to make, which answers the question, “why not Molla, if using a saint’s surname instead of given name is going to be the ‘thing’?” is that personal taste is so often the deciding factor. It’s why some parents choose to honor St. Thomas Becket with the name Becket instead of Thomas, why Grandma Pearl’s namesake is named Margaret instead of Pearl, and why Catherine is chosen instead of Katherine or Elisabeth instead of Elizabeth. St. Gianna has three names — for some, Gianna is the best and only way to go; for others, Joanna or Jane or some other anglicized variant; for others Molly as a nod to Molla; for others Beretta or a spin-off of it.
In fact, some of you who appreciated Beretta’s connection to St. Gianna offered ways of working around the gun association by using its nicknames Retta or Etta as the given name, for example, or a sound-alike like Britta, or mashing up Gianna and Beretta to get Greta, or naming a boy Barrett. Some might be willing to go farther by choosing the full Beretta, but then tucking it in the middle spot where it can stay hidden if desired.
I suspect, though, that a family who loves Beretta isn’t going to be thrilled by the idea of using Retta, Etta, Britta, Greta, or Barrett-on-a-boy instead (though perhaps they be happy enough to use nicknames on a day-to-day basis, and/or might go for it as a middle name). Though many of us wouldn’t feel comfortable with giving our child a name rife with so many charged viewpoints, I’m going to guess that parents who choose Beretta are more than willing to defend their choice to the naysayers.