April CatholicMom column up today

My April column posted today on CatholicMom.com: Names “foreign to Christian sensibility.” You’ll recognize it as a slight retooling of this post, and I’m like 99.99% sure that when I wrote that original post Canon Law said “Christian sentiment” but when I went back to double check before submitting to CatholicMom, it was all “Christian sensibility.” Weird!


Okay to name a baby after a Servant of God?

I received an email from a worried mama about wanting to use the name Léonie, after St. Therese’s sister Servant of God Léonie Martin, but she’d heard that we’re not supposed to name a baby after a Servant of God because it’s celebrating someone who isn’t yet a saint or blessed.

After prayer and study, I’d say that it’s totally fine to name after a Servant of God. The Church has no requirements regarding naming any more, other than that the names chosen must not be “foreign to Christian sentiment” (Canon 855). She still has a preference for names being given after Saints (no. 2156), but since there’s no requirement of that, it follows that there’s no rule against naming for a Servant of God. Indeed, there’s no rule against naming after anyone (except some of those discussed on the blog last week, like Lucifer, for example, because the name is “foreign to Christian sentiment”). I think of all the babies named after family members and friends and celebrities and athletes — as long as their names aren’t foreign to Christian sensibility, there’s no issue at all. Especially since many (most?) names can trace back to a Saint anyway! For this particular example, it might be helpful to know that there’s a Bl. Marie Leonie Paradis who predated Leonie Martin by just a little bit, and any of the Sts. Leo can serve as patron as well, so the name Leonie itself is no problem whatsoever. I suppose it’s always wise to remember that because a Servant of God hasn’t yet been fully researched, there might still be unsavory elements that show themselves that would prevent him or her from moving on in the canonization process — that could be hard for a little namesake, and a back-up saint (like Bl. Marie Leonie Paradis) might be good idea from that perspective as well.

Bottom line, in answer to this question: As far as I can tell, there’s no problem naming a child after a Servant of God.

In doing research though, it became clear that it’s probably important to discuss what’s okay in terms of venerating a Servant of God, and whether naming a baby after a SOG counts as veneration and if so, is it still okay.

First, according to the Catholic Dictionary the definition of veneration when used in regards to the saints is:

Honor paid to the saints who, by their intercession and example and in their possession of God, minister to human sanctification, helping the faithful grow in Christian virtue.”

There’s a difference between public and private veneration. For example, the web site for the cause for the canonization of Ven. Fr. Michael McGivney explains,

Several members of the Father McGivney Guild have asked about the possibility of developing a Father McGivney holy hour that could be celebrated before the exposed Blessed Sacrament.

The norms of the Church in this matter are very clear. Eucharistic holy hours are to be encouraged but, when praying before the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the monstrance, all prayers should be directed to Christ, who is present in the sacred host. The Church does not permit us to pray to Father McGivney in our public worship.

You will note that all the prayer cards you receive from the Guild are directed to God, not to Father McGivney. We are humbly asking God to hear our petition for the canonization of Father McGivney. Only at a later stage, with the permission of the Church, can we publicly address Father McGivney in prayer.”

The Mother Teresa of Calcutta Center points out that,

Beatified persons are called Blesseds. They may receive the veneration of the faithful within certain limits set by the Church, but may not be venerated in an organized public manner throughout the whole Church.

EWTN points out in its explanation of the canonization process that,

Blesseds may receive public veneration at the local or regional level, usually restricted to those dioceses or religious institutes closely associated with the person’s life. “Public veneration” in this use of the term doesn’t mean that it is done in public; rather,that it is an act done by the clergy, or delegated laity, in the name of the Church (Mass, Divine Office, images in churches etc.), even if done in private. On the other hand, “private veneration” means veneration by individuals or groups acting in their own name, even if done “in public.” While the Church restricts the public venration [sic] of Blesseds, Catholics are free to privately venerate them.”

And while this private v. public veneration has so far focused just on Blesseds and beyond, I did find this, from “Servants of God” by Wilhelm Schamoni in The Irish Monthly, September 1947; published by the Irish Jesuit Province and available here:

The individual Christian is quite at liberty to venerate as saints those Christians of whose holiness he is convinced. On the other hand, the Church permits official veneration, that is veneration in public worship, only after ecclesiastical inquiry.”

