The legality of Confirmation names, and going by a different name than your legal name

I was going through some paperwork of my father-in-law’s yesterday and found the court order legally changing his last name from the consonant-heavy surname his father brought with him from Poland to an English surname that shares enough sounds with the original Polish surname to make sense of the change. Though my FIL died when my husband was small, we’ve always known that he and his siblings legally changed their surname, so that wasn’t a surprise — but what was a surprise was that, in the documents, I read that my FIL had been using this new English surname his whole life. He’d been registered under it in school and had it on his high school diploma, and according to the document, “All records of employment, registration under the Selective Service Act, and voting records” had already, always, been under the new English surname, despite the fact that he didn’t apply for the legal change until he was 25. So interesting, right?!

One question that my husband and I have had that wasn’t answered by this document, though, is when and how he took his Confirmation name as his legal middle name (he hadn’t been given a middle name at birth). This document has his full name as including the Confirmation-as-middle, but no mention of making it so legally, so I assume it had already been done. Or not? Maybe it didn’t need to be? This was back in the 50’s, and also, even now, in New York State anyway (which is where I am and where my FIL lived his whole life), you can go by any name you want without getting a legal name change. According to the New York State Unified Court System,

In New York State, you have the right to adopt any name you wish by using that name for everything in your life. This does not apply to children or prison inmates. But, it may be better to legally change your name because most government agencies will not accept your name change without a court order.

You can ask the court to legally change the name you were given at birth, adoption or marriage.”

And indeed, in my FIL’s application for legal name change, he wrote that having his surname legally changed to the surname he’d always used “will prevent confusion and possible legal difficulties for me in the future.” So I wonder if his usage of his Confirmation name as his middle name was just one of those things — he just started using it, and that was fine, and no one bothered about it, and it became so established as his middle name (or it was such a common practice for people to do that kind of thing) that he didn’t even feel the need to explicitly mention it in his application for his surname change? (In preparing to write this post this morning, I re-read this article I’d written for CatholicMom on middle names — I found it so interesting all over again! Haha!)

Anyway, that reminded me of something I read recently about Confirmation names actually having usage in real life that I’d wanted to share with you. This is from the Christian Names entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia (1911) on New Advent:

The practice of adopting a new name was not limited to baptism. Many medieval examples show that any notable change of condition, especially in the spiritual order, was often accompanied by the reception of a new name. In the eighth century the two Englishmen, Winfrith and Willibald, going on different occasions to Rome received from the reigning pontiff, along with a new commission to preach, the names respectively of Boniface and Clement. So again Emma of Normandy, when she married King Ethelred in 1002, took the name Ælfgifu; while, of course, the reception of a new name upon entering a religious order is almost universal even in our day. It is not strange, then, that at confirmation, in which the interposition of a godfather emphasizes the resemblance with baptism, it should have become customary to take a new name, though usually no great use is made of it. In one case, however, that of Henry III, King of France — who being the godson of our English Edward VI had been christened Edouard Alexandre in 1551 — the same French prince at confirmation received the name of Henri, and by this he afterwards reigned. Even in England the practice of adopting a new name at confirmation was remembered after the Reformation, for Sir Edward Coke declares that a man might validly buy land by his confirmation name, and he recalls the case of a Sir Francis Gawdye, late Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, whose name of baptism was Thomas and his name of confirmation Francis (Co. Litt. 3a).”

I’d never heard a story like that about Confirmation names before!

You know I’m always interested in hearing personal, real-life, interesting name stories, so feel free to share!


29 thoughts on “The legality of Confirmation names, and going by a different name than your legal name

  1. My dad was not given a middle name at birth*, but basically throws his confirmation name (John) in that spot on occasion. Not sure if it is legally there or not. I will ask.
    I am never sure where/how to use my confirmation name. I have never legally made it part of my name, but I guess I could. How/where do others use theirs? I picked Isaiah. I remember my dad saying, “you can’t pick a boy’s name”. I pretty much replied, “Yes I can”.

    *Fun other story related to this: My grandmother REALLY wanted a girl when my dad was born. She tried to name him Jamie Lynn (which actually ended up being a cousin on my mom side), but I suppose they convinced her to change it to [just] James, nicknamed Jim (brothers Joseph Phillip Jr – Joe, and Richard – Rick). And she was the one who was supposed to be named Milana, but the doctor said nope and changed it to Mildred!

