Spotlight on: Cecilia

Cecilia! You’re breaking my heart! You’re name meaning’s causing some problems! 🎶🎶🎶

Not for everyone, certainly — Cecilia’s definitely one of those names that’s generally favored by parents wanting an obvious saintly name (I included it my list of unmistakably Catholic girl names), and I know lots of Catholic families with little Cecilias. St. Cecilia was a martyr for refusing to sacrifice to false gods; she was the first incorruptible saint; she’s in the Canon of the Mass; and she’s the patroness of music, musicians, musical instrument makers, and singers (among other things), which makes her name perfect for a music-loving couple to consider for their daughter. She was a strong, holy woman, and her name is lovely and feminine. There’s a lot to recommend Cecilia! But I’ve heard from multiple parents who have a hard time getting past its definition of “blind.”

One reader emailed recently about this issue — she would very much like to consider the name, but said, “I just cannot get past the meaning of ‘blind.’ A positive meaning is a must for me … I was just thinking that knowing more about the origins of Cecilia might change my heart a bit.” Of course! Let’s get to the root of the problem! We know it derives from the Latin for “blind,” but why? Who was the first to be named “blind,” and why were they?

Based on my research, I’m going to argue that the definition of “blind” no longer applies to this family of given names. From what I can gather, Cecilia is the feminine form of a Roman gens (or “clan”) name, which originally — in ancient days — was taken from a mythological figure, Caeculus, who was a king mentioned in the Aeneid, and his name was indeed intended to mean “little blind one” (from the Latin word for blind) because part of his mythology was that he showed mastery over fire (and in fact his mother was said to have been impregnated by a spark of fire), but the smoke did affect his eyes, hence the name of “little blind one.” He was really a figure of divinity and strength, and I’m sure the Roman clan didn’t fuss about the meaning of “blind” (otherwise they would have changed their name, right? Or not chosen Caeculus as their “ancestor” in the first place?). (I’m getting this info from Wikipedia, hoping that it’s accurate!  I also read this.)

So really, I think the name originally persisted because of that clan, and that family doesn’t mean “blind,” they mean whatever would come to mind when those who were familiar with them would hear their name, you know? Like, my last name is Towne, but I’m sure when people see or hear my name they don’t think “town, village, enclosure,” which is what the name originally meant. Or if they do, it’s a fleeting thought that’s quickly replaced by whatever comes to mind when they think of *me.* This is all what I tried to articulate in the article I wrote about name “definitions” vs. name “meanings”.

So if the original people with this name were able to look past the meaning of “blind,” and be powerful despite their name’s origin (and there’s even a goddess [of sorts] known as Caia Caecilia), even more so can those who have no connection to them or their origins (mythological or otherwise), and in fact have new connotations that are intimately tied up in the name Cecilia. Because I’m sure it’s only name nerds (and Latin ones too, I suppose) who know that Cecilia means “blind” — other Catholics know that it means “patroness of musicians,” and non-Catholics might know that there’s a musical connection, or they might just know it as a pretty name.

Now that I’ve convinced you all that blindness has nothing to do with St. Cecilia, in an interesting twist I just read this post that says St. Cecilia was born blind, and this post, which says, “The name Cecilia means blind and so, although we don’t know if she herself couldn’t see, she is also the Catholic patron saint of the blind.” None of this info (her being blind, or her being patroness of those who are blind) is included anywhere on CatholicSaints.info (which is where I usually turn for my saint info). In fact, I’d assumed that she’s known as Cecilia because she was a member of that Roman gens, and The Catholic Encylopedia at New Advent seems to support that hypothesis when it refers to “the family of St. Cecilia (Gens Caecilia).”

Back to being able to look past the “definition of the name,” I love that Behind the Name argues, “Due to the popularity of the saint, the name became common in the Christian world during the Middle Ages.” It’s ultimately because of St. Cecilia, and no other bearer of the name (nor, of course, its meaning), that the name has the popularity it has had and continues to have! So great!

As for the name itself, isn’t Cecilia so sweet? So soft and lilting. It can be spelled Caecilia (like this family) or Cecelia, and has some great variants like Cecily, Cicely, and even Sheila! Sheila is an anglicization of Síle, which is the Irish form of Cecilia. I love the Russian Tsetsiliya, the Polish Cecylia, and the fact that Cecil and Cecilio are male variants — so cool! And lots of fun diminutives and nicknames, including the familiar Cece, as well as Lia, Celia (which can also stand on its own with separate origins), Cissy, Cila, Cilla, Cilka, Silke, Silja, and Zilla. Who knew?!

