I got the most beautiful email from Renata a few months ago, while she was still pregnant and didn’t know if the baby was a boy or a girl, in which she shared the following (which she’s given me permission to share):
“I never desired to marry or to have children. I had a falling out with the Church in my teenage years, right as I was starting a chapter of my life where I’d need Christ the most: immigration. A long, lost decade went by and it was filled with trials, depression, and purposelessness. But they were all in God’s plan. Eventually, I found myself moving countries a second time. I came to the U.S. for graduate school. After graduation, I stayed to work here for a year. At this time, I experienced a life-changing spiritual rebirth (by the way, Renata means “Reborn” in Latin) and received a great gift: I met my husband. He is an excellent man. He proposed within the year. And this is how I came to marriage and an ardent desire to have children. Looking at my husband, I desired to “have more of him in the world.”
God blessed us with a pregnancy soon after our marriage. Almost immediately, we picked a name for a boy: Matthew Sumner. Matthew would be in honor of St. Matthew, whose Gospel drew me back into God’s fold. In fact, God called me and gave me a mission by Matthew 5:14 – “You are the light of the world, a city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” This verse was a prominent part of our marriage ceremony. Sumner would be in honor of a relative on my husband’s side of the family, while for me it was meaningful that it the baby be a harvest hand for the Lord: As God summoned Matthew, may Matthew also summon others. We were stuck and nearly devoid of ideas for girl names. We had many options and they were all quite different. Deep down, I wanted a name that meant light, in honor of Matthew 5:14. Liora, Eleonora, Lucia, all these we considered. Somehow none stuck. Eventually, my mother-in-law gave me a book of Saints’ names. We also researched all the women in the Bible together. One weekend, we came across Phoebe and I was taken. Phoebe would be perfect. It means “radiant.” Phoebe was also a harvest hand, perhaps the first deaconess of the Church. And Phoebe is also a celestial body and bird. It is as anchored in the heavens as it is on creation. For the middle name, we settled on Werther, also a family name on my husband’s other side of the family. A strong matriarch bore it as her maiden name. It means “leader of a worthy army.” And so we came to “Radiant leader of a worthy army.” Mind you, we went to the maternity ward not knowing the baby’s gender and still with four different name possibilities for a girl. Even after discovering Phoebe Werther, we just weren’t sure. After a long labor, I delivered a girl. As soon as we laid eyes on her, we knew we’d met Phoebe Werther. When the nurse asked: “What is her name?,” we looked at each other and said in chorus: “Phoebe.” It was the most overwhelming moment of my life. After signing the birth certificate, though, I broke down in tears, feeling remorse that I had not honored my South American heritage and family in any way. And lo-and-behold, the Lord had thought of that too. At that moment, a new nurse entered our room. She was Brazilian. She started speaking to me in Portuguese and congratulated me on the birth of our baby girl. Before she left, she added: “What a nice gift, that you would have a healthy baby girl on Brazilian Independence Day.” Then I truly broke down, and thanked the Lord for being so thoughtful and careful.
Three years and two weeks later I was back in that same ward, delivering another baby with the same midwife. This baby was a couple of days late though, and leading up to labor, I was anxious that once again we had no name settled on for a girl. I had called a conference with my husband and mother-in-law two days before. We agreed that we would not leave the living room until we had at least a first name decided. After much discussion and numerous options, we settled on Tessa. Again, I prayed we could give the Lord more harvest hands. Though Teresa was the name that I kept on coming back to, Tessa was the name we all liked. I had misgivings about it being a nickname, but it did fit in with our other names. We like the two-syllable, two-syllable ending in “er,” and one-syllable last name sing-song we have going. The next day, I went into labor. This time, a baby boy emerged. He looked nothing like his sister, who has dark hair and eyes. He looked angelic, just like his father. He had blonde hair and the longest eyelashes fanning over his blue eyes. Once again, immediately, as we took him into our arms, we knew this was our long-awaited Matthew Sumner. Though we were very much decided on the name, we didn’t know if he’d go by Matthew or by Sumner. I love the name Sumner, and dislike the shortened versions of Matthew such as Matt or Mattie. We just couldn’t agree, though. There were no indications that one name would prevail over the other. Later that evening my mother-in-law came into the room to visit. She was elated and said: “Did you see?! He was born at 5:14PM!” My husband and I looked at each other in awe and we knew this would be Matthew for sure. Three months later, my sister-in-law also gave birth to a boy and also chose Sumner for his middle name. The Lord got two pairs of harvest hands!
We carry names forward, so with this third pregnancy, we arrived set with Tessa for a girl and no definite name for a boy. In the two years that have gone by, I have formally returned to the Catholic church. Notably, I have discovered and fallen in love with Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. When I was confirmed last Spring, I chose Thérèse for my name. And just then it dawned on me: Thérèse, like Phoebe and Matthew are complex names when written on paper, but have just two syllables. Thérèse and Phoebe end in “e” and are of Greek origin. Teresa means harvest. I’d come full circle. It was so perfect. For a middle name, we decided to honor my roots and chose Lourdes, after my paternal grandmother (whom sadly I did not meet, but feel a strange closeness to and similarity with) whose full given name was Maria de Lourdes. Thérèse Lourdes has a beautiful ring and is similar to Werther and Sumner, but special with its “es” ending. If the baby is a girl, we’ll still call her Tessa, but her name will be Thérèse Lourdes. For a boy, we had always like Thomas as a runner-up to Matthew. We have returned to this name. Another apostle, Thomas gives us one of the most beautiful Gospel passages on our Lord’s generosity and mercy toward our incredulity and fear. Coincidentally, the homily for my Confirmation Mass was about this very passage. So Thomas it is. I wanted to use Excelsior as a variant of my father’s name, Celso, which means sky or heaven, but we feel it is too pompous! Thomas Excelsior has a lovely meaning, but we haven’t settled on it. It was then that I thought back to my journey as a wife and mother and my ardent desire of having more of my husband’s character in the world. We have settled on Thomas Christopher, which not only nods to my husband but also to our Lord as it means “Christ bearer.” It was a cherry on top that it ends in “er” like Werther and Sumner.”
I was so taken with this beautiful story!! Not only is it a story of faith, conversion, and motherhood, but of love for a husband as well — I was so moved by Renata’s characterization of her husband as “an excellent man” and that she “desired to ‘have more of him in the world.'” What a compliment! ❤
I was so very happy to receive an email from Renata earlier this month sharing the wonderful news that her baby had arrived! She gave birth to a sweet baby girl, and indeed, gave her the beautiful, meaningful name … Thérèse Lourdes (nn Tessa)!
“I trust this note finds you and yours well, despite the surreal new rhythms we’re all adapting to. To brighten up these somber times, we write with joyful news from our household.
Thérèse Lourdes (Tessa) was born on Sunday, March 22. Tessa is blonde and blue-eyed like her middle brother Matthew and alert-out-of-the-gate like her eldest sister Phoebe. We’re doing well and already falling into our new routines as a family of five.”
I absolutely love the name Thérèse Lourdes and the meaning it has for Renata, and the nickname Tessa is one of my favorites!
Congratulations to Renata and her husband and big siblings Phoebe and Matthew, and happy birthday Baby Tessa!!
Thérèse Lourdes (Tessa) 👣
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!