Spotlight on: Magdalene

I’m embarrassed to say that a mama asked for a spotlight on Magdalene back in August, which I promptly and excitedly added to my list of future spotlights, and then … it’s now March 20 in the Year of the Coronavirus (which of course doesn’t supplant this year’s — and every year’s — designation as the Year of Our Lord), and also the Great Lent of 2020, and I’m sorry it took seven months and a global crisis to help me find the time and presence of mind to sit down and do it.

The mama who wrote to me worried that her Protestant family members would be horrified at naming a little one “after a prostitute,” and also what reception the moms of Magdalenes have had with the name? She also had the impression that it’s a name mostly used by Catholics, and wondered if that was accurate.

So first, the prostitute thing: Though it’s traditional to think that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, there’s actually no evidence to suggest that she was. BUT even if she was — no one bats an eye at naming boys Peter, even though he denied Jesus. Or Paul, even though he had Christians put to death. Or Augustine and Francis, even though they had a dissolute lives before their conversions. Bl. Bartolo (Bartholomew) Longo was a satanic priest. The point being: All of us are sinners, including the saints, and if we only named children after sinless people, we’d be left with only Jesus and Mary. Also, Mary Magdalene has so many good things! She was the first person Jesus appeared to when He rose from the dead. St. Thomas Aquinas called her “Apostle to the Apostles.” As that article I linked to above puts it,

Mary Magdalene is the first among the women following Jesus to proclaim Him as having overcome death. She is the first to announce the joyful message of Easter. But she also proved she was among those who loved Him most when she stood at the foot of the Cross on Mount Calvary together with Mary, His Mother, and the disciple, St. John. She did not deny him or run away in fear as the other disciples did, but remained close to Him every moment, up to and including the tomb.”

She’s a pretty amazing model for a little girl — and everyone — to follow! In fact, Pope Francis elevated her memorial to a feast day in 2016, which, “he said, was done in order to emphasize the importance of this woman, ‘who so loved Christ and was so greatly loved by Christ.'” I wrote about it at the time in this piece for CatholicMom.com; her feast day is July 22.

As for how moms of Magdalenes have found others’ reactions to the name to have been, I too am curious! I see it quite a bit in the families I work with, both already given to older daughters and on lists of names parents are considering for babies-on-the-way, and the mama who wrote to me asking for the spotlight is the first of all those I’ve encountered who have mentioned Mary Magdalene’s spurious reputation. I think I would have heard from others if the reception is negative? Please, moms of Magdalenes, share your experience!

As for whether it’s primarily used by Catholic families — I don’t know actual stats, but I did include it in my article of unmistakably Catholic names, as I’ve had a similar impression. Do you agree?

Okay, now to the name: Magdalene is SO beautiful! I love all its variants as well, both spelling (Magdalen, Magdalyn) and language (Madeleine, Madeline, Magdalena, Maddalena, Magali, and more), as well as its short forms and nicknames (some of these are traditional, some are possibilities): Maggie, Magda, Malena, Lena, Maddy, Molly, Dolly. What a gorgeous, versatile name! Did you know Marlene Dietrich’s given name was Marie Magdalene? Marlene was a mashup! We know Magdalene means, “of Magdala” (a town on the Sea of Galilee), and Magdala is said to mean “tower” in Hebrew, sooo … since Tower of Ivory  (in Latin: Turris Eburnea) is one of the titles of Our Lady, maybe something like Magdalene Ivory or Madeleine Eburnea could do double duty and nod to both of these wonderful Marys!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Magdalene, especially any real-world experience you have with it! 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!

Spotlight on: Agnes

Happy All Saints’ Day!! How about a name spotlight?!

Agnes was requested a couple months ago and I’m happy to be finally getting to it, as Agnes has always been the epitome of a sweet name to me, based entirely on a picture from a book of saints I had as a child of a sweet-looking young woman holding a sweet little lamb. (It might have been this picture, and I think this was the book, which my boys also love, and which I can’t currently find.)

Other than that, however, it was entirely off my radar as a feasible possibility for today’s little girls — being SUCH a grandmother name — until actress Elisabeth Shue named her daughter Agnes Charles back in 2006 (and let’s just sit for a moment with little Agnes’ siblings’ names: Miles William and Stella Street. There’s no evidence that I can find that Elisabeth Shue is Catholic, but her kids sure have some Catholichic names!) (Also, Agnes paired with Charles! I’d never seen such a thing before then, and thought Elisabeth and her husband were SO creative).

