Monday, February 13, 2012

What’s in a name? A community.

There are quite a lot of things in our practice of our Catholic faith that we take for granted, or seldom ponder over in any prolonged sort of way.  Making the sign of the Cross, having our crucifixes blessed, dipping our fingers into a holy water stoup or font, and choosing of a Saint’s name for our children’s baptism.  We just ‘do it’, maybe not in a Nike sort of way, but we hardly question why.  But in all our traditions, both cultural and religious, one of the things that can result in our lives if we don’t take time to pause and reflect on our actions (or non-actions), is that we can easily end up just doing it for the sake of doing it, or in some cases, jettison it altogether, without knowing that we have jettisoned something very deep and beautiful and rich.  A bit like throwing the baby with the bathwater.

One of the things that have given me cause to reflect lately is the long-standing practice of naming our children after the saints of the Church at their baptisms.  I have been ministering to many couples in my years as a priest in the various parish postings that I had been assigned to, and one rather common occurrence in recent years seems to have parents making up names for their children.  Laquisha.  Perstwick.  Golf.  Fermyn.  La-La (pronounced Ladashla, so I am told). My deep sense of Christian charity prevents me from commenting on these ‘interesting’ choices, and when I asked the parents why these names were chosen, the answer inevitably boiled down to ‘because it’s original’.  I suppose the quest to make our personal mark on society, to leave something on it that is ‘our own’, stems from a silent need within the human psyche that refuses to be lost in the crowd of common human ordinariness.  Perhaps most parents know that not every child will grow up a prodigy, or a genius, or some scholar, or an Academy/Pulitzer/Nobel/Booker/Golden Globe/Golden Horse Award winner, so the least they can do is to give them something unique that marks them out from the common crowd.  And their name seems to be an innocuous place to start.  I can understand that kind of reasoning.  Not that I fully agree.  I understand.

But if I am wondering if we do a little reflection on the rich background of our religious tradition behind the naming of our children after the Saints, that parents would back-pedal a bit and appreciate the rationale of this strong recommendation.  It really is founded on the firm Christian belief that the world is not about us, and that we are part of a much bigger body to which we belong and from which we draw life.  The body of Christ.

There are landmark/milestone points in our human/social/religious life where something happens to our names.  We see something happening to our names at birth, at our Confirmation, at our Marriage/Vows/Religious Professions/ and at our death.  In every one of these high points of our lives, we are given a mission from the Church and the Community to which we belong.  The Jewish tradition of naming a newborn to the family requires that his/her name comes from someone else in the family having that name before.  This child is thus in a sense, given something that comes from the forebears of the community that he or she came from.  Just from the name itself one detects a sense of a community connection and involvement.

We are also given a mission at these special points of our lives -  baptism (becoming an anointed child of God with sins forgiven to make holy the world); confirmation (to be active cooperators with the Holy Spirit to sanctify the world in a conscious and purposeful way); marriage (to be a co-partner with our spouse to further expand the kingdom of God physically and spiritually); Holy Orders (one can also include Religious Vows and Professions here), and the reason for this should be self-explanatory; and at our deaths (where if we have been living as we should truly have, our names become immortalized with the Saints that have gone before us).  Each of these aforementioned points are mission points for us.  And very significantly, at each of these points, our names show a deepening of our human relationships within the matrix of humanity.  Something happens to our names.  We either get them, change them, or add something to them.  No one goes to a mission alone, not even a lone-missioner to any mission land. Such a person has the support of a huge praying community behind him or her.

I am wondering if this is what many parents are missing in the bigger picture of our faith when naming their children.  If the reason behind an ‘original’ name is to ‘stand out from the crowd’ or ‘to be unique’, perhaps it shows that the intrinsic link between baptism and mission is no longer acknowledged, or worse, completely lost.  What seems to be missing would be a certain sense of gravitas in life.  Life simply becomes ‘my story’, or ‘my way’, as Frank Sinatra would vaingloriously croon.  And if this attenuated way of looking at life begins at baptism, it easily then sets the tone for the rest of life from then on to have the same proclivity, causing Confirmation and Marriage (heaven forbid, Holy Orders) to have a similar exclusion of any form of mission or community link or involvement. 

Yes, I have heard many ‘arguments’ of people saying that if we recycle all these names of canonized saints, there would never be a St Ah Kow, or St Laquisha, or St Golf (?).  While I can understand that argument, it does seem to have only featherweight strength in the light of our united call to mission that has a community behind us, and a larger community that waits before us.  


  1. Gd morming Fr luke..

    Yr posting on saints' name is timely.. One of the possible reasons that parents choose names other than the saints is maybe.. just maybe to make his or her child name easily remembered eg Rain.. While we can understand if non catholic/christian parents choose such a name.. but it is puzzling if a catholic parent choose this..

    question is.. for the sake of convience?.. all i could think it is that maybe such name is more trendy?? huh?? or more biz sake.. easyly remembered?? ..

