The legality of Confirmation names, and going by a different name than your legal name

I was going through some paperwork of my father-in-law’s yesterday and found the court order legally changing his last name from the consonant-heavy surname his father brought with him from Poland to an English surname that shares enough sounds with the original Polish surname to make sense of the change. Though my FIL died when my husband was small, we’ve always known that he and his siblings legally changed their surname, so that wasn’t a surprise — but what was a surprise was that, in the documents, I read that my FIL had been using this new English surname his whole life. He’d been registered under it in school and had it on his high school diploma, and according to the document, “All records of employment, registration under the Selective Service Act, and voting records” had already, always, been under the new English surname, despite the fact that he didn’t apply for the legal change until he was 25. So interesting, right?!

One question that my husband and I have had that wasn’t answered by this document, though, is when and how he took his Confirmation name as his legal middle name (he hadn’t been given a middle name at birth). This document has his full name as including the Confirmation-as-middle, but no mention of making it so legally, so I assume it had already been done. Or not? Maybe it didn’t need to be? This was back in the 50’s, and also, even now, in New York State anyway (which is where I am and where my FIL lived his whole life), you can go by any name you want without getting a legal name change. According to the New York State Unified Court System,

In New York State, you have the right to adopt any name you wish by using that name for everything in your life. This does not apply to children or prison inmates. But, it may be better to legally change your name because most government agencies will not accept your name change without a court order.

You can ask the court to legally change the name you were given at birth, adoption or marriage.”

And indeed, in my FIL’s application for legal name change, he wrote that having his surname legally changed to the surname he’d always used “will prevent confusion and possible legal difficulties for me in the future.” So I wonder if his usage of his Confirmation name as his middle name was just one of those things — he just started using it, and that was fine, and no one bothered about it, and it became so established as his middle name (or it was such a common practice for people to do that kind of thing) that he didn’t even feel the need to explicitly mention it in his application for his surname change? (In preparing to write this post this morning, I re-read this article I’d written for CatholicMom on middle names — I found it so interesting all over again! Haha!)

Anyway, that reminded me of something I read recently about Confirmation names actually having usage in real life that I’d wanted to share with you. This is from the Christian Names entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia (1911) on New Advent:

The practice of adopting a new name was not limited to baptism. Many medieval examples show that any notable change of condition, especially in the spiritual order, was often accompanied by the reception of a new name. In the eighth century the two Englishmen, Winfrith and Willibald, going on different occasions to Rome received from the reigning pontiff, along with a new commission to preach, the names respectively of Boniface and Clement. So again Emma of Normandy, when she married King Ethelred in 1002, took the name Ælfgifu; while, of course, the reception of a new name upon entering a religious order is almost universal even in our day. It is not strange, then, that at confirmation, in which the interposition of a godfather emphasizes the resemblance with baptism, it should have become customary to take a new name, though usually no great use is made of it. In one case, however, that of Henry III, King of France — who being the godson of our English Edward VI had been christened Edouard Alexandre in 1551 — the same French prince at confirmation received the name of Henri, and by this he afterwards reigned. Even in England the practice of adopting a new name at confirmation was remembered after the Reformation, for Sir Edward Coke declares that a man might validly buy land by his confirmation name, and he recalls the case of a Sir Francis Gawdye, late Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, whose name of baptism was Thomas and his name of confirmation Francis (Co. Litt. 3a).”

I’d never heard a story like that about Confirmation names before!

You know I’m always interested in hearing personal, real-life, interesting name stories, so feel free to share!

St. Francis de Sales Writing Contest: Second Place Winner

Last month my CatholicMom spot was devoted to sharing the first-place winning essay of the writing contest I instituted this spring at my alma mater; this month I’m delighted to share the second-place winning essay, which posted today! Be sure to hop on over and read it! I’m so proud of the two winners, they did such a great job. 🎉

(As a bonus, you can even catch a sneak peek of me in the background of the photo. 🙂 )

(I explain all about the contest here.)