Anyway, since then I’ve seen Agnes pop up here and there, including two more celebrity babies (daughter of actors Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany in 2011 [who, weirdly, has a brother named Stellan — so similar to Elisabeth Shue’s daughters Agnes and Stella!] and Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds’ daughter Inez in 2016 [an English form of Inés, which is the Spanish form of Agnes]) and among Sancta Nomina families (though only as a middle name or under variants like Anessa and Inessa). But it still remains really rare, having dropped out of the top 1000 in 1972. Between 2000 and 2010 there were between 57 and 81 girls named Agnes each year, and between 2011 and 2018 there were between 97 and 232 girls so named (with 232 [2016] being the clear peak — more than thirty more than the next highest); 2018 saw 195 baby girls named Agnes.

I think the jump in 2011 is probably due to the first Despicable Me movie (2010) — adorable sisters Margo, Edith, and Agnes did wonders for their names! (The second came out in 2013 [2014 saw another jump for Agnes from 123 to 191] and the third in 2017 [which, funnily enough, saw a drop from 232 to 196].) Do you agree? Do you know what might have caused the jump from 190 in 2015 to 232 in 2017?

Anyway. Agnes is a Catholicky Catholic name. She’s like Agatha, but younger-feeling to me — do you agree? She’s in the Canon of the Mass. I associate the name quite a bit with my mom, as she attended the Sisters of St. Joseph-run St. Agnes Seminary in Brooklyn from Kindergarten through Grade 12, so a lot of her childhood stories involve the name of St. Agnes.

The similarity of Agnes to the Latin for “lamb” — agnus — has created a connection between St. Agnes and lambs that’s in all her artwork though, according to behindthename, her name actually means “chaste” (which is also lovely). The “lamb” connection is so strong that the Irish name Úna/Oona(gh), which means “lamb,” has sometimes been translated into English as Agnes. And one of you readers came up with the brilliant first+middle combo of Agnes Daisy to mimic the sound of Agnus Dei: “Lamb of God.” I love that!

Nicknames for Agnes include, of course, the adorable Aggie (which I know has its own problems for those who don’t want to associate with Texas A&M!), as well as Ness/Nessa/Nessie and Tag/Taggy. Some of its variants can lead to nicknames for Agnes too — I can see the Welsh Nesta serving as a nickname for Agnes, as well as the old English variant Annis/Annes. Speaking of old variants, I think Annis, Annas, Annatt, and Annison — all of which are English surnames deriving from Agnes per Reaney & Wilson — could be great ways to name a little girl after an Agnes without using Agnes, if that was important to the parents (and the nickname Annie could be used).

What do you all think of Agnes? Would you consider naming a daughter Agnes or any of its variants, or have you? Do you know any Agneses, and how old are they? Do they go by a nickname? Happy Friday!


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!

Spotlight on: Agatha

One of you readers asked me to spotlight Agatha, specifically nicknames for it. You know that nicknames are my jam! And I’ve seen Agatha being considered and used more and more, so I’m sure that one reader wasn’t the only one who has wondered about this.

So! St. Agatha is a great saint! She (St. Agatha of Sicily, to be precise) was a martyr who’s listed in the Canon of the Mass, and has a brave but terrible story, as martyrdom stories tend to go. (I will never understand why some people think women are weak.) (I know the terrible martyrdom stories put some people off of naming after those saints — fortunately, there are a bunch of other holy Agathas! And some other really interesting historical Agathas, which Abby from Appellation Mountain discusses in her post on the name.)

Many people think of it as an old name, and it’s not just their perception:

agatha
Screenshot from the Baby Name Wizard’s NameVoyager tool 

Here’s a different version of the same info:

agatha2
Screenshot from the SSA’s Popularity of a Name tool

It was never very popular — it peaked at no. 392 in 1913, and fell out of the top 1000 altogether in 1945. 1945! That’s why it feels like an old name — it has a “stuck in the early part of the 1900s” feel because it was exponentially more popular then than has been since.

But! It never totally disappeared, and is coming back a little bit! Here’s how it’s looked since 2000:

2018: 102 girls named Agatha
2017: 95
2016: 77
2015: 87
2014: 71
2013: 62
2012: 44
2011: 51
2010: 49
2009: 36
2008: 38
2007: 47
2006: 50
2005: 53
2004: 24
2003: 38
2002: 25
2001: 23
2000: 28

Since 2013, it’s been on an upswing! Which is good for those who don’t like names that have an outdated feel, but it’s still got rare enough usage that those who prefer uncommon names won’t be disappointed either.

