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!

Spellings signal gender in names that sound the same

Happy Friday! I’m up far too late on what started on Thursday night, but had to share this with you before I go to bed. I was reading this article on gender-neutral baby names, and was distracted by this statement: “spellings have long signaled gender in names that sound the same: Yves vs. Eve” — of course I had to make a list of such names! These are some I’ve seen/heard:

Adrian and Adrienne
Elliott and Eliette
Francis and Frances
Gene and Jean
Jesse and Jessie
Julian and Julienne
Marian and Marion
Micah and Meike
Michael and Michal
Noah and Noa
Noel and Noelle
Rhys and Reese/Reece
Ryan and Ryann(e)

I know they’re not all strictly traditional (Ryan and Ryann(e)); and I’ve seen women with the masculine spelling (Gene), and men with the feminine spelling (except it’s not always feminine, like Jean and Reese/Reece); and the pronunciations aren’t always that simple (knoll or no-EL for Noel?), but still — pretty fun! What can you add to this list?


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!

Feminine-feeling nicknames for boys

Last week’s birth announcement for little Magnus Craig, in which his mama said her daughter calls him Maggie sometimes, which “always makes us cringe and correct her because it’s a girl name, sigh,” reminded me of other examples of natural nicknames for boy names that sound like girl names — especially those that have old usage. Like:

Christy, as in Christy Mahon (given name: Christopher), a character in J.M. Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World

Connie, as in baseballer Connie Mack (given name: Cornelius McGillicuddy)

Gabby, the nickname an older man I know insists on calling a Gabriel he knows (who I know goes only by Gabe)

Gussie, the nickname my dad always called his friend Augustus growing up

Jackie, as in segregation-smashing baseballer Jackie Robinson (given name: Jack Roosevelt Robinson) and a boy I know named Jack whose dad has called him Jackie affectionately since he was little

Jody, Josey, and Joss all have usage as nicknames for Joseph (here’s a list of male Jodys, though not all have the given name Joseph; I was sure the title [fictional] character in the Clint Eastwood movie The Outlaw Josey Wales was baptized Joseph, but I can’t find any evidence to support that; producer/director/etc. Joss Whedon‘s given name is Joseph) (funny story about Josey — years ago, before my hubby had a chance to absorb name info via my constant chattering at him about it, and him not having given names any real thought otherwise, I mentioned that someone’s baby girl was named Josie and he said, “But that’s a boy’s name!” He had only ever heard it in the Josey Wales movie, and for him, Josey was all masculinity and ruggedness because of Clint Eastwood’s portrayal of the character. Hilarious!)

Mandy, as in actor Mandy Patinkin (given name: Mandel)

Sally, as in Sally Tessio (given name: Salvatore), a character in The Godfather (a funny tidbit is that there’s a character in PBS’ Curious George named Sally Tessio! She’s a restaurant critic!)

Steph, as in NBA player Steph Curry (given name: Wardell Stephen Curry; in this case, the nickname Steph reveals his pronunciation of Stephen)

Sue, the nickname of the grandfather of one of our readers (Grandpa’s given name was Assundo, after the Assumption!) (I’ve written before about Susan being used as an “anglicization” of the feminine Italian name Assunta, including in my book) (unrelated, but fascinating: the song “A Boy Named Sue” may have been based on Sue K. Hicks, a prosecutor in the Scopes Trial, who was named after his mother, Susanna)

I love how affectionate some of these feel — adding an “ee” sound on the end of a name automatically makes it feel more intimate, I think — very like something parents or siblings would do to their baby/baby sibling’s name (our Luke gets called Lukey by all of us a good part of the time!). I also think this was more common with older generations (almost all of the examples above are of old or deceased men of another era) — I quite liked the idea of Joseph nicknamed Jody when I was expecting one of our older boys, and one of the reasons was because it had an old timey feel to me.

Do you agree? Can you think of other examples like this?


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!

Names of note on British Baby Names

Happy Monday y’all!! It’s eclipse day! Are your kids as excited as mine?? Since we haven’t been able to snag any of the sold-out eclipse glasses, we’ll probably watch most of it on NASA’s site, but we’re also going to make these eclipse viewers (just waiting for my coffee to brew).

In similarly earth-shaking news, for the first time in a verrrry long time I’m all caught up on consultations and don’t have any scheduled to post! What! So if you’ve been wanting one, now’s a great time!

In lieu of our normal Monday consultation fun, I want to talk about the British Baby Names blog. Are you as hooked on it as I am?? I’ve been keeping it up on my computer all summer and browsing through the birth announcements when I have a few minutes here and there, and there have been so many amazing names that I’ve been keeping a running list to share with you all! Like these amazingly Catholicky Catholic sib sets:

Clemency Jane Frances “Clemmie,” baby sister of Edward Blaise “Ned,” Beatrice Mary “Bea,” Christopher Ambrose Richard “Kit,” Josephine Alice “Posy,” & Mary Assumpta (from this post)

Sebastian Francis Bertram (from this post)

Matilda Agnes, baby sister of Hubert James Raphael, Beatrice Elizabeth, Emilia, Leo John Bartholomew & Helena Adelaide (from this post)

Rufus Benedict, baby brother of Theodora Verity & Harriet Cecily (from this post)

Theresa Eleanor “Tess,” baby sister of Robert John “Bobby” & Francis William “Frankie” (from this post)

I’m fascinated by these Irish and Welsh and names!

