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! 🙂).

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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! 🙂 )

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?

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?