Latest CatholicMom column, and a namey question

My July column is up at CatholicMom.com! It’s the winning essay of the second year of the St. Francis de Sales Writing Contest I instituted at my alma mater, in which the student discussed his devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

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This student won first place last year as well! The judges were the editor of my diocesan newspaper, the superintendent of schools for my diocese, and the campus chaplain at Siena College. Very impressive!

I’ve also been thinking about something a couple of you mentioned on a post last month — Sarah said,

My aunt was born the day after the Assumption so her grandmother named her Mary Virginia, but my grandma didn’t like her mother naming her baby so she re-named her Carole Jean

and Annie said,

My parents technically named me, but did so after my grandma’s wishes after she made her wishes very clear

and I’m still trying to wrap my head around how grandparents got to have such a strong say? It sounds like Sarah’s great-grandmother especially wasn’t merely voicing an opinion, but was actually naming the baby — I’ve seen references to this kind of thing from time to time and always wondered about it. I think it’s likely an older custom, which explains a lot; I can also see this being a cultural custom. Do any of you have examples of this happening in your family? Do you have any insight into how this happened, including from a generational or cultural perspective?


My book, Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys: Over 250 Ways to Honor Our Lady, is now available to order from ShopMercy.org and Amazon! It’s a perfect for expectant mamas, baby showers, and just because. Click here to read reviews and endorsements (and if you feel moved to leave a review on Amazon, it would be greatly appreciated! 🙂).

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16 thoughts on “Latest CatholicMom column, and a namey question

  1. I’ve been told that I was supposed to be a Stephanie. But my grandma (also named Charlotte) wanted me to be named Patricia and my great grandma wanted me to be named Anne, so… I suppose they just landed on Charlotte Patricia Anne. 🙂 (My mom is the oldest of her siblings and is named after her grandma, so I think that’s why she ultimately went with Charlotte and then used both my grandma and great grandma’s choices.)

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  2. Not a family member naming a child that wasn’t theirs, but to your point that these things happened more often in the past- When my grandma was born the family doctor who delivered her asked my great grandparents her name. They replied, “Joanne” He said, “No, she’s a Fern” Fast forward to years later, when she went to get a copy of her birth certificate, she was shocked to learn her first name was legally Fern!

    Apparently this doctor did the same thing to several other babies in the area. My grandma legally changed her name to Joanne, as she’d always gone by. Can you imagine if a doctor did that today? Crazy!

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    • My father always told me that the registrar in his small town used to do that. When a baby is born here the family as 6 weeks to register the name at the courthouse. Normally in the 1950s the father would go down and do it while the mother was in her confinement.

      Apparently the registrar would ‘fix up’ any names that weren’t ‘right’. For example my grandfather’s middle name was Frank which he passed down. When my uncle got his birth certificate he found his name was legally Francis. Other kids in the family got the same treatment with my aunt’s names reversed to put her middle name first (this was a family name).

      I have also heard of priests doing this at baptism if the child didn’t have a sufficiently saintly name. I don’t know if that is just an urban myth though. It wouldn’t be tolerated today.

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      • Ohmygosh!! That registrar! That would drive me crazy! (Funny story: I was the Deputy Registrar in my city for a while years ago, responsible for filing all the birth certificates!) I’ve definitely heard about priests doing this — not an urban myth! The old Code of Canon Law required baptized babies have a saint’s name, and the priest was responsible for making sure that happened; the “new” Code (early 80s) simply says, “no name foreign to Christian sensibility” can be bestowed, and the priests are still responsible for making sure this is the case, but you can see how most names are basically fine these days. So even though I’ve heard recent stories of priests fussing about a name, unless the example is really egregious and anti-Christian, there shouldn’t be an issue.

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  3. My mom’s mom was MaryElizabeth and my dad’s mom was MaryAnn. Grandmom Mary Elizabeth told my mom to name me Mary Elizabeth Ann, my mom did what she was told.:). But my mom never liked it. Interestingly enough my mom’s aunt Margy, short for Margaret named my mom , Margaret Cheryl. My mom never liked Margaret and went by Cheryl. In our family photo album for me, it says Marybeth’s 1st bday, then Betsy’s 2nd bday, my mom said they didn’t feel right. At my 3rd bday, it’s Mea’s bday for Mary Elizabeth Ann. She said she brainstormed for ever and finally came up with Mea. I love it, I joke I’m the Irish Mea because everyone spells it Mia.

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    • That’s so interesting! I love that you can see the evolution of your nickname through your photos, and I love Mea for Mary Elizabeth Ann! (Still crazy to me that your mom just did what her mom told her to do! Wow! I’m all for honor thy parents, but as adults that doesn’t mean obedience!)

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  4. Haha I’m cracking up that you used my example! In my case, the naming guilt happened because:
    -my grandmother was a very demanding and guilt-trippy kind of woman
    -my mom is her oldest daughter (after 4 sons) and the first daughter to have children
    -my grandmother had a special devotion to St. Anne (though she didn’t name either of her daughters Ann – it’s my mom’s middle name)
    -my parents wanted to name me Aniela after a great-grandmother and call me Annie so i guess going along with my grandma wasn’t a huge jump

    I never knew this story until I had already graduated college! My parents fibbed to me and told me parts of the story, like the fact that St. Ann was my grandma’s favorite saint and that they considered naming me Aniela but decided not to. It is just a weird weird story. I can’t see a situation where I’d let my mom strong-arm me into naming a child.

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    • A follow-up naming story that turned out differently: my dad always wanted to name a daughter Colleen, and it was in the running when my parents were expecting both me and my brother. When my sister was on the way, they decided to definitely name her colleen if she was a girl. My mom told her mom this, and my grandma’s response was, “isn’t that a little too Irish?” (This side of the family is Polish.) My mom stood her ground and let my dad have his favorite name. 😊

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      • Whew! I certainly have heard of grandparents voicing their opinions — loudly even — but your mom’s reaction here is more the current norm I think. And I’m not at all opposed to hearing “issues” with a name that expectant parents might not see that are totally obvious to everyone else! But man, in the end, the parents have the right and responsibility to choose their baby’s name!

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    • It’s just so interesting! Our collective current idea of naming being so intentional and often unusual probably plays a role in today’s parents having a hard time wrapping their heads around this idea — I really do have a hard time wrapping my head around it! But if I try hard, I can see how it used to be (maybe) …

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      • Bear in mind that this was in 1991 — I don’t think this was typical then! You might have to know my Babi to see how it could’ve gone down… but one day I’ll have to ask my parents to actually get the full story!

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  5. I don’t have a personal example, but I always found the book of Ruth fascinating for that reason – the women in Bethlehem name Ruth’s child! “Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed.” And in the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah, the neighbors and kinsfolk were going to name him, until Elizabeth said he was to be called John, and Z backed her up.

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