So how about those nicknames? Aggie is the obvious — it’s adorable, with the same sounds as the super popular Maggie, but the lack of that initial M makes a big difference. And I think a lot of people who might consider Agatha would be thrilled to have such a sweet, spunky nickname for their girl to use on an everyday basis. However, the mama who asked for the Agatha spotlight specifically said that Aggie is a no-go for her because the Texas A&M association is “way too strong”! I do know some people who love that association and consider Aggie because of it (alumni maybe?), but for others, especially those from Texas, I can see Aggie being problematic.

One of the nickname ideas I found in my research that I thought had promise is Gatha. Maybe? I also saw Agatine — I thought that could be cute — nicknames/diminutives aren’t necessary shorter, after all (e.g., John/Jack, Thomas/Tommy, Mary/Molly, Ann/Nancy). And I could see Agatine becoming something like Tina as time goes on, and then people would be like, “Why does your sister Agatha go by Tina?” and you can send them this post. 😂

There was actually a thread on Nameberry with this exact dilemma (Texan family who likes Agatha but doesn’t like the A&M association), and some of the suggestions were brilliant:

I have considered Hattie or the even rarer, cuter Hatsy! I think it works cuz you have the name ending in “ha” and you sort of just transmute the t and there you go!

Hattie and Hatsy are cuuuute! Others that commenters listed included

Ace
Aga, Ags
Ath, Atha
Gats, Gatsby
Gatta, Gattie
Gigi
Hatha
Tag, Tags, Taggy

I think Taggy’s brilliant — it’s an old nickname for Agnes, I totally should have thought of that!

What do you all think of Agatha? Would you consider naming a daughter Agatha, or have you? What nickname would you use, if any? Do you know any Agathas in real life? Do they go by a nickname? Happy Friday!!


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!

Spotlight on: Cosima

A reader asked for a spotlight on Cosima, what a cool name! This was extra fun to work on because I didn’t really know anything about it until starting to do the research — how neat to discover it’s a feminine form of Cosmas! Like the twin saints, Cosmas and Damian!

In fact, let’s talk about Cosmas for a sec — I love that it’s a Catholicky Catholic name (in the Canon of the Mass, even!), and I love that it’s tailor-made for a twin (along with Cosmas’ actual twin, Damian — this mama did an awesome job incorporating both saints into her twin boys’ names! — and also Thomas, which means “twin”). I even love that Cosmo is one of its variants — who knew that Kramer has such a saintly name?? 😀

But of all the Cosmas variants — Kosmas, Cosmo, Kuzman, Cosimo, Côme, Cosma, Cosme, Cosmin, Kuzma — there’s only one feminine variant, isn’t that interesting?

Cosima is an Italian name, but I don’t think it comes across as overly Italian, do you? I mean, I think a family with no Italian heritage could consider it without raising eyebrows, do you agree? (Not that I think eyebrow-raising names are a bad thing!) In fact, Nameberry says it’s “the kind of elegant and exotic name the British upper classes love to use for their daughters” and that it’s “well used in Germany, Italy and Greece.”

Behind the Name says its pronunciation is KAW-zee-ma, but commenters said they’ve heard KO-zi-muh, KO-see-ma, ka-see-MAH, and cho-SEE-ma — if you’ve heard it in real life, what pronunciation(s) have you heard?

Based on those pronunciations, I can see Cosi (cozy), Cosi (kaw-zee), and Sima being doable as nicknames — can you think of others?

There are a few celebrity babies named Cosima, including the daughters of chef Nigella Lawson and filmmaker Sofia Coppola, as well as the daughter of supermodel Claudia Schiffer, who deserves a special shout-out because of the whole sibling set: Cosima Violet, Clementine de Vere, and Caspar Matthew. Ohhhhh my! ❤ ❤ ❤

I also saw several references to Cosima as a character’s name on the show Orphan Black, which I’m not familiar with, and the daughter of composer Franz Liszt; that Cosima was also the wife of composer Richard Wagner. I didn’t find any saints named Cosima, however.

What do you all think of Cosima? Would you consider it for a daughter? Do you know any Cosimas, and if so, do they like their name? Do they go by a nickname?


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!

Spotlight on: Shepherd

Happy feast of St. Kateri! I did a spotlight on her name back when I first started the blog, and she’s the first entry in my Sibling Project. I’ve also mentioned the Auriesville Shrine a few times, which is where St. Isaac Jogues and companions were martyred, and where it is believed St. Kateri was born — the Shrine is close to where I live, and I grew up going there and have brought my boys many times. And also, today’s my brother’s birthday and the birthday of my best childhood friend! A great day!