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St. Francis de Sales Writing Contest: First Place Winner

I had the great blessing of instituting a writing contest at my alma mater this spring, the middle/high school where my dreams of being a writer were encouraged and supported by wonderful teachers, and which provided a great springboard for my studies of writing, literature, and language in college and grad school, all of which led to me actually being able to call myself a professional writer. I’m so pleased to be able to encourage the current student writers in the way that I was! ❤

I named the contest for St. Francis de Sales because he’s the patron of authors, the Catholic Press, and writers in general, and he’s one of the saints I’ve chosen as patron of my own writing — I’m constantly asking for his help and intercession, that my writing serves God in the way it’s supposed to. For sure, this blog and all that has come out of it has been an answer to that prayer!

This is the first of what I hope will be many years of this contest, which will focus on the intersection of faith and writing through the topic chosen. For this, its inaugural year, the topic was: What Confirmation name did you or will you choose, and why? You might remember I’d written an article for CatholicMom.com last year providing guidelines on choosing a Confirmation name, which included a quote from my bishop, Bishop Scharfenberger, and the students were directed to read it before writing their essays.

Setting a high bar for a writing contest includes having good judges, and I was so thrilled to have secured Ms. Kate Blain, editor of my diocese’s newspaper The Evangelist; Mr. Giovanni Virgiglio, Superintendent of Schools for the Albany Diocese; and Fr. James Ebert, current pastor of Mater Christi parish in Albany and former chaplain of my alma mater, as well as a 1999 graduate. The contest was open to tenth and eleventh graders, and they should all be proud to know that the judges commented to me on what thoughtful teens they are, and what a hard choice it was.

Two winners were chosen, with the first-place winner receiving $100 and publication of his essay on CatholicMom.com; the second-place winner’s essay will also be published on CatholicMom.com. Ms. Blain at The Evangelist has also expressed interest in publishing the essays! All in all, the contest turned out just as I’d hoped — a true encouragement of faith and writing.

I’m so pleased to present the first-place essay, which posted today on CatholicMom!

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All about Confirmation names over at CatholicMom.com

My February CatholicMom.com column posted today, check it out! Choosing a Confirmation Name

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I know we’ve talked about them before, but if you have more to say about Confirmation names, please do! And if you think this article would be helpful to anyone making their Confirmation this spring, please share it (I wrote it with teens in mind).

Reading round-up

Just a couple quick things that I enjoyed recently:

I Love My Kid’s Unusual Name, about a Mary Cecilia nicked Mamie and her parents’ struggle over the naming process. I guess it’s true that I don’t hear Mamie too much, but I’m not sure I would have classified it as “unusual” until reading this. I guess it is, though “Mary Cecilia” has high-powered Sancta Nomina style. 🙂

And two things from the Twitter-verse:

  • Check out #HipsterConfirmationSaint courtesy of The Catholic Hipster (and fellow CatholicMom.com writer) Tommy Tighe, in which he calls for you to share your Confirmation name with him, if it’s the name of a Hipster Saint (and even if it’s not). Don’t know what the qualifications for “hipster” are? Me neither! But I do love a good name convo so head on over to his Twitter or his blog and share your Confirmation name if you think it might be what he’s looking for!
  • I was cracking up over #CelebBoatNames — I love clever punny names, some of them were really funny.

That’s what I got for you today! Happy Thursday!

Reading round-up (middle name edition)

I was asking you all about middle names (here and here and your comments were so helpful and interesting!) because I wanted to write about them for my July CatholicMom.com column — it turned out to be a much bigger animal than I expected! My column will be posted on Wednesday — I’ll post the link here when it’s up — and I’ll be interested to see what you all think.

In the meantime, I came across some really interesting articles while trying to do some “quick” research of what I thought was a fairly straightforward topic:

Why Do We Have Middle Names? which provides a brief intro to the history of middle names in America.

Despite the warning at the top of the page that “This article has multiple issues” I found the Wiki article on middle names to be helpful as well, and the list it provided of famous people who go by their middle names especially interesting.