What do you all think of Cecilia? Have you, too, been bothered by the meaning? Has this post helped? Would you consider naming your daughter Cecilia, or have you? What do the Cecilias that you know go by?

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Spotlight on: Stanley and Stanislaus

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!! Today’s the last day of a novena to St. Anne I’ve been praying, in which I included all of your intentions; your children both living and deceased; those of you who are hoping for babies and those of you struggling with your motherhood; and in thanks for all of you. ❤ Be sure to check in again on Friday — I’ll have a special Black Friday gift for you all!!

Meghan asked for a spotlight on Stanley in light of the recent beatification of Bl. Stanley Rother, and Natalie had previously mentioned considering Stanley because of that same Blessed, and Annie said she *couldn’t wait* for this spotlight, and I heard Bl. Stanley mentioned quite a bit in the press for Bl. Solanus’ beatification this past weekend including in this article (in which my sister is also mentioned! Nbd), so! I think we need a Stanley spotlight!

I’m coupling it with Stanislaus because of their shared first four letters and nickname; because Stanislaus is another name and holy man I’ve had on my mind for a while because of the JP2 story included in this post; and because Stanley has been used as an anglicization of Stanislaus/Stanislaw (but they’re actually two totally separate names).

First, Stanley: from an Old English surname meaning “stone clearing” (according to behindthename). According to the SSA it was a top 100 name from 1900 until 1960, peaking at no. 34 in 1915, 1916, and 1917. I did some brief research into what might have inspired that peak, and found this comment on this post:

Stanley was extremely popular among Polish-Americans at the turn of the century. It was used as an Anglicization for Stanislaw. In fact, it was so common among them, that some areas refered to any Polish guy as Stan or Stanley.”

I looked for events in 1914 that might have contributed to the first year of the Stanley peak of popularity and found the 1914 naval Battle of the Falkland Islands that involved its capital, Stanley, and the 1914 Stanley Cup Finals, which is described as “the first officially sanctioned series for the Stanley Cup between” the champions of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association and the National Hockey Association. I don’t know enough about either historical battles or hockey to know if either/both of these events might have really inspired the peak, though. Do any of you?

One of the interesting things about Stanley is that, until Bl. Stanley, it wasn’t a holy name — not the kind of name Catholic parents might have considered (unless it was a family name, or a nod to Stanislaus, etc.). It reminds me of this sentence from this post by a Canon Lawyer on whether today’s Catholic children need to be given saints’ names:

Perhaps if we all raise our children as committed Catholics, names like ‘Ashley’and ‘Jennifer,’ ‘Curtis’ and ‘Todd’ may some day in the future indeed be the names of saints.”

And now Stanley! (It’s important to note that his middle name was Francis, which satisfied the then-requirement for a Christian name; this article about him noted, “When he arrived at the mission, the Tz’utujil Mayan Indians in the village took to calling him Padre Francisco, after his baptismal name of Francis.” So if Stanley isn’t your style but you love Bl. Stanley, Francis is a good alternative. Or Rother, if you prefer more unusual names? I’ve heard RO-ther, is that how you say it? Or RAW-ther?)

Now for Stanislaus: “Slavic stan ‘to stand, to hold, to become’ + Slavic sława, slava ‘glory, fame'” (according to the DMNES), and also known in variants Stanislav, Stanislaw, and Stanislas. Besides the St. Stanislaus of the JP2 story I linked to above (St. Stanislaus of Cracow, patron saint of Poland), another one that I love is St. Stanislaw of Jesus and Mary, also known as Stanislaus Papczynski, founder of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception of the National Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, MA (they call him Father Founder) who was canonized in 2016. I’ve also seen Kostka used as a name in honor of St. Stanislaus Kostka. There are a few other holy men with this name, and I even included Stanislaus in my CatholicMom article Unmistakably Catholic Boy Names.