    Though i'm married for quite some time.. .. but with no child to call our own.. i still hold the catholic tradition of naming our child (if any) saint names' .. if it is a girl it would be mary elizabeth therese why? mary.. being mother of Jesus.. saint of all saints.. elizabeth.. for her perseverance in faith in the Lord and lastly therese.. the saint with a special devotion to the Lord and Our lady. I hope my daughter would grow up with these 3 virtues of imitating the saints.. If boy.. def Joseph..a great example of a family man and love of the Lord..

    Have a blessed day Fr Luke .. cheers!!


  2. I'm not going to be PC here.

    I think it's ridiculous that such "innovative" names be given to a child. We are Catholic. THAT'S our identity. Our names should reflect just who we are.

    Everytime I see an "Magdelene" or "Teresa" in the daily obituaries I immediately look to see if the person is Catholic. 90% of the time it is so. That's the beauty of having a "Catholic" name.

    I wouldn't have it any other way.

  3. Hi Fr Luke, I just had to roll my eyeballs at some of the 'creative' names you mentioned. Were these names allowed as baptism names? I think that it should be ok if the parents specially chose the names of saints for the baptism name. So I think it's less objectionable if the kid was called Rain Anthony or Atom Theresa, with a traditional Catholic name as the baptism name. Pls do clarify. Thanks!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. In the 1983 Code of Canon Law, there is no specific law that says that the baptism name has to be that of a saint. There is only the prohibition of choosing a name that is contrary to Christian sentiment. Think Hitler or Stalin or Lucifer. I think you get the picture. There is not even a law that says that you have to choose a middle name of a saint (to make things appear more 'safe'). But if we are only going to base our choices or non-choices on what is written in the Code of Canon Law, perhaps we are missing the larger picture of what baptism really is.

      There is a whole theology that is rich in depth and meaning behind the sacrament, and sometimes we pastors get the very strong feeling (call it a prompting if you will) that the parents are getting the child baptized as an empty tradition or worse, as a joke. That is why we need to catechize parents (and God-parents) of these infants and remind them about the bringing up the child as a Catholic, in a Catholic environment, and the role of the parents as the child's first (and the most important) catechists. If this preparation does not have sufficient depth, it merely becomes a rehearsal session where everyone knows where to stand, what to say, and what to wear, without nary a thought given about the why of it all.

      God bless
      Fr Luke

  4. Good afternoon, Father Luke :) this is my very first reply to you...and to anyone's blog EVER! Hee hee...

    Wow. La-La has to take the cake. With Laquisha and Golf coming in a tie for a close second. I can just imagine a saint with the Chinese name "QING PING". Say it fast. That would be quite sad.

    Singaporeans should take the cue from the St James Power Station which turned into a club, but still maintained the Catholic name. Who says Catholic names can't be a figment of "COOL"?

    But of course, the whole idea behind whose identity you're taking on especially upon baptism is slowly fading away...I do know of some parish priests who take the trouble to scrutinize the kind of names their Catechumens are choosing and counsel them if need be....and of course there are those who couldn't give two Babarella hoots about it.

    As long as I know there's one potential parish priest currently in Washington who's passionate about ridding the world of all Pertswicks and Fermyns, (you've gotta be kidding me!!!) I'm in a good place :)


  5. ‘’......I am wondering if we do a little reflection on the rich background of our religious tradition behind the naming of our children after the Saints, that parents would back-pedal a bit and appreciate the rationale of this strong recommendation.....’’ - brings me back to my own baptism.

    Before being baptized into the Catholic faith, the five of us were told by our earnest priest-cathechist that we would all be given the name Mary but we could use it as the baptism name or the confirmation name for this would be our Catholic identity and ‘’belongingness’’ to the new family. He said that he woud likewise give the name Joseph to all the male catechumens. I felt that we were very fortunate to have someone explain to us the rationale behind having a Catholic name, because it was from this that I went in earnest to read up on the Saints of the Church so as to choose one that I could model my life on – and of course retaining the name of our Lady as the “family“ name !

    I believe that the apparent flippancy in choosing baptism names today could probably be because the parents were not properly advised about this – perhaps this could be inserted in at marriage preparation course as it is never too early? As a sponsor for RCIA I find that many of my catechumens who in the initial journey expressed reservations about choosing a Catholic ( read western) name were readily won over once they understand the beauty and rationale of this rich Catholic tradition – because they do not want to be ‘’short-changed’’

    So I would agree that if parents have a better knowledge of the reasons behind this Catholic tradition, they would certainly be looking into the lives of the Saints for guidance.
    God bless you, Fr