Catholic literary names

Deciding to be an English major in college was a no brainer for this lifelong bookworm and writer — I love good writing and I love a good story, regardless of genre.

That said, more recently (in the past few years) I’ve been really interested in figuring out what makes good Catholic fiction. I’ve read some in the past that was more “Catholic” than “good” — I really don’t like stories that hit you over the head with rosaries and Mass while the story and characters feel too good to be true and/or not well written. (Full disclosure: my own attempts at fiction writing have tended toward this, so one of my reasons for trying to figure all this out is so that I can be a better writer myself.) I’d love to hear what you all know about this topic! Also, book recommendations! (The authors don’t have to be Catholic, nor the stories explicitly so, as long as the themes and/or any presentations of the faith reveal a real understanding and accurate representation of the the things we know to be true, as well as good vs. evil. Do you think that’s a fair definition?)

Anyway, I’m listing here a bunch of the books I’ve read in my quest to define “good Catholic fiction,” along with names associated with the books and authors that might be perfect for literary-minded parents who’d like a nod to the faith as well (this is by no means a comprehensive list, neither the titles nor the authors nor the characters’ names — please leave your additions in the comments! I’m really just listing the names I remember and/or the ones that stuck out at me).

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

  • Charles Ryder, Sebastian Flyte, Julia Flyte, Cordelia Flyte, as well’s as Waugh’s own first name — what do you think of Evelyn for a boy? Would you do it? Also, I’ve always found it hilarious that his first wife’s name was Evelyn as well!

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

  • Henry Miles and Sarah Miles (both first and last names), Maurice Bendrix, Graham

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (the entire thing in one volume is FREE on Kindle today! Follow that link!) (I also have to admit — I had a hard time getting through the books and vastly preferred the movies … 😔)

  • So! Many! Names! Frodo, Meriadoc/Merry, Peregrin/Pippin, Sam(wise), Rosie, Elanor, Arwen, Aragorn, Strider, the Riders of Rohan, Eowyn, Galadriel (I saw a birth announcement for a Galadriel years ago and thought it was SO cool!), and John Ronald Reuel Tolkien — any of those

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (I know, he wasn’t Catholic and the books aren’t Catholic but then again, they are, aren’t they?)

  • Peter, Susan, Edmund, Lucy, Caspian, Digory Kirke, Eustace (do any of you find this usable?), Jill, Gael, Rilian, I even think Nikabrik could be a super cute nickname for a little Nicholas. ☺ Also Clive and Lewis, for the author himself

The Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz (I think this is technically horror, which has *never* been my cup of tea, but I LOVED these books — I felt like their representation of “reality,” as we know it, with the thin veil that separates, was spot on)

  • Odd Thomas, Stormy Llewellyn (Bronwen), Ozzie, Annamaria … I can’t remember others

Some stuff by G.K. Chesterton (I can’t remember exactly what … maybe The Man Who Was Thursday? And some Father Brown)

  • I really really want to like Chesterton, I know he’s amazing. Maybe his fiction just isn’t my thing? (Though I’ve enjoyed the BBC Father Brown recently.) I like Gilbert, Keith, and Chesterton as names, and I’ve seen parents just use his initials (a friend planned on Gemma Katharine if she’d had a girl — G.K. initials — and our reader JoAnna’s son is Gabriel Keith — for other reasons — but she and her hubs like the nod to Chesterton with his initials as well)

 The Fairy Tale Novels by Regina Doman (6 books)

  • A lot of great names, like Rose and Blanche Brier, Arthur/Bear, Benedict/Fish, Kateri, Alex, the twelve daughters of The Midnight Dancers (I can’t remember them all! There’s Rachel, Priscilla/Prisca, Deborah/Debbie, Miriam I think?, Tammy, Linette, Cheryl … [two families with six daughters each combine through the parents’ second marriage, hence the difference in name style])

Catholic Philosopher Chick Series by Rebecca Bratten Weiss and Regina Doman  (2 books)

