Disrespectful to use names for God?

Happy Labor Day everyone! I always think how the baby shower my family through for me when I was pregnant with my first baby was held right around now, and had “Happy Labor Day!” on the cake. Such a funny long-ago memory that doesn’t seem that long ago! My boys keep asking me what Labor Day is, so I finally looked up so I could be precise with my answer; this is what I found, in case it’s helpful for you:

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” (source)

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming!

A reader asked a fantastic question:

I really like the name Theo. I am concerned that Theo translates almost directly to the Greek word for God. Should I be concerned that it is in any way disrespectful to use as a standalone name?

I love these kinds of questions, because the intention behind them is so lovely and respectful! There is a history of not using certain names because it was thought to be disrespectful to do so. Our Lady’s name was one such; Rev. Patrick Woulfe wrote in Irish Names and Surnames in 1923:

[Mary as a given name] was very slow in creeping in to the Western Church. It is only about the middle of the 12th century that we find the first instances of its use in Europe, whither apparently it had been brought by the devotion of the crusaders. Even in Ireland, there were few Marys until comparatively recent times. I find only a few instances of the use of the name before the 17th century. At present one-fourth of the women of Ireland are named Mary. The ordinary form of the name, however, is Máire, Muire being used exclusively for the Blessed Virgin Mary, and, therefore, the most honoured of all names of women.”

(I wrote more about the name of Mary in Ireland here.)

Back to Theo, I posed a question on the blog a while ago about why the name of Jesus isn’t used by English-speaking parents for their sons, and one of you responded with a link to this article, which contained this:

How come English-speakers don’t name their children Jesus? In observation of the commandment against misusing God’s name, English and American Protestants have historically taken a more conservative view on religious names and reserved the name Jesus for the son of God. In England, Mary was considered too sacred a name for common use until about 1300, and it wasn’t until the past 100 years or so that naming a baby after an angel ceased to be sacrilegious. Around World War II, many Protestants started giving their sons names like Michael and Gabriel; before then, the bearers of those names would have been identifiable as Irish Catholics or German Lutherans.

On the other hand, Jesus has been a common first and last name in Iberian countries since at least the 14th or 15th century. For many Catholics from Spanish and Portuguese cultures, naming a child is considered a way to honor God rather than a violation of a commandment. (Similarly, Catholics differ from Protestants in their interpretation of the commandment against worshipping images.)

I think that last bit — “For many Catholics from Spanish and Portuguese cultures, naming a child is considered a way to honor God rather than a violation of a commandment” — is the key here. Unless a parent’s intention were to name his or her son Theo because they believed their son to actually be God, I would imagine any connection to the meaning of Theo in the choosing of it for their son would be only one of reverence.

How would you respond to this reader? Do you agree with my opinion that using “just Theo” isn’t disrespectful? Have a great Monday!

Articles I’ve written on related topics:

Names “foreign to Christian sensibility” at CatholicMom.com

Good-Intention Baby Naming at Nameberry

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!

6 thoughts on “Disrespectful to use names for God?

  1. This is an interesting read because it’s a bit surprising to realize even common names like Micheal were once avoided.

    I think your interpretation is sound. I also think that our culture is so disconnected from classical languages and traditional theological words that names like this aren’t immediately recognized as religious. It would be different if you named a child “God.”


  2. This is so interesting. Reading this made me think of even more questions.
    For example, the name Immaculata, which litterally means “imaculate” as in not capable on sinning. Of course if you choose that name for your child, it doesn’t mean she will never sin. It’s just a way to honor and remember Our Lady every time you say her name.
    But on the other hand, I don’t feel comfortable using the name Salvador, which literally means Savior, because we have only one savior and it feels weird calling another person savior.
    I will say that God really uses everything for good and that I’ve seen that applied to names, too: I know a young man named Jesus, because he was born on December 25th, and he’s now a seminarian finishing up is studies to become a priest!


  3. I’ve been in this conversation about Theodore before with a linguist. She said that it isn’t like calling your son God if you use Theo as a NN because in Greek Theos is the word for God. She of course was a lot more elaborate than that, but that was my major take away. 🙂


  4. If you’re really worried, Theo is used as a prefix meaning “people” in traditional Germanic naming eg. Theodoric meaning people-ruler (and the source of the names Dietrich/Derek), Theobald meaning bold-people etc.

    I always find it very interesting that Jesus is so taboo as a name in Anglo cultures, but nobody would even think twice about naming a baby Joshua. I guess it’s similar to the above Irish versions of Mary, you have a specific and a general name.


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