Spotlight on: Hildegard

My CatholicMom.com piece for August posted on Wednesday and I don’t want you to miss it — I know we’re all in need of some peace as the new school year looms (or has already started for some of you)! Check it out: A Litany of School Saints: Protection and Help for the Academic Year.

This name spotlight is a little different from my others, in that it’s more about how to honor this saint without using her name! A reader wrote:

Would you ever consider doing a post on names to honor St. Hildegard of Bingen? She is such an amazing saint, and we would love to honor her in naming our baby, but maybe there are other parents out there, like us, who just can’t quite bring themselves to name a little girl Hildegard. (For those who can, good for them! But I’m not quite there!)

I totally agree, she is such an amazing saint!! And while I have a soft spot for Hildy/Hildi/Hildie (either as a nickname for Hildegard or as a given name in her honor), I do of course totally get what this mama means in regards to the full Hildegard. It’s a little heavy!

Before getting into other names that might honor her, though, I want to talk about Hildegard itself for a minute. According to Behind the Name and the Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources, Hildegard is made up of two elements: hild/hiltja, meaning “battle” and gard/gart , meaning “enclosure, protection; yard, garden.” Of those two, the first element seems the most “St. Hildegard,” both in terms of sound (Hilda/Hilde would seem natural to most people if you were to tell them that it was in honor of St. Hildegard) and in terms of meaning (“battle”! What an amazing and unexpected meaning for a girl and a woman! Such a warrior name! Perfect for one of the only female Doctors of the Church!). Other spellings and variants include the English Hylda and the Italian Ilda and Elda.

(And again: Hildy/Hildi/Hildie! SO sweet! For a real-life sweetie pie named Hildegard, see Haley Carrots’ little girl!)

However, if none of these are quite right, I think these other ideas can work:

— Sibyl: The mama who wrote to me had already thought of Sibyl as an idea, since St. Hildegard of Bingen is known as the Sibyl of the Rhine, and I think it’s definitely a St. Hildegard-specific name, if you want it to be. A great option! Other spellings and variants include Sybil, Cybill, Sibylle/Sybille, Sybella, Sibilla/Sibylla, and the intriguing Norman variant Sébire (though I’m not totally sure of pronunciation).

— Rhine: While Rhine is a place name that’s not objectively specific to St. Hildegard, Sibyl of the Rhine makes it subjectively so. In this sense, Rhine could be for St. Hildegard in the way Siena is for St. Catherine and Avila is for St. Teresa. Its sound is similar to Ryan and would make a really fun and different way of honoring her.

— A name to do with “ten”: One of the interesting things I discovered in my research is that St. Hildegard is traditionally understood to be her parents’ tenth child (apparently only seven children are recorded, but perhaps her parents were counting miscarried children, as so many of us do?) and as such was dedicated to the Church as a “tithe.” How interesting! Maybe a name having to do with the number “ten” would hit the right note for some families? Dixie, for example, is thought to have derived for the French for “ten.” (I’ve also loved the idea of Tennyson for a tenth son! I can see it working nicely for a girl too! It doesn’t have “ten” in its meaning, but the Ten- makes it obvious!)

— Bernard, Eugenius, John, Benedict: Men with these names played important roles in St. Hildegard’s life and afterlife. St. Bernard of Clairvaux and Pope Eugenius both encouraged her in her writings; Pope John XXII beatified her; and while Hildegard was popularly regarded as a saint since the fourteenth century, Pope Benedict XVI made it official (a process known as “equipollent [equivalent] canonization,” which I’d never heard of before) and also declared her to be a Doctor of the Church. Bernadine, Bernadette, and Bernarda are feminine variants of Bernard; Eugenia is for Eugenius; Joan, Jane, Jean, Joanna, Gianna, Giovanna (and more!) are some feminine variants of John; and Benedicta, Benedetta, Bettina, Benita, and Benoîte (and more!) are for Benedict.

— Two further arguments for a Benedict name: St. Hildegard was a Benedictine; also, since Benedict means “blessed,” I’ve often thought it can be used in honor of all the holy people (I included it in my book of Marian names for that reason).

— Names with similar meaning: I looked for other names that had a similar meaning and found a few possibles. The one that I think is closest is Blair — it means “plain, field, battlefield,” which is so similar to Hildegard’s “battle” + “enclosure, protection; yard, garden.” Others include Clotilde, Matilda, and Romilda, all of which have that “hild” element contained within (the “ild” part in all of them). And the fact that “garden” is included in the meaning of the “gard” part of Hildegard makes me think of flower names, which would really provide some nice, feminine alternatives.