Also fascinating was this one, about middle initials that don’t stand for anything, and middle initials/names that have been entirely made up: The Quick 10: People With Fake Middle Initials.

In Why Bother With a Middle Name? by the Name Lady, I liked this bit particularly:

In some cases, middle names can perform clear functions. Families with common surnames rely on them to help distinguish their children at school or on legal forms. Middle names can also serve religious roles, such as linking the child to a saint as a role model for a godly life.

For other families, the middle name is a chance to honor personal connections. Some use the middle name slot to pass on a family surname, or pay homage a relative or personal hero. Others use it to reflect their children’s cultural heritage. For instance, American families of Chinese ancestry may choose an English first name and a Chinese middle name for a child.

And then there’s simply style. A middle name can make the full composition sound elegant for formal occasions. It can be a place to play, to experiment with a more daring and unconventional choice than you’d choose for a first name, or send a kind of secret message to your child. And some parents just love names and don’t want to stop at only one!

In other words, middle names serve all of the many, many roles that names in general serve, except identification. If you don’t value any of those roles, you can skip the middle name altogether…but don’t expect your child to thank you for it. Necessary or not, middle names have become so standard in the United States that kids without them can feel slighted.”

The comments on this post provided some good insight as well.

I’m always super interested in personal experience, so I liked this from the Catholic Answers forums: Does your child not have a middle name?

This was not entirely on the topic I hoped for (only the first paragraph or so was about names), but I loved it anyway: What That Middle Initial In My Dad’s Name Could Mean. I can’t get it to load right now (?), but there was a fascinating bit about (if I remember correctly) the bishop’s dad’s middle initial being “H” but there being confusion over what it stood for. One document said Henry, another said Harry, and his baptismal certificate said Hieronymus, which is Latin for Jerome … so maybe his middle initial was actually J? Fascinating, and a lovely tribute to his dad.

I thought this was surprisingly well written for someone who’s not a name writer: What’s In a Name? It includes a list of “naming features that might cause confusion” given that “Most Americans have three names: given-middle-family (which are called “first-middle-last” ). This means most officials and and clerical information-takers in the United States expect clients, patients, and customers to follow this pattern. When internationals present their unique names, the Americans are flummoxed because there are standard boxes to fill in, but the names don’t cooperate. Additionally, sometimes American names can create problems.” He also provides a list of do’s and don’t’s regarding others’ names, which I thought was quite good.

This is for more of a chuckle at the question asked than for the information provided: Do Catholic people have middle names? I think the asker was totally genuine and unsure, but calling us “Catholic people” and wording the question as “do they have to go through confirmation or something to get one? I don’t think they have middle names on their birth certificates” suggested a somewhat benevolent kind of other-ness about us that’s not something I usually find being assigned to me. (I mean, I often [almost always?] feel different from those I interact with because of my faith [likely a lot of you too, right?], but not in the way this article made me feel — almost like we’re a curiosity.) The answers are fine, and the one about Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox naming practices was quite interesting. (It would be great for the asker to stumble upon our little community here — she’d learn everything she’s ever wanted to know about Catholic naming practices! 😀 )

This was probably my favorite of all the articles I read: The power and peril of the middle name. It was both cheeky and informative, a really interesting read. It mentions the name “Gideon Oliver,” which I immediately fell in love with as an amazing combo (though I have zero knowledge of George Osborne, the Brit politician/current First Secretary of State who was named Gideon Oliver Osborne at birth, so perhaps it would be unwise to give a child his exact original first and middle names without researching what kind of man/politician he is? Just in case). (Nicknamey me also immediately went to the possibility of “Geo” as a nickname for “Gideon Oliver” … love it!) And whatever you think of our President, this quote attributed to him made me laugh out loud:

I got my first name from my father, and I got my middle name from someone who obviously didn’t think I’d ever run for president.”

(Barack Hussein Obama, in case you couldn’t remember his middle name.)

Finally, if any of you hold any sway with the SSA, can you please request that they start keeping track of middle names?? I think they’d be at least as revealing as first names, if not even more so, and likely a more diverse list as well.