Whether Stanley or Stanislaus, Stan is an easy, natural nickname. It’s funny too, because before I’d ever heard of Bl. Stanley or had Stanley/Stanislaus on my radar anywhere, my husband told me he kind of likes the nickname Stan! At first I was like Stan?? But I’ve been thinking about it, and I can totally see it! Stan is a familiar, friendly nickname — easy to say and spell and with that old-man feel that’s currently so appealing. In fact, when I was researching this name, I saw a couple different places online where people likened Stan to Max and Gus, so clearly it’s the next Big Thing. Like Max and Gus, it also has usage as a given name on its own — Stan was a top 1000 name from 1933 to 1973. If Stan isn’t your thing, there are other nicknames that are traditional to Stanislaus that are kind of cool, like  Stas and Stane (I’m assuming it’s not actually said to rhyme with rain — Forvo has the Czech pronunciation more like “stah-NEH” — but rhymes-with-rain is do-able here in America I think). (I might advise American parents to stay away from the traditional Stanko though).

Stan- has some pop culture references that may or may not be interesting to parents, like Stan Lee (stealth way to name for a Blessed AND your comic book obsession!) and Stannis on Game of Thrones (which is a [nick]/name I would find SO COOL if it wasn’t for GoT), and the Stanley Cup mentioned above (holy+hockey!). I’ve always been interested in the fact that Obama’s mom’s given name is Stanley, and by her name story as presented on Wikipedia: “According to [her], she was named after her father because he wanted a son, though her relatives doubt this story and her maternal uncle recalled that her mother named Dunham after her favorite actress Bette Davis’ character in the film In This Our Life because she thought Stanley, as a girl’s name, sounded sophisticated” (in that movie, Bette Davis’ character was Stanley and the character of her sister, played by Olivia de Havilland, was named Roy!).

You all know about my devotion to St. Anne, and because I have all boys, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking of ways to honor St. Anne with a boy’s name — I’ve known a couple of parents who have also wanted to do so, and the ideas they and I have had have revolved mostly around the “Ann” sound — Anselm, Anthony, Anton, Anson, Ansel. But more recently I’d thought that the Stan- names could do it — you know, ST ANne! So Stanley/Stanislaus could nod to her as well. (I love getting lots of saints into one name!)

What do you all think of Stanley and Stanislaus? Would you consider either one for your son, or have you? Do any Stanleys or Stanislauses that you know like their name? Do they go by a nickname other than Stan? Do you think Stanley is the next Big Thing, both secularly and Catholicly?

Spotlight on: Balthazar/Balthasar

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway! It’s live until midnight tonight! And happy Veteran’s Day! Thank you to all our veterans for their service!

(I recently activated an ad thing on the blog, which I’ve been meaning to do for a while but was so hung up on how much I hate ads on web sites, and how much I love the clean look of this blog, that I kept putting it off. But with Christmas coming and finances being top of mind, I thought I would go ahead and do it. Oh how I hate it! I hate how the blog looks! But I’m trying to give it a fair chance. I’m so sorry that you all have to deal with it.)

The last name spotlight I posted was for Callixtus, and in the comments Melissa asked if I would do a spotlight on Balthazar (I didn’t forget you Meghan — I’ll do Stanley next!). I love the name Balthazar! It’s unusual but impeccably faith-y, a very cool combination.

Balthazar, also spelled Balthasar (which is what it’s entered as at CatholicSaints.info and at the DMNES) is the name traditionally given to one of the Three Wise Men. Though Behind the Name doesn’t give it the best meaning, the DMNES one (related but with a key word change) is quite nice. (If the former definition bothers you, this article I wrote on definition vs. meaning might be helpful.) It’s perfect for a baby born on the Feast of the Epiphany, and the Three Kings are also revered as saints, and January 6 is their feast day (Gaspar/Casper/Jasper and Melchior are the other two).

You might also recognize Balthazar from The Neverending Story, where Bastian’s middle name is Balthazar (full name Bastian Balthazar Bux! Wow!); Balthazar is used in several Shakespearean plays, and I just read that there’s a Balthazar in Despicable Me 3; and there’s actor Balthazar Getty, whose given name is actually Paul Balthazar Getty. Such a cool way to jazz up a more “normal” first name.

And I love it as a first name! A good nickname would probably make it easier to deal with. These were included in the comments on the Behind the Name entry as traditional nicknames: Balt(ek), Baly, Tazara, Baltík, Baltazárek, Baltin … I’m not sure what language, but Baltek seems like a good option. Bart could work I think, and even something like Bear or Bo. I wondered if the name Balto is related, and it doesn’t seem to be, but I like that option too — but is the fact that a famous Balto is a dog problematic? (Also be aware that Balthus, which is also a traditional nickname, is tied pretty strongly to an artist that I don’t think many parents would want associated with their child.)