I know a lot of these ideas might seem too far afield from Hildegard, but I also know that some families might find them to be the perfect solution to the dilemma of wanting to name a daughter after St. Hildegard but not finding Hildegard to be their style. (And if you want to name a son after St. Hildegard, many of these can work for boys too!)

Please share with me your ideas for naming a baby after St. Hildegard without using the name Hildegard! I’d also love to hear from any of you who have named after St. Hildegard, or know someone who has. I want to hear all the details! 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: Quinn

Happy Tuesday everybody! I’ve done a bunch of private consultations recently (which is totally fine and wonderful! There’s absolutely no requirement or pressure to have your consultation posted here for reader feedback!), so I don’t know when my next Monday consultation post will be — I just wanted to let you know, because I can see from my traffic stats (generally, and specifically yesterday) that a lot of people pop in on Mondays to see them!

I’ve been wanting to do a spotlight on Quinn for a while, ever since I posted this baby name consultation back in January, where I stated confidently: “Quinn: not in top 1000 for girls; no. 384 for boys” and reader VEL gently pointed out in the comments: “I’m pretty sure Quinn ranked #84 for girls for 2018:)”. She was right, of course — I have no idea how I got that wrong, since I looked up Quinn for both girls and boys in the SSA data — could I have spelled it wrong? Who knows, but the point remains that I was 100% completely wrong and that Quinn is currently a top 100 name for girls, and it’s got a great faith connection that lots of parents of have been loving: Ven. Edel Quinn.

I’ve written about the Irish Ven. Edel before, including my encounter with an actual real-life Edel in Ireland, in several baby name consultations (including the one mentioned above), and these Sancta Nomina babies who were named after her: Kyteria Quinn and Harper Edel. She’s pretty amazing! And totally my go-to for a holy patron for a Quinn, girl or boy. I don’t know of any other Ven./Bl./St. with the name Quinn, but I’ve also seen Quinn suggested as a nickname for Aquinas for a boy, which is pretty awesome, and there’s also the girl name Aquinnah (like one of Michael J. Fox’s daughters), which can take Quinn as a nickname and St. Thomas Aquinas as a patron. The spelling Quin might feel more natural as a nickname for Aquinas and Quintus, and doing so moves it a bit away from the Irish surname feel, which some parents might prefer.

Here on the blog, I’ve seen Quinn suggested for a fifth baby because of its similarity in sound to “quint,” as a namesake for St. Quentin, and in honor of Our Lady because of its similarity in sound to “queen.” I totally think they work! (Though Quinn has no etymological connection to any of these, being instead from the anglicization of an Irish surname meaning “descendant of Conn,” where Conn means “head” or “chief.” So then maybe using it to mean “queen” is pretty accurate after all!)

As a given name, I first heard it on a little boy years ago, before I was married, and I thought it was so cool. These days, I mostly hear it on girls (even though I claimed in that consultation I mentioned above that it wasn’t nearly as popular for girls as for boys, I really just don’t know where my head was). We have a little friend who’s just a couple months older than Luke named Quinn, and her family calls her Quinnie and so does my 6yo, and it’s the cutest thing ever. I will also say that with at least one of the little Quinns I know, I spent months thinking her name was Gwen before realizing it’s actually Quinn (and I try to be really careful about names!). But I don’t think that’s a big deal at all — both Quinn and Gwen are beautiful!

What do you all think of Quinn? Do you like it better for a boy or a girl? Would you ever consider the name Quinn for your son or daughter, or have you? If not as a given name, maybe Quinn or Quin as a nickname for something else? Do you know any Quinns? Do they like their name?


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: Romilly

Happy Friday of the Octave of Easter!! (A meat Friday!)

You all must know that one of my favorite things is to find Catholic meaning in names that don’t otherwise come across as Catholic. Tiffany and Miles are two examples — I loved finding out that Tiffany has medieval roots and refers to the Epiphany via its other name, Theophany; it used to be given to girls born on that feast day. And of course you’ve heard me babble on about how Miles is one of my favorite discoveries (it has a history of usage in Ireland as an anglicization of the Old Irish name Maolmhuire, meaning “servant of the Blessed Virgin Mary”). Both of them are names that, generally speaking, people wouldn’t know have such impeccable faith connections. I find such discoveries to be thrilling!

