I’m embarrassed to say that a mama asked for a spotlight on Magdalene back in August, which I promptly and excitedly added to my list of future spotlights, and then … it’s now March 20 in the Year of the Coronavirus (which of course doesn’t supplant this year’s — and every year’s — designation as the Year of Our Lord), and also the Great Lent of 2020, and I’m sorry it took seven months and a global crisis to help me find the time and presence of mind to sit down and do it.
The mama who wrote to me worried that her Protestant family members would be horrified at naming a little one “after a prostitute,” and also what reception the moms of Magdalenes have had with the name? She also had the impression that it’s a name mostly used by Catholics, and wondered if that was accurate.
So first, the prostitute thing: Though it’s traditional to think that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, there’s actually no evidence to suggest that she was. BUT even if she was — no one bats an eye at naming boys Peter, even though he denied Jesus. Or Paul, even though he had Christians put to death. Or Augustine and Francis, even though they had a dissolute lives before their conversions. Bl. Bartolo (Bartholomew) Longo was a satanic priest. The point being: All of us are sinners, including the saints, and if we only named children after sinless people, we’d be left with only Jesus and Mary. Also, Mary Magdalene has so many good things! She was the first person Jesus appeared to when He rose from the dead. St. Thomas Aquinas called her “Apostle to the Apostles.” As that article I linked to above puts it,
“Mary Magdalene is the first among the women following Jesus to proclaim Him as having overcome death. She is the first to announce the joyful message of Easter. But she also proved she was among those who loved Him most when she stood at the foot of the Cross on Mount Calvary together with Mary, His Mother, and the disciple, St. John. She did not deny him or run away in fear as the other disciples did, but remained close to Him every moment, up to and including the tomb.”
She’s a pretty amazing model for a little girl — and everyone — to follow! In fact, Pope Francis elevated her memorial to a feast day in 2016, which, “he said, was done in order to emphasize the importance of this woman, ‘who so loved Christ and was so greatly loved by Christ.'” I wrote about it at the time in this piece for CatholicMom.com; her feast day is July 22.
As for how moms of Magdalenes have found others’ reactions to the name to have been, I too am curious! I see it quite a bit in the families I work with, both already given to older daughters and on lists of names parents are considering for babies-on-the-way, and the mama who wrote to me asking for the spotlight is the first of all those I’ve encountered who have mentioned Mary Magdalene’s spurious reputation. I think I would have heard from others if the reception is negative? Please, moms of Magdalenes, share your experience!
As for whether it’s primarily used by Catholic families — I don’t know actual stats, but I did include it in my article of unmistakably Catholic names, as I’ve had a similar impression. Do you agree?
Okay, now to the name: Magdalene is SO beautiful! I love all its variants as well, both spelling (Magdalen, Magdalyn) and language (Madeleine, Madeline, Magdalena, Maddalena, Magali, and more), as well as its short forms and nicknames (some of these are traditional, some are possibilities): Maggie, Magda, Malena, Lena, Maddy, Molly, Dolly. What a gorgeous, versatile name! Did you know Marlene Dietrich’s given name was Marie Magdalene? Marlene was a mashup! We know Magdalene means, “of Magdala” (a town on the Sea of Galilee), and Magdala is said to mean “tower” in Hebrew, sooo … since Tower of Ivory (in Latin: Turris Eburnea) is one of the titles of Our Lady, maybe something like Magdalene Ivory or Madeleine Eburnea could do double duty and nod to both of these wonderful Marys!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on Magdalene, especially any real-world experience you have with it! Happy Friday everyone!!
My book, Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys: Over 250 Ways to Honor Our Lady (Marian Press, 2018), is available to order from ShopMercy.org and Amazon — perfect for expectant parents, name enthusiasts, and lovers of Our Lady!