Given all this, it’s funny that I should be doing a post today that doesn’t have anything to do with Kateri! But I promised a spotlight on the name Shepherd to Theresa ages ago, and I woke up this morning full of determination to finally get it done, so here we are. A spotlight on Shepherd on the feast of St. Kateri. 😀

I’ve been digging word names recently, and Shepherd is one of the best for Catholic namers! We can use it to refer, of course, to Jesus the Good Shepherd. Shepherd and its variant Shep(p)ard literally mean “shepherd, sheep herder,” and the Good Shepherd is one of my favorite portrayals of Jesus. Jesus Himself said, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11) and “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27) — such a strong and comforting reassurance! In addition, as far as a feast day goes, Good Shepherd Sunday is the fourth Sunday after Easter, and in “1963, Pope Paul VI designated Good Shepherd Sunday  as World Day of Prayer for Vocations as those called to the priesthood are shepherds of the faithful” (source). I love that! There’s also a pretty great list of patrons of shepherds, if you’d rather go that route to find a feast day.

In addition to being a word name, it’s also a surname, so it can fit in with other saintly surnames (incidentally, speaking of St. Kateri and St. Isaac, Jogues is on that list of saintly surnames!) — this family has three boys with names in this style, including Shepherd — I love them!

Shep is one of the best nicknames too! It’s good for a boy and a man, and it has that friendly vibe that I always like so much in nicknames. I could also see Sheppy, which is a-dorable, and I’m not opposed to Herd as a nickname either, if Shep(py) isn’t quite right — it reminds me of Hart, which I see from time to time and like quite a bit, and in fact the surname Herd appears to be a variant of Hart, which I don’t know quite what to do with but it’s too interesting to not include! (Note that the first link to Hart is for its use as a nickname for Gerhardt, which is a variant of Gerard, and in that case means “hardy,” while the latter link to Hart as a variant of Herd refers to its meaning as a male deer [stag]. Both of them cool meanings, but neither refer to sheep!).

What do you think of the name Shepherd? Would you consider it for a son, or have you? Do you know anyone named Shepherd? Does he go by a nickname? Happy feast day to all the little Kateris that are part of the Sancta Nomina community!


My book, Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys: Over 250 Ways to Honor Our Lady, is now available to order from ShopMercy.org and Amazon! It’s a perfect for expectant mamas, baby showers, and just because. Click here to read reviews and endorsements (and if you feel moved to leave a review on Amazon, it would be greatly appreciated! 🙂).

Spotlight on: Helena

A reader has requested a spotlight on Helena, which I’ve been trying to get to for weeks … ta da! Here it is!

I’m always interested when variants of the same name all have different feels, and this is definitely one of those names. Helen has an older feel to me, like vintage chic, while Helena feels a bit more on trend and Helene feels mostly out of fashion, but the SSA data doesn’t totally agree with me: Helen is most popular at no. 418, followed by Helena at 516, and Helene at 943. What are your gut reactions about each name?

Then there are the non-H variants: Ellen, Elena, Elaine, Eleni, Ileana, Yelena, and Olena. And maybe Eleanor (which opens up some more variants, like Elea, Nora(h), and Lenora/Lenore). So many gorgeous names! So many ways of choosing a name in this family that suits your taste! I love the nicknames too: Ellie, Nell(ie), Lena, Leni (let’s not forget Dwija’s little Helen Margaret who got called Nellie Peg for a while in the beginning [and maybe still?]. Nellie Peg! So cute! [I can’t find the link to where I read that though!])

But back to Helena for a minute — for the mama who asked for the consultation, and for others I’ve encountered who would like to consider the name or who are, pronunciation can be an issue. There are three that seem to have fairly decent use: HEL-en-na, hel-LAY-na, and hel-LEEN-na. For those who don’t like when names have different acceptable pronunciations, that can be a problem! I did a name poll on Twitter to see if one pronunciation really rose to the surface, and there really was (though admittedly the same size was quite small):

helena_namepoll

So at least among the Sancta Nomina Twitter followers, HEL-en-na wins the day! How do you all say it?

St. Helena of Constantinople is the first holy Helen(a) to come to mind when I hear the name, and is usually the one parents tell me they’re using as patron (as well as the Eleanors), but there are others with the name or a variant as either a birth name or religious name — do any of you have devotions to any of them?