I came across another one recently: Romilly.

I don’t know what your impression of Romilly is, but mine has always been: very British feel; easy to say and spell but very uncommon; a pretty look, rhythm, and sound; all in all, a pretty cool name. Additionally, I knew that actress Emma Thompson named her daughter Gaia Romilly. The Baby Name Wizard says, “Only anglophiles and name-ophiles are likely to know this name,” and offers as style matches such treats as Sidony (another of my favorite discoveries!), Jessamine, Briony, Barnaby, and Pippin.

(As an amusing side note, when I asked Mr. Nomina what his impression of Romilly is, he seemed unfamiliar with it but said it reminded him of Romulan/Romulus, “so it’s a good Star Trek name” 😂😂😂; remoulade; and Amélie. So make of that what you will.)

Hubby wasn’t far off with Romulus, though, and that’s where Romilly’s Catholic-ness comes from: according to Behind the Name, Romilly is from an English surname derived from the names of several Norman towns whose names were ultimately derived from Romulus — the name of the mythological co-founder of Rome, and that actually means “of Rome” in Latin. So Romilly is from the Latin for “of Rome,” and if that isn’t Catholicky Catholic (in a fun, sneaky way!), I don’t know what is! (I’ve written similarly about the names Roman and Tiber.)

Though even nickname-loving me would probably want to use the full Romilly always, Romy and Milly are sweet nicknames. What others? Because I love to brainstorm nicknames, maybe Molly and Lily? It also makes me think of Rilla, like Rilla of Ingleside (though of course, there Rilla is a nickname for Marilla, specifically Anne and Gil’s daughter Bertha Marilla Blythe. So maybe if you like Rilla but not Marilla and you want a longer given name, Romilly’s your girl? Or have I gone too far??)

What do you think of Romilly? Would you consider it for a daughter (or a son — Behind the Name and the Baby Name Wizard both say it’s used for both boys and girls, though I’ve only ever thought of it as a girl’s name), or have you named a child Romilly? Do you know anyone named Romilly? 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: Willow and Willa

I’ve been planning for months to post this spotlight on the Friday before Palm Sunday, but being only a day late, and being before Palm Sunday, is, in this time, a real success on my end!

I read a charming piece at First Things a while ago by Brian Doyle called “Willow Sunday,” which was about a Palm Sunday during his growing up when his parish couldn’t afford palm fronds and used willow branches instead. Already my mind was clicking about the possibility of Willow for a Palm Sunday baby if I belonged to a parish that had a story like that when I read this bit in an article by Fr. Francis X. Reiser called “History of Palm Sunday”:

“The various names for the Sunday before Easter come from the plants used — palms (Palm Sunday) or branches in general (Branch Sunday; Domingo de Ramos; Dimanche des Rameaux). In most countries of Europe real palms are unobtainable, so in their place people use many other plants: olive branches (in Italy), box, yew, spruce, willows, and pussy willows. In fact, some plants have come to be called palms because of this usage, as the yew in Ireland, the willow in England (palm-willow) and in Germany (Palmkatzchen). From the use of willow branches Palm Sunday was called Willow Sunday in parts of England and Poland, and in Lithuania Verbu Sekmadienis (Willow-twig Sunday). The Greek Church uses the names Sunday of the Palm-carrying and Hosanna Sunday.” (my emphasis)

Willow Sunday is actually a name for Palm Sunday! (The Catholic Encyclopedia notes this as well.) I love the idea of Willow for a baby girl born on or near Palm Sunday!

Of course, I couldn’t do a spotlight on Willow and not include Willa, which at least one of you used in part as a nod to Willa Cather (which I swooned about when I first heard it and still do). Behind the Name has Willow as being from the Old English word welig, while Willa is a feminine form of William. I personally would consider both Willow and Willa if I wanted to name a baby girl after a William; similarly, I would consider both Willow and Willa if I wanted to name a baby girl after Palm Sunday. Do you agree? I love that both the holy Williams and Palm Sunday add some real Catholic oomph to these names!

What do you think of Willow and Willa? Have you named a daughter Willow or Willa, or would you? If so, is it because of Willa Cather or father/grandfather/uncle William, or did you already know about the Palm Sunday connection?


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: 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!


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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?