My CatholicMom.com piece for August posted on Wednesday and I don’t want you to miss it — I know we’re all in need of some peace as the new school year looms (or has already started for some of you)! Check it out: A Litany of School Saints: Protection and Help for the Academic Year.
This name spotlight is a little different from my others, in that it’s more about how to honor this saint without using her name! A reader wrote:
“Would you ever consider doing a post on names to honor St. Hildegard of Bingen? She is such an amazing saint, and we would love to honor her in naming our baby, but maybe there are other parents out there, like us, who just can’t quite bring themselves to name a little girl Hildegard. (For those who can, good for them! But I’m not quite there!)“
I totally agree, she is such an amazing saint!! And while I have a soft spot for Hildy/Hildi/Hildie (either as a nickname for Hildegard or as a given name in her honor), I do of course totally get what this mama means in regards to the full Hildegard. It’s a little heavy!
Before getting into other names that might honor her, though, I want to talk about Hildegard itself for a minute. According to Behind the Name and the Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources, Hildegard is made up of two elements: hild/hiltja, meaning “battle” and gard/gart , meaning “enclosure, protection; yard, garden.” Of those two, the first element seems the most “St. Hildegard,” both in terms of sound (Hilda/Hilde would seem natural to most people if you were to tell them that it was in honor of St. Hildegard) and in terms of meaning (“battle”! What an amazing and unexpected meaning for a girl and a woman! Such a warrior name! Perfect for one of the only female Doctors of the Church!). Other spellings and variants include the English Hylda and the Italian Ilda and Elda.
(And again: Hildy/Hildi/Hildie! SO sweet! For a real-life sweetie pie named Hildegard, see Haley Carrots’ little girl!)
However, if none of these are quite right, I think these other ideas can work:
— Sibyl: The mama who wrote to me had already thought of Sibyl as an idea, since St. Hildegard of Bingen is known as the Sibyl of the Rhine, and I think it’s definitely a St. Hildegard-specific name, if you want it to be. A great option! Other spellings and variants include Sybil, Cybill, Sibylle/Sybille, Sybella, Sibilla/Sibylla, and the intriguing Norman variant Sébire (though I’m not totally sure of pronunciation).
— Rhine: While Rhine is a place name that’s not objectively specific to St. Hildegard, Sibyl of the Rhine makes it subjectively so. In this sense, Rhine could be for St. Hildegard in the way Siena is for St. Catherine and Avila is for St. Teresa. Its sound is similar to Ryan and would make a really fun and different way of honoring her.
— A name to do with “ten”: One of the interesting things I discovered in my research is that St. Hildegard is traditionally understood to be her parents’ tenth child (apparently only seven children are recorded, but perhaps her parents were counting miscarried children, as so many of us do?) and as such was dedicated to the Church as a “tithe.” How interesting! Maybe a name having to do with the number “ten” would hit the right note for some families? Dixie, for example, is thought to have derived for the French for “ten.” (I’ve also loved the idea of Tennyson for a tenth son! I can see it working nicely for a girl too! It doesn’t have “ten” in its meaning, but the Ten- makes it obvious!)
— Bernard, Eugenius, John, Benedict: Men with these names played important roles in St. Hildegard’s life and afterlife. St. Bernard of Clairvaux and Pope Eugenius both encouraged her in her writings; Pope John XXII beatified her; and while Hildegard was popularly regarded as a saint since the fourteenth century, Pope Benedict XVI made it official (a process known as “equipollent [equivalent] canonization,” which I’d never heard of before) and also declared her to be a Doctor of the Church. Bernadine, Bernadette, and Bernarda are feminine variants of Bernard; Eugenia is for Eugenius; Joan, Jane, Jean, Joanna, Gianna, Giovanna (and more!) are some feminine variants of John; and Benedicta, Benedetta, Bettina, Benita, and Benoîte (and more!) are for Benedict.
— Two further arguments for a Benedict name: St. Hildegard was a Benedictine; also, since Benedict means “blessed,” I’ve often thought it can be used in honor of all the holy people (I included it in my book of Marian names for that reason).
— Names with similar meaning: I looked for other names that had a similar meaning and found a few possibles. The one that I think is closest is Blair — it means “plain, field, battlefield,” which is so similar to Hildegard’s “battle” + “enclosure, protection; yard, garden.” Others include Clotilde, Matilda, and Romilda, all of which have that “hild” element contained within (the “ild” part in all of them). And the fact that “garden” is included in the meaning of the “gard” part of Hildegard makes me think of flower names, which would really provide some nice, feminine alternatives.
I know a lot of these ideas might seem too far afield from Hildegard, but I also know that some families might find them to be the perfect solution to the dilemma of wanting to name a daughter after St. Hildegard but not finding Hildegard to be their style. (And if you want to name a son after St. Hildegard, many of these can work for boys too!)
Please share with me your ideas for naming a baby after St. Hildegard without using the name Hildegard! I’d also love to hear from any of you who have named after St. Hildegard, or know someone who has. I want to hear all the details! 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!