I’ve also seen people really love the meaning, which Behind the Name gives as either “torch,” “corposant” (a new word to me, but how cool!), or “moon,” and the DMNES says its origin is uncertain.

What do you all think of Helena and/or its variants? Would you consider any of them for a daughter, or have you? Do you know any little ones named Helena, and do they go by a nickname?

Spotlight on: Faustina (and another announcement!)

These past few weeks have been so exciting for me, being able to share with you all the news of my baby and my book! So many of you immediately asked about names we’re considering for the baby, and some of you even offered to help! You’re all wonderful. ❤ I’d had the same thought myself — about seeking ideas and suggestions, including from all of you — and had reached out to the amazing Abby from Appellation Mountain to see if she had room to do a consultation for me! Abby offers name help at Nameberry as the Name Sage, and weekly on her blog with her Name Help posts, and I’ve long been completely impressed by her name knowledge and her thoughtful suggestions for expectant parents. (She’s also been a wonderful mentor to me as a name writer, and gave me an amazing endorsement for my book!)

I’m thrilled to share that Abby has indeed put together some ideas for me, and will post it on her blog tomorrow! Eek! I’m so excited! I’ll definitely post the link here once she has it up, and I hope you all weigh in with your ideas/thoughts/suggestions! Many of you also asked if we’d be finding out the gender ahead of time — we never have, and aren’t planning to do so with this baby, but even so we only need help with boy names (our girl name has been the same throughout). It’ll be a little tricky since, as you know, my husband feels strongly about not sharing our boys’ names online, so you’ll just have to give me your best and favorite ideas. 🙂 I’ve given Abby some details and clues about our style that we’re okay with her sharing in her post — I know she’ll lay it all out nicely and will give you good direction for your suggestions.

If all that isn’t exciting enough, I’m extra excited that Abby’s posting it on Divine Mercy weekend! The Divine Mercy devotion is such a special one, both because of its power and because of our beloved St. John Paul’s connection to it. And also, the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception are the ones who are publishing my book, and they’ve been given the gift and task of spreading devotion to the Divine Mercy — they run the National Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, MA, they are *the* publishers of St. Faustina’s diary, and one of their Fathers was the vice-postulator for the cause for canonization of St. Faustina.

So I thought today was the perfect day to post a spotlight on Faustina!

Many of those who I’ve done consultations for have shared that they’ve considered Faustina as a first or middle name for their daughters, and I had the privilege of posting birth announcements for two little girls given Faustina as a first name (here, here), and one with Faustina as a middle. Two of my best friends took Faustina as their Confirmation names, and one gave Faustina to her daughter as her middle name. I love seeing it!

Behind the Name says Faustina is the feminine form of Faustinus, which was the name of several saints, and derives from Faustus meaning “auspicious, lucky” in Latin; Faustus itself is the name of several saints as well. (I think he’s well known enough that I can’t not mention Faust, renamed Doctor Faustus in at least one of the story’s reinterpretations — a literary character who makes a deal with the devil — but I don’t personally think Faustina is [or should be] at all tainted by this association.) Faustine is the French variant of Faustina, which I think is lovely as well. There are actually several Sts. Faustina, and the St. Faustina we’re familiar with (St. Faustina Kowalska) took the name as her religious name (Sr. Maria Faustina) — I’d love to know why! Was it after one of those other Sts. Faustina? Or perhaps because of its meaning?

Faustina strikes me as similar to Christina, with its “stina” ending, and it can take Tina as a nickname as well. I’ve heard it said FAW-stina, rhyming with “paw,” and I’ve heard it said FOW-stina, rhyming with “cow,” so that could be a turn off for those who prefer one straightforward pronunciation, though a minor one I think. I’ve never seen anyone use a nickname for it — other than Tina, perhaps Fia and Fina could work? If you did Maria Faustina, that opens up some more nickname options like Mia, Mina, and even something like Muffy.

I love that Faustina is, like Kolbe, Kateri, Gianna, Jacinta, John Paul, and others, a modern-day Catholicky Catholic name — its certainly got roots, but St. Faustina is a saint of and for our times.

What do you all think of Faustina? Would you use it for a daughter, or have you? Do you know anyone named Faustina, and if so, does she like her name? Does she go by a nickname?

(Find out more about Divine Mercy Sunday here, and here‘s how to say the Divine Mercy Chaplet.) (And don’t forget to check in tomorrow to offer your name ideas for my littlest one! 🙂 )