Liusaidh Hannah Lesley, baby sister of Ruairidh Joseph Henry & Eilidh Margaret Catriona (from this post)

Gwenlli Fflur, baby sister of Ynyr Alun & Gwern Rhisiart (from this post)

Beca Grug, baby sister of Aron Huw, Erin Gwen & Math Owen (the woman behind the blog, Eleanor, noted that Grug = GREEG “heather”) (from this post)

Nedw Lleu, baby brother of Liwsi Glwys (from this post)

Guto Lloyd & Elen Mair, twin sibs of Awen Mair (from this post)

I liked seeing Evelyn as a boy’s middle (a la Evelyn Waugh): Humphrey Evelyn (from this post).

These were just amazing, for one reason or another:

Henrietta Zillah Iris, baby sister of Xanthippe Phyllis Elizabeth (from this post)

Primrose Ophelia “Posy,” baby sister of Theodora Kate “Teddy” (from this post)

Zinnia Indigo, baby sister of Azalea Primrose (from this post)

Zsa Zsa Hermione Christobel, baby sister of Cressida Lucy Florence, Rocco & Aubrey (twins) (from this post)

Molly Jessica & Pippa Josephine, twin sisters — I love how their first and middles have the same number of syllables, and I love Molly and Pippa together! (from this post)

Tatiana Mary Alexandra, baby sister of Maximillian Randal James, Jemima Honey Frances & Willa Charlotte Moore (from this post)

And speaking of Jemima, beloved of every name lover, I also spotted Jemimas in these posts: here, here.

I really liked the nickname here: John Patrick Carnegy “Jock” (from this post), and was so surprised to see both a Jack and a Johnny in this family: Jack Oliver, baby brother of Johnny Robert, Harry Anthony & Joseph James (from this post). I was also surprised at the number of Montys (two of them here and here) and Jontys (as is, as both a first and middle, here, here, here) — Jonty’s a traditional nickname for Jonathan, and you might remember that I suggested it to Rosie and Tim in this consultation.

I’m barely scratching the surface with all the amazing names listed in the birth announcement posts, and there are also consultation posts too. Such a fun site!

Naming after women

I spent a few minutes in the Baby Name Wizard discussion forums this morning as I ate my breakfast, and saw a comment containing a sentiment that I see with some regularity over there and that kind of irks me every time I see it:

I think it’s totally lovely to honor a mother with a name for a change (I know lots of men who name their sons after themselves, either as juniors outright or using variant forms or middle names, but very few women who do so).”

I don’t even disagree with the comment! I know it’s more common for a dad to have a son named after himself than for a mom to have a daughter named after herself. And the commenter herself is one I highly respect, as her thoughts are *always* well balanced and fair. But I feel testy and defensive when I see things like “honor a mother with a name for a change” and “lots of men who name their sons after themselves” — probably because I feel like it’s a tentacle of a whole “down with the patriarchy!” thought process that usually includes the “old men in white hats in Rome.” Blah.

Anyway, my contrarian Rome-loving self immediately thought of lots of examples, old and new, of people (babies and olders) being named after women. My mom, for one example, was half named for her mom (I saw “half” because her mom’s name was Anne, and my grandfather wanted to name my mom Anne — imagine that! A man! Wanting to name his baby girl after his beloved wife! But my grandmother wanted to name her one of the names-of-the-day: Susan. So they compromised with Susanne). My sister has my mom’s name as one of her middle names. My paternal grandfather was given his mom’s maiden name as a first name. Before I had so many boys, I’d always planned to work one or more elements of my name into one or more of my daughters’ names.

Moving farther afield from moms naming daughters after themselves, my youngest son’s first name is for my mother-in-law and his middle name for my mom. Julianamama shared that she knows a dad with a great devotion to St. Margaret who named his son Garrett after her! (I died when I read that! Brilliant!)

I’ve done two posts (On my bookshelf: A Dictionary of English Surnames and Girl names turned surnames) highlighting how various surnames are originally metronymics (identifying a person by his or her mother), or diminutives of female first names that became surnames, or perhaps arising from religious devotion to a female saint — like Marriot (from Mary), Ebbetts (from Isabel), Scollas (from Scholastica, specifically for St. Scholastica, according to Reaney & Wilson), and Emmett (from Emma). All of these would be fine and interesting for a child to be named, and they’re all feminine in origin (even if the parents don’t realize it or it wasn’t their intent). And I did a couple posts on current men religious who took their Mother Mary’s name as part of their new religious names: Eleven new Dominican priests and Men Who Love Mary: MFVA (a whole Order of men who take Mary as part of their new name! And one had Therese as well!), never mind all the male saints with Mary in their names: St. Clement Mary/Maria Hofbauer (depending on what you’re reading), St. Maximilian Mary/Maria Kolbe, St. Anthony Mary Claret, St. Jean Marie Vianney, St. Josemaria Escriva … who else?

I’d love to know what stories you all have of moms naming their daughters or sons after themselves or similar family stories, and whether you know any Brothers or Priests with female saints’ names, or boys who have taken a female saint’s name for a Confirmation name. It’s not all oppression, people. (I’m done ranting now. 🙂 )