St. Thomas a Becket, Thomas a Kempis (author of The Imitation of Christ), and St. Teresia Benedicta a Cruce (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, aka Edith Stein) all have that “a” in common — have any of you wondered what it means? I admit I’d only had a vague, noncommittal curiosity until today, when I decided to try to find out.
Basically, it means “of” or “from.” Thomas à Kempis , who is also known in German as Thomas von Kempen and in Dutch as Thomas van Kempen — “von” and “van” meaning “from” in their respective languages — is so called because Kempen was his home town. St. “Teresia Benedicta a Cruce” is simply “Teresa Benedict of the Cross” (isn’t Teresia a pretty variant? Behind the Name says T(h)eresia is a German, Dutch, and Swedish variant, and that Tessan is a Swedish diminutive and Trees a Dutch diminutive).
I’m sure the “a” in “a Becket” means the same thing, though the reason is less clear. Check out this rabbit hole I went down:
- “Thomas Becket was the son of Norman settlers who lived in the city of London. His father was a merchant who traveled among the circles of French-speaking Norman immigrants. The name ‘Becket’ is likely a nickname, possibly meaning beak or nose, which was given to his father.” (source)
- “Deeply influenced in childhood by a devout mother who died when he was 21, Thomas entered adult life as a city clerk and accountant in the service of the sheriffs. After three years he was introduced by his father to Archbishop Theobald, a former abbot of Bec, of whose household he became a member.” (source)
- “Bec Abbey, formally the Abbey of Our Lady of Bec (French: Abbaye Notre-Dame du Bec), is a Benedictine monastic foundation in the Eure département, in the Bec valley midway between the cities of Rouen and Bernay. It is located in Le Bec Hellouin, Normandy, France, and was the most influential abbey of the 12th-century Anglo-Norman kingdom.” (source)
- “Like all abbeys, Bec maintained annals of the house but uniquely its first abbots also received individual biographies, brought together by the monk of Bec, Milo Crispin.” (ibid.)
- “‘Bec’ is the name of the stream running through the abbey, Old Norse bekkr, in English place or river names Beck.” (ibid.)
- “Becket” is from “Beckett,” which is from “an English surname that could be derived from various sources, including from Middle English beke meaning ‘beak’ or bekke meaning ‘stream, brook'” (source)
Becket could refer to a nickname of St. Thomas’ father because of his nose! Or it could be a reference to Bec Abbey, which was originally named Abbey of Our Lady of Bec! A famous monk of Bec (a Beccan monk? A Becket monk?) was named Milo! Which has separate Marian connections! So many fun discoveries! (So many exclamation marks!)
Back to the “a” — tell me what you know! I see that “à” is French — are all the a’s really à’s? So all these have a French origin? But German seems a big factor here too — but then German has “von”? Is it Latin, maybe? And is there some more nuanced meaning I’m missing, since a Kempis means “from a certain place,” a Becket might mean the same or “son of the father with the nickname,” and a Cruce means “of” in the sense of possession? I’d love to spend more time researching but I have a deadline I should be working on!
I’m totally loving the “a” construction — I could see “a Cruce” being an amazing name in honor of both St. Edith and Jesus. And of course Katheryn has set an amazing example with giving her son the amazing first name “à Kempis.” I mean. So brilliant. And such a really cool addition to Kolbe, Avila, Siena, and other saintly surnames/place names.
What other saints have an “a” construction in their names? I guess we could do this with any “of” saint, right? St. Catherine a Siena? St. Teresa a Avila? St. Bernard a Clairvaux? Or am I misunderstanding how this works?
I look forward to reading your comments! Happy Thursday!
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!