This has been an interesting subject to research and learn more about this week! Please feel free to continue adding your stories/experiences, I love reading them all!

Best introduction to the names of our faith

I started this post several days ago and finished it up just now, and when I posted it, it posted on the day I started it, rather than today, which is where I wanted it. Grr!

Sancta Nomina

You all know I frequently link to Amazon using affiliate links — mostly (and I’m totally honest here) because they have all the books that I really highly recommend for any name enthusiast (I LOVE sharing with you the books that I love!), but certainly also because I earn a little money each time you click over using one of my links (so yes, as with my Father’s Day post, sometimes I’ll post other things I think will be of interest. I always try to have them connect to the themes of this blog though — names and faith). (As an aside — how do you all feel about affiliate links? Do you hate them? Not mind them? Are you okay with this?)

Certainly Amazon is the best for heavy duty name books, but there are so many name-related items that I think would be great as gift ideas (or “just…

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St. Anne giveaway #6, and some middle name questions

I just posted a pic of today’s holy card giveaway — “Prayer to St. Anne — To Obtain Some Special Favor.” I have five, so the first five people who email me at sanctanomina@gmail.com will get them!

And some questions for you all: I’m wondering about people who weren’t given a middle name at birth. Specifically:

— Do you wish you’d been given one, or are you happy without?

— If you took a different Confirmation name, did you start to use it as your middle name?

— If you’re a married woman who took your husband’s last name, did you find it easier/less complicated to just move your maiden name into the middle spot legally (if you chose to do so) than if you’d had a middle name there as well?

— Of the people you know who weren’t given a middle name at birth (including yourself), how many are men and how many are women?

If these questions don’t pertain to you, but you know people without middle names, please share their experience/opinion also, if you know it!

Best introduction to the names of our faith

You all know I frequently link to Amazon using affiliate links — mostly (and I’m totally honest here) because they have all the books that I really highly recommend for any name enthusiast (I LOVE sharing with you the books that I love!), but certainly also because I earn a little money each time you click over using one of my links (so yes, as with my Father’s Day post, sometimes I’ll post other things I think will be of interest. I always try to have them connect to the themes of this blog though — names and faith). (As an aside — how do you all feel about affiliate links? Do you hate them? Not mind them? Are you okay with this?)

Certainly Amazon is the best for heavy duty name books, but there are so many name-related items that I think would be great as gift ideas (or “just because”) that I want to share with you, and a lot of them are available on Amazon, but every time I look on Amazon I feel a twinge that a Catholic company isn’t getting the business (and surely any Catholic companies need the patronage more than Amazon). So I’m thrilled thrilled thrilled to tell you that I recently signed up with The Catholic Company (Catholic Books and Gifts from The Catholic Company – The World’s #1 Catholic Store) to be an affiliate (like with the Amazon links).

Woo! I LOVE The Catholic Company!! No joke, I use it allllll the time for gifts for others, things for my kids, things for me 🙂 , etc., and they have SO MANY great things that fit so many occasions!!

So for my very first Catholic Company affiliate-linky post, I thought I’d list some of the kinds of books that fired up my love of the names of our faith (sancta nomina), all those years ago, when I was a wee girl.

It was all about the saints.

Oh my I loved the books of saints my mom had! And she had a lot — most of them were the same size, and fit in a brown cardboard shoebox-type box, and when I was teaching sixth grade Religious Ed the year I was pregnant with my oldest, I brought that box in with me for my students to use and the other mom who helped me out (bless her, she tried hard, but clearly hadn’t had a great formation in the faith), her eyes just about popped out of her head. “Where did you get those?” she wanted to know — she was so unfamiliar, and so hungry! You know?

These ones, the “Miniature Stories of the Saints,” are ones I actually owned. In fact, I came across one of them in my nightstand the other night! They’re small, with a quick profile of the saint on each page. And they’re very budget friendly — all less than $3.00!

Miniature Stories of the Saints (Book One

Miniature Stories of the Saints (Book Two)


Miniature Stories of the Saints (Book Three)


Miniature Stories of the Saints (Book Four)

Though I haven’t read this one, I liked the look of it, since it contains all six volumes of the “Little Book of Saints” series in one: My First Book of Saints.

