Will Giving My Child a “Sorrowful” Name Mean She’ll Grow Up in Sorrow?

I’m excited to share Sancta Nomina’s first ever Guest Post! Please welcome Theresa Zoe Williams, a longtime member of the Sancta Nomina community and mother to three amazingly named children (read about her older two here, and the birth announcement for her youngest here). Theresa is a freelance writer whose work can be found online at EpicPew, CatholicSingles, and Where Peter Is, as well as at her Patheos blog Contemplatio Culture and her personal blog Principessa Meets World. Theresa has also contributed to the books The Catholic Hipster Handbook: The Next Level and Epic Saints: Wild, Wonderful, and Weird Stories of God’s Heroes. Follow her on Twitter @TheresaZoe 

My oldest child’s name is Ruby Mae Anastasia. Even though there is a saint Anastasia, since Ruby’s name doesn’t easily evoke a particular saint or patronage, my husband and I decided to choose someone for her, independent of her name. When I said I wanted Our Lady of Sorrows to be her patroness, my husband’s response was, “But I don’t want our daughter to grow up sad and emo.” I insisted that Our Lady of Sorrows really had nothing to do with being sad or depressed, and, also, there were so many signs and connections to this title of Mary for us including my own devotion to her, Ruby’s initial due date being her feast day, and my beloved Gram’s death date on her feast day (there is more and it’s detailed in the name story Kate posted of my kids’ names). Through these things and a lot of prayer, I convinced my husband Our Lady of Sorrows was to be Ruby’s patroness and then consecrated my unborn daughter to her.

While there are many words that describe my now eight year old Ruby (feisty, determined, and compassionate come to mind), sad, depressed, and emo are not among them. Was my husband’s fear unfounded, though? Probably. While there are plenty of people without this patronage that live lives of great sorrow, there are certainly also people under this patronage who have lived sad lives. My great-grandmother, Mary Dolores (whose name means “bitterness and sorrow” and is a common way to honor Mary under her title of Our Lady of Sorrows), certainly had a life punctuated by great sorrow.

Mary’s life took a sad turn almost from the get-go. Her mother, Annunziata, died when Mary was about ten years old. Mary and her two surviving younger siblings, Minnie and William, were then sent to an orphanage to be taken care of while their father, Pasquale, an immigrant, worked. Sadly, William and Minnie died in the orphanage. Mary was sent back to her father and they were then inseparable until his death. But that time in the orphanage and of losing most of her family affected her for the rest of her life. Family –– and the sacrifices you make for them –– were always her first priority.

Once married, Mary and her husband Lewis (Luigi) had six living children but they also lost two daughters, Eleanor and Beatrice, before their first birthdays (and possibly a third child was stillborn). Later in life, when Lewis was out of work, Mary took a job unloading railroad freight trains. It was hard physical labor and it kept Mary from Lewis several days each week, but she never complained. She always thanked God for being good to her and leading her to a job that could support her family.

Interestingly, as an adult, Mary’s parish happened to be Seven Dolors and she, Lewis, most of their children, and many of their grandchildren are all buried there (my mom, though part of this family by marriage, is also buried there and my dad will someday be buried there, too).

This, I think, perfectly illustrates who Our Lady of Sorrows is and a Catholic view of sorrow. It is hope, instead of despair, in the face of tragedy. It is fortitude in the face of upset and chaos. It is trust in the midst of darkness. And it is gratitude in the midst of hardship. When you look at it this way, naming a child for this title of Mary or in connection to the Paschal Mystery (like my great-great-grandfather Pasquale) is a fantastic way to set your child up for a solid, and even joyful, Catholic life. There is something strengthening in having such a connection to the deepest mysteries and wonders of our Catholic faith, the darkest parts and the most life-giving parts, that undergirds a person’s life in a powerful and invigorating way.

So, will naming your child something connected to sorrow doom her or him to a life of sorrow? Not at all! Just as the name Mary may mean “bitterness” yet we have no problem naming our daughters Mary and do not fear that they will be bitter, so we shouldn’t fear names connected to sorrow. While the meaning of a name can give depth to a person’s life, it is not the only source of identity for the person. Why you choose a name is even more important than the meaning of the name! There are even more reasons why we choose names and these are what give our children breadth and depth of connection and meaning, not only the literal meaning of his or her name.

Here are a few of my favorite names with meanings connected to sorrow: Tristan, Brennan, Lola, and Deirdre.

What do you think? Would you give your child a name connected to sorrow? Why or why not?

Copyright 2021 Theresa Zoe Williams

10 thoughts on “Will Giving My Child a “Sorrowful” Name Mean She’ll Grow Up in Sorrow?

  1. Ooh this topic is so timely for me- we are naming our daughter (due in March) for Our Lady of Sorrows! (Middle name, Pia) And yes, this is something I definitely considered, and the factor that cemented her first name. It wasn’t that I thought she would be sorrowful or have a hard life or something if we gave her Our Lady of Sorrows as a patroness, but more that she herself would maybe want a more cheerful patroness as well. So I searched and searched for a first name/patron that would balance out her middle name- a name that meant joy, a saint associated with cheerfulness, etc. We were leaning strongly towards Elizabeth, anyway, for other reasons but I couldn’t figure out a joy connection until it finally hit me- “the babe in my womb leapt for joy!”

    (Side note, our 2yo also unintentionally ended up with a name that balances like that- middle name Carmela, for OL of Mount Carmel, associated with the contemplative life; and first name Jane, for St Joan of Arc- who could be more of an example of an active apostolate?! So that gave me the idea of “balance” for this baby’s patron Saints, too)

    Thank you for sharing your great grandmothers story, and your thoughts on a “sorrowful” name!

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  2. My mom is Dolores (after her mom, also Dolores) and I wouldn’t say her life has been extraordinarily sorrowful, other than the fact that she does not like her name and goes exclusively by a nickname!!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Lori! (Will say that the lack of intuition from legal name to nickname has caused her problems with airport security etc. which is what would stop me from using an out-there nickname for a child! Her motto is “name them what you’re going to call them!” Haha)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Lori is a fantastic way to work with Dolores, if a Dolores doesn’t care for her name! I always love hearing real-life examples of how people view and live with their names, and how it shapes their views on babynaming in general!

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  3. Story time! One of my relatives was named Maria das Dores, but she was called Dorzinha her entire life. The most adequate translation would be Mary of Sorrows, but the secular (and literal) one is Mary of Pains. Dorzinha = Little Pain. 🤣 Besides the initial strangeness, people would quickly get used with her nickname. (It helps that Catholicky names are super common were are I live)!

    Liked by 1 person

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