What do you all think of the name Balthazar/Balthasar? Would you give it to a son, or have you? Do you like it better as a first or middle? Do you know anyone with this name, and does he like his name? Does he go by a nickname?

Spotlight: Callixtus

I really wanted to post a name spotlight today, and could not for the life of me think of a name to spotlight! I have a running list of names I’d like to feature, but I can’t put my hand on it at the moment (and if any of you are waiting for one that I’ve promised, maybe shoot me an email to remind me! So sorry!). So I asked my oldest, who I had to pick up early from school because he wasn’t feeling well, what some of his favorite names are, and was surprised that Callixtus was in the mix! So that’s today’s name!

My son was like, “I’m not sure you’ve heard of this name,” and I was like, “Do you even know me, boy?!”, but beyond being a collector of Catholic names (although I admit I’ve been surprised a time or two by new-to-me names), I knew a friar/professor in college with the variant Callistus (his religious name), and I’ve actually given it some thought, mostly because of the nickname Cal, which I love (the friar went by Fr. Cal).

Behind the Name gives Callixtus as a variant of Callistus, “the spelling perhaps influenced by Latin calix ‘wine cup.'” Callistus is from the Greek Kallistos, meaning “most beautiful,” and the feminine name Callista is from the same. I just said to my son, “Callixtus is from the Greek for ‘most beautiful'” and he said, “Oh! I thought it came from ‘chalice.'” What a smartie! Our “chalice” comes from “calix,” so he really did know more about the name than I did!

There are a bunch of Sts. Callistus, including two Popes (Pope St. Callistus I and Pope St. Callistus II), and funny enough, when I searched CatholicSaints.info for Callixtus, only Pope St. Callistus I comes up — he’s got an interesting story. I kind of like the X spelling — X is a hot letter right now, and I really do like the connection to “chalice.” I also looked up Calix because I thought I’d remembered seeing that name on a child before, and it does seem to be mostly given as a short form of Callixtus, though a calyx is also the “chalice-shaped” part of a flower. I’m loving all these connections to the chalice! Callixtus is such a meaningful name!

What do you think of Callixtus (or Callistus)? Would you name a boy so, or have you? What nickname would you tend toward (Cal or Calix), or would you use a different one?

Spotlight on: Mina

Kathryn requested a spotlight on the name Mina, which is such a sweet name — I’m happy to do so! Specifically she asked,

Could you do a spotlight on Mina (as a nickname and/or on its own)? I’m really digging the name lately, but curious about catholic/saintly connections.”

Firstly, Mina can definitely stand on its own, though I’m pretty sure it started as a nickname. Behind the Name says Mina is the “Short form of WILHELMINA and other names ending in mina,” like Giacomina (!), but also includes names that don’t end in mina as possibilities:

Zhaklina
Jacobina
Jamesina
Jacqueline

I can definitely see Mina being used as a nickname for Jamesina, and I assume Jacobina and Jacqueline are on the list because James, Jacob, and Jacques are the same name, even though Mina as a nickname for Jacobina and Jacqueline would be unexpected. Giacomina is also related to James, via its Italian form Giacomo. And Zhaklina’s definitely unexpected! Though I just looked it up, and it’s actually a variant of Jacqueline. I think Mina could work for Thomasina too, since, like Jamesina, it ends in ina and has that M in there. And the saintly connections there are obvious, any of the Sts. James, Jacob, and Thomas, and in fact, because James/Jacob is so well represented in this entry, I’m feeling like an argument could be made that Mina could honor Grandpa James or Uncle Jacob?

But I think Wilhelmina is the name that most people would think of as the most natural fit for Mina-as-a-nickname or variant. Wilhelmina is clunky-chic, used by such amazing namers as Natalie Hanson (though they use the nickname Willa), and Mina trims Wilhelmina down for everyday use really nicely. I wasn’t able to find any holy Wilhelminas (unless they use a different spelling?), but there are a bunch of Sts. William to choose for patron.

I could also see Mina working really well as a nickname for something like Minerva or Mary Christina, or any of the names Minnie can be used as a nickname for (for example, actress Minnie Driver was born Amelia, and Nameberry argues Minnie can be used as a nickname for any M name — so Mina too?). There’s also an Italian singer that goes by Mina, but her given name is Anna Maria. I love that!