  • Catelynn/Cate Frank, Portia, Danielle/Dani, Felicity, Sean, Hector/Che, Nathaniel/Nat, Bartholomew/Bart, Justin, Sr. Jane Frances

I Am Margaret by Corinna Turner (I just finished this today and am excited to read the three other books in the series — I was blown away by how good this was)

  • Margaret/Margo, Blake/Bane, Jonathan/Jon, Jane, Kyle, Peter, Mark

I have not yet read anything by Flannery O’Connor, which I intend to remedy soon. Also Oscar Wilde? Right? Who else? Do you know of any more current books, like the last three I listed here? Are there any names you chose for your baby/ies specifically because of their Catholic lit connection?


Amazon affiliate links used in this post.

Book review: Kate Wicker’s *Getting Past Perfect*

I recently posted a guest post by Kate Wicker (with name ideas for her baby) and a birth announcement, and today I’m thrilled to post a review of her new book!

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Kate Wicker’s forthcoming book, Getting Past Perfect: How to Find Joy and Grace in the Messiness of Motherhood, is exactly the book a lot of moms—myself included—need, often. Half memoir, half self-help, it spoke directly to me, which isn’t surprising given that Kate’s often done that for me through the years. She has a really lovely way of wording things, which become little nuggets of wisdom, like from a mom or a big sister, even though, in my case, she’s a peer (we’re the same age, and my oldest is the same age as her oldest).

Not only does she reveal her hard-won insider info that all moms experience and are embarrassed to admit (“there are lots of other days and even weeks when I feel like a total failure when I’m pretty sure I’ve royally screwed up my kids, and they’ll all end up in therapy. Those are the days when I’m in awe of my children’s deep pools of mercy and how eager they are to love imperfect me”), but she frames it all within an understanding of the crosses God asks us to bear, and the assurance that He is right there with us at every step. I loved when she noted that, “God is the only perfect parent there is, and let’s take a look at his children—you and imperfect me, all his offspring who have questioned him, those who crucified his only Son, and then all those who have committed abhorrent acts of genocide, bride burning, and other horrifying crimes of hate. One look at this Father’s broken people, and you’d think he has failed miserably as a parent. So why, then, do we take our own children’s behavior and choices and imperfections as an indictment of our own parenting?”

The ideas of “perfect” and “imperfect” moms and children (but especially moms) are addressed and moved past throughout her whole book—hence the title Getting Past Perfect. Kate says over and over again: you are not everything, and you *are* good enough. You aren’t perfect and you don’t need to be.

I loved how each chapter begins with an “evil earworm” (those nagging, untruthful or half-truthful refrains that get stuck in our heads) and a responding “untarnished truth” based on faith and reality. I loved the “Mom’s Time Out”—a prayer/reflection—at the end of each chapter. I loved that Kate included lots of personal anecdotes and bible quotes throughout, and the reading group guide and additional resources in the back make it a perfect book for individuals or groups. And I really loved this line, which I think sums up Kate’s whole goal: “Dear mamas, imperfect love is still love.” Sometimes—a lot of times—we all need to hear just that.

Kate’s book will be released on March 3, 2017, and is available for preorder from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the publisher itself (Ave Maria Press).

Some more fun things (St. Anne, sibsets, books)

First, our reader Shelby sent me this amazing photo:

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With this note,

Recently went to Vienna and went to a string concert at St. Anne Church. Their tabernacle was kind of unique and it says Anna at the top (picture attached). The website shows a nice picture of their St. Anne statue. www.annakirche.at

Made me think of Sancta Nomina and how in many European churches the patron saints name or statue is right on the altar. St. Stephen’s in Budapest is particularly impressive. En.bazilika.biz

Can you see it there? “Anna” in the middle of the rays? So cool!