    Liked by 2 people

    • So many interesting stories here!!

      I love hearing about people choosing opposite-sex names for Confirmation! There’s nothing wrong with that at all. My own Confirmation name is just something I tell people when they ask me what it is, and I do have a devotion to her and feel a special connection (St. Jacinta), but my mom likes to write out my whole name on cards, notes, etc., which is First Middle Confirmation Maiden Married! She does it for my sibs too, three of whom have two middle names already. She’s a little nutty about all the names! (I guess that’s where I get it) (Hi Mom 🙂 )

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My great-grandfather came from Poland as well. His first and last names were made more ‘American’ sounding by immigration. And then, he and his 2 brothers all went to college together. Supposedly, one of them kept running up a debt at the bookstore, so the other 2 changed the spelling of their last name slightly to avoid confusion!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve really ever only included my Confirmation name (also a masculine name – Camillus) on wedding invitations. I’m not sure how else I’d want to incorporate it in real life.

    But we did use it for the middle name of our third daughter….so it’s legally hers and that’s sufficient for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I do think names used to be MUCH more fluid. Pre-database, you really couldn’t verify that records matched, right? I mean, it might have been possible in theory, but crazy time-consuming in practice. So if someone told you his name was John Smith, well, that was his name.

    My mom used her confirmation name as a middle until she married and became FirstName Maiden Married – she wasn’t given a middle at birth. I’ll have to ask her if that was the norm, but I suspect it might have been fairly common.

    I’ve never used my confirmation name anywhere, which is too bad, because I really do love it. (It’s Teresa, for Teresa of Avila.) I debated adding it to my legal name, but decided against it, since I’m already A. Abigail, and I couldn’t imagine being A. Abigail T. Sandel. It just seemed awkward.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The New York law regarding name usage is so interesting. I wonder how many other states have a similar rule.

    My husband’s godmother suggested we use our confirmation names for future children. We likely will use mine if we are ever blessed with a daughter. My husband likes his confirmation saint but not the name so we will not use it, unless we want to continue our Irish Saint+Old Testament theme and run out of options. I may need your help if and when that happens. An Old Testament man’s name that fits with Finbar. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I don’t have a confirmation name, of course, as I was chrismated as an infant at the time of baptism. But since being Catholic, I don’t think I know anyone who really uses their confirmation name (as a second middle name, etc.) I don’t know why that is because I know it’s something that can be done but I guess not many people care to. Not sure!

    Liked by 1 person

      • I was actually chrismated in the Orthodox Church. We stopped attending when I was about 7 and began attending the Catholic Church down the street without receiving sacraments. Later we learned that we were permitted to receive the Eucharist in the Catholic Church, so we did start doing so when I was about 14-ish. I made my “official” profession of faith in the Catholic Church in my first couple years of college but had been considering myself Catholic for years before that.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Very interesting, Grace! So glad you made it Home! 🙂

      I prefer the Western liturgy too, but I love how the sacraments of initiation are given in infancy in the East. Love it so much. I wish all my kids had those profound graces as they were growing into the age of reason and weren’t only offered them later.

      But then, like in your case, they’d have no Confirmation name, which I would see somewhat as a loss.

      Lol. Apparently I just can’t be happy either way. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • Our diocese has restored order sacraments, which I think is a pretty great step in the right direction. Confirmation and first Eucharist both in 3rd grade, at the same Mass. I’m fine with that solution since it’s unlikely we’d ever see all the sacraments of initiation given to infants in the west. The reasons are threefold to my understanding: 1. The theology on the efficacy of the Eucharist is different in the western and eastern Churches, with the west feeling that the Eucharist isn’t needed/”effective” prior to the age of reason. 2. The custom in the west has been for the bishop to give at least one sacrament of initiation to everyone in his diocese, which has necessitated group confirmations. This wouldn’t go over well if baptism was only offered once a year, because… 3. In the west, baptism is usually administered asap after birth and my observation is that it’s more relaxed in the east (this may not be totally universal, just my observation).

        Liked by 1 person

      • Also I don’t consider myself a convert and I’m not 100% sure the Roman Catholic Church would, either, because they haven’t closed any doors to the Orthodox Churches. They allow sacraments to be given to Oryhodox Christians, etc. I feel like the Roman Catholic Church assumes more unity than the Orthodox Churches do yet.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I consider my confirmation name as part of my name, though I don’t normally use it and it’s not legal. It’s Elizabeth, which is also my mother’s middle name. I named myself after my mother because my parents had already named me after my father. I’ve never really liked my actual middle name, Kay.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I was named after my mom’s confirmation saint, and my daughter’s middle is after the same saint. I’m considering using my confirmation saint name on a future daughter as well.