Based on all that, I feel confident in thinking private veneration of a Servant of God is okay. Is naming a baby after a SOG a form of veneration? I think it could probably go either way. If veneration is honor, than any kind of honor naming could be considered veneration — I think non-Catholics would probably heartily disagree with that, since (1) they freely name after people in the Bible and (2) I think most of them are horrified by the word “venerate” used for anyone but God. Based just on that, perhaps naming isn’t a form of veneration? On the other hand, based on what Wilhelm Schamoni says in the last quote I provide above, veneration could extend to one’s grandmother or parish priest if of their “holiness he is convinced,” so maybe honor naming *is* a form of private veneration, which seems acceptable.

Do you all agree? Are any of you familiar with other resources that discuss veneration/naming in honor of Servants of God? Are there any Servants of God you feel particularly close to? (I love Elisabeth Leseur.) Would you name a baby after any of them, or have you?



Names “foreign to Christian sentiment”

I had a different post in mind for today — I was actually almost done writing it — when I read today’s Baby Name of the Day over at Appellation Mountain: Lucifer. I had some thoughts that I didn’t want to wait until tomorrow to share, so here we are!

I thought Abby did a great job with the post, providing lots of info about the name Lucifer’s place in history, religion, and current pop culture. Lucifer does have a beautiful meaning, and my 11yo was actually asking me recently about it, the fact that its meaning of “light bearer” or similar is full of faith significance, so why can’t we use it? I explained to him that the Church teaches that babies must not be given names which are “foreign to Christian sentiment.” No matter what Lucifer means, it is the deepest depth of all names that are “foreign to Christian sentiment.” There’s just no getting around that one.

My son and I went on to talk more about such things, and I told him that I thought the list of names that are “foreign to Christian sentiment” was one of those things that changes with time and culture — like Adolf (who’s in the news today for other reasons, oh my). At one time it would have been totally fine to use for Catholic babies — it’s a saint’s name, and before WWII had a decent amount of use so a lot of us probably have Adolfs in our family trees, but now I would definitely consider it to be “foreign to Christian sentiment.” Do you agree? I don’t feel that way about its variants though — Adalwolf, Adolphus, Adolfo are all far enough removed from Hitler in my mind that I wouldn’t think twice if I heard of a baby named those names. For my time and culture (21st century English-speaking northeast America), I don’t think Adalwolf, Adolphus, and Adolfo are “foreign to Christian sentiment.” But is Hitler known as Adolfo amongst those who speak Italian? Do Italians have the same reaction of fear and horror when they hear Adolfo as I do when I hear Adolf? If so, perhaps Adolfo is a name “foreign to Christian sentiment” to them in their time and culture. And maybe one day it will all change again, when some amazing Adolf comes along — perhaps a great saint — and the passage of time and the brilliance of the new Adolf will dim our recollections of Hitler’s evil.

Interestingly, the thought that “perhaps … the passage of time and the brilliance of the new Adolf will dim our recollections of Hitler’s evil” is, I think, definitely something to be feared happening to the name Lucifer. It’s got a great meaning; it’s got a current appearance/sound with the Luc- beginning and its similar rhythm to Christopher (which, interestingly, has a similar meaning: “Christ bearer”); it’s sort of exotic because it’s unusual and edgy because of its associations, which are the kind of characteristics that are catnip to certain modern-day parents. Like the parent from this comment from last year who wanted to name his daughter Lilith *because of* the dark associations. If one of the 14 boys who were named Lucifer last year were to become a saint, I could see the name quickly becoming a possibility, even among parents of faith. Would that be a good thing? Names matter, and saying the name of the devil repeatedly and without worry seems very worrisome indeed. I would imagine a holy person who was given that name at birth would change his name, and then he’d be St. So-and-So. (And then people like me would research the heck out of all names associated with him so as to have lots of options for naming a baby after him, including his birth name. Oh dear.)

Anyway. I’ve said a million times and written that for me, “The intention behind the bestowing of the name can be as important — or more so — than the name’s actual origin or meaning or other specifics.” I hold really firm and fast to that notion — except in this case. In this case, intention is altogether completely trumped by the “other specifics.” I say again, and Abby agreed: Lucifer is not an okay name for a baby.

What other names can you think of besides Lucifer, Adolf, and Lilith that would be on the “foreign to Christian sentiment” list?