While we were on vacation in my parents’ lake cabin last week, I came across old issues (like over ten years old, yes we are that kind of family) of the Franciscan University alumni magazine with these great sibsets shared in the “Class Notes” section:

J0hn
Mary
Rach3l
Th0mas
Jac0b
Sarah
Clar3
(I was particularly impressed that they have a Mary, Sarah, and Clar3, as I think we’ve talked before about whether or not these names are too similar for sisters? I think they’re great here)

M0lly
P3t3r
Nathan
Abby
W!ll!am
J0hn Paul (new info for the John Paul entry on the Sibling Project page!)

M!chael
R3g!na
D0min!c G!les (both names given — could this mean it’s a double name?? 😍)
Gabr!3l
Mar!a Ver0n!ca (ditto D0min!c G!les)

I’ve also wanted to do a couple book reviews recently, but I’m just not getting to them and I want to alert you to them in case you’d like to know about them. First is African Saints, African Stories: 40 Holy Men and Women by Camille Lewis Brown, Ph.D. It was an interesting mixture of saints that I’d forgotten were/don’t think of as having been (or were likely, though not known for sure) African, like Sts. Augustine, Perpetua, and Felicity, as well as those I do know, like Sts. Josephine Bakhita and Charles Lwanga and Companions and Bl. Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi. There are several also listed as “Saints in Waiting” — those of African descent who led exemplary lives and may someday be canonized — and one of them particularly caught my eye today for a totally different reason. Sr. Thea Bowman took the name Thea upon entering the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration for its meaning, “of God,” and in honor of her dad, Theon. Theon! Anyone who’s familiar with the horrible character Theon in Game of Thrones will be as interested to see this tidbit as I was.

Another book, which I’d gotten for myself for Mother’s Day 😁 is The Name Therapist: How Growing Up with My Odd Name Taught Me Everything You Need to Know about Yours by Duana Taha, author of the Duana Names column at Lainey Gossip. It was really sort of half memoir about growing up with an unusual name, and half textbook teaching the reader all the namey things Duana’s learned and her opinions on it all, all of which goes back to the particular ways her life/interests/perspectives have been shaped by having been given an unusual name. I enjoyed it! It was definitely the most unusual “name book” I’ve ever read. Sort of like all the commentary of the Baby Name Wizard and another of my favorites (because of the commentary), Puffy, Xena, Quentin, Uma: And 10000 Other Names for Your New Millennium Baby, without any of the name lists.

Finally, I got Ablaze: Stories of Daring Teen Saints by Colleen Swaim with my preteen and his quickly-growing brothers in mind, and though I’ve put it where I know they’ll see it and be likely to pick it up (the, ahem, bathroom), I haven’t yet asked them what they think of it. I’ll get back to you when I do!

That’s all for now, folks! 😀

On my bookshelf: A Dictionary of English Surnames

I saw A Dictionary of English Surnames (3rd Edition) by P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson recommended in a thread on the Baby Name Wizard site a while ago, referred to as a source of info for first names, and maybe I was the tiniest bit skeptical (how does surname info translate into first name info?) but the person recommending it was a longtime reader/commenter on the site and one whose knowledge base I had come to find dependable, so I bought a used copy.

It took me a little while to get into it. I like to read name books — sit down and read — and this book initially didn’t seem to lend itself to that — the type is small and it has a very dictionary feel (where dictionary=small type, lots of words on a page, lots of technical abbreviations that you always feel like you’re supposed to understand without checking out the key at the beginning of the book, maybe a little overwhelming). But I kept at it, picking it up here and there for a couple minutes each time. I started out by looking up my own last name, and those of people I know, and I really started to get into it. For one thing, there are loads of surnames that are considered “English surnames” for the purposes of this book, that I would never have thought! Like Devereaux. Because “English surname”=surnames used by people living in England, and this book cites instances going back to the 1000s. So, using Devereaux as an example:

Deveraux, Devereaux, Devereu, Devereux, Deveroux, Deverose, Everix, Everiss, Everest, Everist: Roger de Ebrois 1086 DB (Nf); Walter de Eureus 1159 P (He); Stephen de Euereus 1199 MemR (Wo); Osmund de Deuereals ib. ( W); Eustace de Deueraus 1204 P (So); Thomas de Euereus, Deuereus 1279 AssSo; John de Ebroicis 1297 AssSt; John Deveros 1385 LLB H; Robert Everis 1495 GildY. From Evreux (Eure), from the Celtic tribal name Eburovices ‘dwellers on the Ebura or Eure River’.”