What do you all think of Mina? Do you prefer it as a given name or a nickname, and if a nickname, what is your favorite formal name for it? Do you know any Minas, and if so what do you know of their name story?

Updated to add: How could I forget Philomena?? Such a great given name to get to the nickname Mina/Mena!

 

Spotlight on: Kelly

One of you readers emailed me asking about the name Kelly! I haven’t heard anyone consider the name Kelly in a long time, it’s definitely in hibernation until its spring comes again (which it will, as it does for most names).

You know I love doing name research! So off to the dusty shelves I went and did indeed find a saint whose name is sometimes anglicized to Kelly: St. Cellach of Armagh. How cool! Behind the Name concurs that Kelly is a form of, as it spells it, Ceallach, whose meaning is uncertain but could include “bright-headed,” or from Old Irish ceallach “war, strife” or ceall “church.” I love the “church” meaning!

And in fact, that ties into another very cool thing about the name Cellach: there was a Cellach, the Abbott of the monastery at Iona (not the St. Cellach mentioned above), who fled raiding Vikings with his brethren and went to the Abbey of Kells (though “kells” here not having any connection to Cellach), which had been founded by St. Columba a couple hundred years earlier. Kells strikes me as a really easy way to update the name Kelly while retaining its Irishness and adding a shot of faith, no? Kells gave its name to the Book of Kells, the illuminated manuscript by those monks from Iona of the four gospels that has been described as one of Europe’s greatest treasures, and my favorite tidbit about it is that it “presents the earliest Madonna and Child image in any western manuscript” (source).

So I could see a Kelly taking St. Cellach of Armagh as patron, and loving the gospel/Marian/St. Columba connection of the similar-sounding and similarly spelled Kells. This could work for both a boy and girl, and in fact Kelly started as a male name, from the Irish surname. These days Kelly is nearly 100% girl (no. 514 for girls in 2016 as opposed to not at all in the top 1000 for boys), but thinking about St. Cellach and the Abbott Cellach definitely shows Kelly’s initial masculinity. I can also see parents loving Kells as a given name, and that might work better for boys these days.

For girls, names like Callie, Kayley/Keeley/Kiley, Ellie, and Zelie seem to have filled the Kelly spot for current parents, do you agree? But Kelly’s still familiar and fits in easily with those names I think.

What do you all think of Kelly? Do you know any little Kellys? Would you name your daughter Kelly, or have you? What about for a boy? Can you see Kelly working, or do you think Kells is a better option? Or neither?

 

Spotlight on: Sunniva

Don’t forget to enter the Feast of Sts. Anne and Joachim giveaway — it ends tonight at midnight! I’ll announce the winners tomorrow!

A fellow name enthusiast recently told me her Confirmation name is Sunniva and I was like Sunniva! I knew next to nothing about the name or the saint and I knew I had to do a spotlight on it!

St. Sunniva of Bergen, also known as St. Sunniva of Norway and of Selje, and sometimes known under the variants Sunnifa and Synnöve, has a pretty interesting story: she was the daughter of an Irish king who fled to Norway to escape an arranged marriage, and died there in a cave; years later her body was found incorrupt. The Irish-Norwegian connection makes her name a perfect one for a family with Irish and Norwegian ancestry (like mine!), especially because her name, though used in Scandinavian countries (especially Norway and Sweden as far as I can tell), is actually Old English in origin.

Regarding pronunciation, I’ve seen sun-EE-va on behindthename (by a mom living in the U.S. who named her daughter Sunniva) and SOON-ee-va on Nameberry, and the four examples on Forvo sound more like sun-ee-VA to me. So it seems there are choices, but unless you all know which is the predominant pronunciation for native English speakers, I’m going to recommend the first, because it rhymes with Geneva, which I think makes for a really easy way to help others learn and remember it. I also like that it highlights the -iva part, which can lend itself so naturally to the nicknames Eva and Evie, Neva, and even Vivi. I also love the possibility of Sunni, so sweet! And Synne appears to be a Norwegian short form of the name, pronounced SIN-na according to Forvo.

Sunniva is pretty rare here, having been given to 9 girls in 2016, 10 in 2015, less than five in 2014, and 5 in 2013 (I didn’t go back farther than that). So a true rarity that has history and faith significance and some sweet and on-trend nicknames!

What do you all think of Sunniva? Would you name your daughter Sunniva, or have you? Do you know anyone named Sunniva? What does she think of her name, and does she go by a nickname?