    My great-grandfather was born in the U.S. to Czech parents. He used the name Stephen Joseph on all his papers – legal or otherwise, but I don’t think that he ever officially changed it from his birth name/s. He was baptized Vaclav Stephen but his birth certificate said Willie Stephen. He never used either name. Maybe Joseph was his confirmation name.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love that story about your great-grandfather! It’s so interesting to think how serious we are about names and their “officialness” these days when not that long ago it didn’t seem to be a big deal at all.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I use my confirmation name as my second middle name. It’s not legal exactly but it’s what I consider my name.

    Leading up to my Confirmation, I was so excited to pick my name. I’ve been a name nerd for life and was thrilled for my first naming opportunity (besides dolls and hamsters). I knew for years that I would pick Lucy. I told everyone I knew about it and would go on and on about how much I loved my Confirmation name and what it meant to me.

    Two months after my Confirmation, my mom went to pick up a new puppy for the family. When she carried the puppy into the house, my mom said, “As soon as I saw her, her name came right to me. Doesn’t she look just like a Lucy?”

    Oh I was furious at the time! But after awhile it occurred to me that she did look like a Lucy, the little red headed dog she was. She was my mom’s buddy until she passed away unexpectedly very young. I’m glad that I shared my Confirmation name with her although it was awkward when people asked if I took my name after the dog.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi –I see i’m a little late to this conversation, but i do have a question and comment.
    Question: I have a neighbor who converted to Catholicism when she got married. We were talking about confirmation names one day and she had never heard of them. Can she still get confirmed and receive a confirmation name? She seems very interested in this.

    I and all my 5 siblings received a confirmation name, which was a matter of great excitement at our house. We all wanted to take the names of tv characters of the time–Wyatt (Earp) and Davy (Crockett) were popular–but we were dissuaded without too much tsuris. I took Christopher and always used it subsequently on legal documents. Not on my Social Security card, however, because that was based on my birth certificate. “Christopher” stayed with me through 10 years in the Amy and several background checks for sensitive government jobs after that.

    Then a few years ago I was being interviewed by a government agent in a background check and the first question she ask was, why am I using an “alias.” I was utterly flabbergasted, as that does seem to be a loaded word. I explained about confirmation names, which she had never heard of, apparently, and she told me not to use it any more. I have duly followed that instruction, so my driver’s license and subsequent legal docs are without “Christopher,” but I have been brooding about this ever since. Was this perhaps an anti-Catholic action on the part of our government? After a lifetime of use (I just turned 70), couldn’t confirmation names be grandfathered in? I rather miss “Christopher.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Michael! You raise such interesting questions! Regarding your neighbor, if she became Catholic as an adult, she likely already received Confirmation — as far as I know, Confirmation (as well as Baptism, Confession, and Communion, if needed) are all done at the time of the candidate entering into the Church, if they hadn’t been done previously. Confirmation names aren’t a requirement, and some priests and bishops have different mindsets regarding them, so it could be that the parish in which she was received in the Church didn’t do Confirmation names. She can’t be re-Confirmed, but as Confirmation names serve the purpose of choosing a patron saint, she can certainly go ahead and choose a patron for herself, and consider that saint’s name to be her pseudo-Confirmation name. I wrote more about this here:

      As for your own Confirmation name, what a story! On the one hand, as I understand it, identifying legal documents are supposed to match your birth certificate, unless you’ve had a legal name change. But the practice of using one’s Confirmation name — while it seems not technically “legal” in the sense that no legal name change occurred — seems to have been a common occurrence in the older generations (as I related about my father-in-law). And in my state (NY) — and others, I imagine — you’re allowed to go by any name you want, whether it matches your birth certificate or not, though government agencies may not recognize your name unless you’ve had a legal name change. So it seems the woman you spoke to wasn’t acting inappropriately. I do think you can continue using Christopher whenever and wherever you want, as long as when a government official needs to know your “legal name” you know not to include Christopher. Or you can obtain a legal name change! I don’t think it’s overly complicated, and while I’m sure you have to pay something, I don’t think it’s a huge amount.

      I hope this helps!


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