(See what I mean about the abbreviations? A little off-putting, right? Stay with me …)

Did you know that Devereaux and Everest are related? Me either! And did you see those dates? A Roger de Ebrois from Norfolk (Nf) was recorded in DB (Domesday Book) in 1086. 1086! The first fifty seven pages of the book discuss how the surnames used in England came to be, explaining a French name like Devereaux (lots of Norman influence).

And there is indeed loads of info useful for choosing first names. Many of the surnames were patronymics, for one thing, identifying a person by his or her father, and some were metronymics, identifying a person by his or her mother — so those surnames began as first names. Other surnames were nicknames, pet names, or diminutives, either for a person’s characteristics, or for their actual given first name. Some of my favorite discoveries:

Fayle comes from the Irish Mac Giolla Phoil “son of Paul’s servant”

Fiddy, Fido, Fidoe come from the French fitz deu “son of God”

Filkin, Filkins, Filson are diminutives of Phil, which of course is from Philip

Pack, Packe, Paik, Pakes, Pash, Pashe, Paish, Pask, Paske, Pasque, Patch, Patchett, Patchin are all from various words (Old French, Middle English) for Easter; another example is given of William Paskessone, where Paskessone=son of Paske.

Scollas is a last name from the first name Scolace, which “appears to be the vernacular form of [Latin] Scholastica, the name of a saint who was the sister of St Benedict and the first nun of the order. It is found as a christian name in England from the late 12th century until the Reformation.”

Vivian, Vivians, Vivien, Vyvyan, Videan, Vidgen, Vidgeon, Vigeon, Fiddian, Fidgen, Fidgeon, Phethean, Phythian are all from the French Vivian, Vivien, which are from the Latin Vivianus, which is “a derivative of vivus ‘living,’ the name of a 5th-century martyr not uncommon in England from the 12th century. Its pronunciation appears to have caused difficulty and it is found in a bewildering variety of forms, not all of which have survived. In the south, the v was regarded as the normal southern pronunciation of f and was replaced by it. As the child says fum for thumb, and fevver for feather, and the dialect-speaker favver for father, Fivian became Fithian, and this, with the common interchange of intervocalic th and d, gave Fidian. The initial Ph is merely scribal. As Goodier becomes Goodger and Indian is often colloquially Injun, so Fidian became Fidgeon and Vidian, Vidgen. The normal Vivian is much more common than appears from the above forms.”

But my very very favorite discovery was this: Marriott is from “Mari-ot, a very common diminutive of Mary.”

Aren’t these amazing finds?? Can’t you see a baby Philip being called Filkins? What about the Easter names, like Pack, Patch, Pask, Pash, Patchett, and Patchin? I can see them all being used as given names, and what an awesome meaning — offbeat Catholic names are my favorite favorites!

Or wanting to honor Grandma Vivian but expecting a boy? I love Fiddian and Fithian, I see them as absolutely doable. (Also, I posted a fun thing the other day that shows what a full name looks like written out in different styles — like a name you’re considering for your baby, for example — and Laura commented that she found a perhaps unsettling disconnect between the sight and sound of some of her name ideas, so I found it particularly interesting that the Vivian quote above included the note, “The initial Ph is merely scribal.” It’s startling, to us parents who agonize over whether to name our daughters Sophia or Sofia, to think there was a time when the spelling of a name was a very distant afterthought — and maybe never even given a thought at all, until or unless it had to be written down for official reasons, and then only written down by officials, who probably decided how to spell what they heard. I guess it’s not that different from what happened to some at Ellis Island. Fascinating.)