This one too, which comes in two volumes: Saints for Young Readers for Every Day – Vol. I (January – June) and Saints for Young Readers – Vol. II (July to December).

And of course I have to include my boys’ particular favorite, which they have loved to literal pieces: Picture Book of Saints by Fr. Lovasik. (I love Fr. Lovasik. Anything by him is good by me.)

These books are amazing as gifts for baby showers (especially when they ask you to bring a book! I always bring books of saints), baptisms, birthdays for the younger set (maybe age 10 and younger?), and First Holy Communion, as well as Christmas (there’s always a big stack of new books under our Christmas tree, and books of our faith are always well represented).

So! I hope this is all helpful! It’s the kind of post I’d find useful, so I hope you all agree. Happy shopping! 🙂

Spotlight on: Bernadette

A reader asked me for a spotlight on Bernadette, soooo here it is!

Bernadette is, of course, after St. Bernadette of Soubirous, the little girl who Our Lady visited in Lourdes, France eighteen times in 1858. Until today I didn’t know that she was actually named Marie-Bernarde (according to most of the sources, or Bernarde-Marie, according to the one I linked to in the previous sentence), which makes Bernadette an even sweeter name — a diminutive of Bernarde, akin to Katie for Katherine. (It also brings to mind Bl. Marie-Azelie Martin, aka Zelie — it’s Zelie that’s popular with Catholics, not Azelie nor Marie-Azelie. It’s so sweet that the affectionate nicknames are the ones we’re clamoring after.) (I also love those French hyphenated doubles, especially the ones that begin with Marie. So beautiful!)

Bernadette’s actually a special name in my family, as it’s my sister’s Confirmation name, chosen because Our Lady of Lourdes has always been special to her. I’ve mentioned this sister before — she was technically stillborn, and we attribute the return of her life to the intercession of Ven. Solanus Casey. She had spinal fusion surgery when she was in sixth grade to correct ever-worsening scoliosis, and for years afterward she put Lourdes holy water on her nape-to-tailbone scar every night. She and my dad had the opportunity to visit Lourdes a few years ago, and also to visit the incorrupt body of St. Bernadette in Nevers. My sister was able to spend time alone with Bernadette, praying in the chapel, and she and my dad (and my aunt/godmother who went with them) stayed in the convent overnight. I know it was a very special experience for her. When people ask her name, she often tells them FirstName MiddleName Bernadette LastName.

The reader who suggested a spotlight on Bernadette also indicated that the name seemed to be generating a lot of buzz recently, which I didn’t realize, but it makes sense — long Frenchy names like Charlotte, Josephine, and Genevieve are super popular right now, and Bernadette fits right in. What a sister set that would be!

Appellation Mountain discussed Bernadette here (as part of an -et/-ette post) and here (as the Name of the Day) and noted that it peaked in the 1940s, right along with the release of the Academy Award-winning movie The Song of Bernadette, so it still has a grandma feel to it. Recent popularity may be due in part to the (super smart) character Bernadette on the show The Big Bang Theory (whose character, incidentally, is from a big Catholic family), and probably also because French names are currently popular. Or maybe because St. Bernadette’s waving from heaven with the Immaculate Conception and Catholic parents are noticing? 🙂

Whatever it is, it seems to me an easy nickname is a must, what with all the Charlottes/Josephines/Genevieves called Charlie/Josie/Evie. There’s Bernie, which I think is still out of touch with most of today’s namers. Benny seems fresher, and is totally doable and adorable. Or Etta/Etty. Or — and I think this is my fave, and I’ve mentioned it before — Betsy, as one of my friends was considering using as a nickname for Bernadette. Abby also mentions Betty, Bette, and Bebe.

What do you think of Bernadette? Would you consider it? Have you considered it? Have you gone ahead and given it to one of your daughters, or do you know a little one named Bernadette? If so, what does she go by — the full Bernadette, or a nickname?