(The Vivian example is also really timely in light of the awesome post up over at Appellation Mountain: 9 Creative Ways to Honor Loved Ones With Your Child’s Name. As I noted on FB, I’ve been wanting to write about this very topic for some time, but Abby did it so well! It’s an awesome resource, and the examples given in the comments are really helpful as well. This book could absolutely help with her first suggestion, “Use another form of the honoree’s name.”)

I am barely scratching the surface with the examples I give here — this book is over 500 pages of small-type info like what I shared above. It’ll take me ages to get through the whole thing, so if any of you read it and come across any other nuggets, please share them here!

 

On my bookshelf: Polish First Names

Well okay, I don’t technically own this one — it’s on loan from a friend — but I’ve been loving it: Polish First Names by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab.

Its claim to fame so far has been its bolstering of my argument that there are two acceptable pronunciations of Xavier, as it lists the Polish version as Ksawery. To quote that entry a bit more, because I love it: “A well-liked name in Poland, often given as Francis Xavier. Franciszek Ksawery Malinowski (1808-1881) was a notable priest and linguist from the Pozan region.”

That’s the thing I love about the ethnic name books — the ones that have a bit of commentary for each entry — I learn other things about the country, the culture, the language, the faith. I learned from the intro that,

Polish names are derived from two major time periods: from ancient times until the acceptance of Christianity in 966 A.D., and from 966 A.D. to the present. The former includes native names categorized as Old Polish or Slavic in origin … The second group of names dates from Poland’s acceptance of Christianity in 966 A.D. until the present. During this time, the Church required individuals to receive baptismal names with Christian significance. At baptism, when they were “born again,” early Christians assumed new personal names — invariably the names of exemplary people and saints who had gone before them. Popular Polish names such as Krzysztof and Magdalena can be traced back to the Old and New Testaments … the name was always a Catholic one, derived from the Old or New Testament or from the lives of the saints.”

I thought the bit about the Old Testament names being included in the general group of “Catholic names” was interesting, considering our conversation from the other day.

And, surprise surprise!, I love all the nicknames. The intro states that, “Christian name diminutives often became the ‘pet names’ or ‘nicknames’ used within the family and by close friends as terms of endearment. Some of the ancient Polish spellings would make for unique names themselves.” Some of my favorites from the book include Krysia from Krystyna (Christina), Gosia for Malgorzata (Margaret) (the L has the diagonal line through it), and Klimko for Klemens (Clement).

I found several of the other entries fascinating, like the one for Petronela: “Feminine form of Petroniusz (Petronius) … An old-fashioned name, commonly found among older generation women and nuns.” Isn’t that fascinating? I had to look it up on Behind the Name, to find out why nuns would be interested in this name. I suspected it might be a form of Peter, but what I found was much more interesting: “This was the name of an obscure 1st-century Roman saint, later believed to be a daughter of Saint Peter.” Had any of you ever heard of St. Peter’s possible daughter St. Petronilla? Isn’t it interesting that Poland grabbed onto it? It would take some more digging to find out why — and my hubs is making dinner for me for Mother’s Day Eve right now ❤ so I can’t look it up right now — but, again, it’s one of the things I love about name books. A little tidbit like that can take me on a research trail that I thoroughly enjoy, and I find out such interesting things along the way. All because of the names.

So! If you’re interested in Polish given names and/or Polish nicknames and/or the history and origin behind the traditional names, I think you’ll like this book.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mamas in your lives!


Find out what other books and web sites I recommend on my Resources and recommendations page.

 

“Resources and recommendations” tab

I’ve long thought of listing for you my favorite books and other resources I like and use in my naming posts, conversations, and consultations. A reader recently specifically asked me for such a list, and I finally figured out the Amazon Affiliates thing, and so: voila! The new “Resources and recommendations” tab.

It’s not totally done yet, and I’m always on the lookout for good name books, so be sure to check it from time to time if you’re like me and like to read name books on bad days, rainy days, Tuesdays, beachy days … I got you covered. (And if you have recs for me, I’d love to hear them!)