What’s in a name? Plenty if you’re a Christian

| Father Michael Van Sloun for The Catholic Spirit | January 19, 2012 | 1 Comment

Pope Benedict XVI baptizes one of 16 infants during a Mass in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican Jan. 8. CNS photo / L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

With a pregnancy, the birth of a child and the celebration of the sacrament of baptism, a name must be chosen for the child. A name is a word that identifies an individual, a personal designation. This is a not a decision that should be taken lightly. The selection of the name is the duty of the parents.

The name that is chosen is extremely important. It is a person’s label or tag for life. Spiritually, “Everyone’s name is sacred,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 2158). “The name is the icon of the person.  It demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it.”

God calls each person by name (Isaiah 43:1). Jesus, the Good Shepherd, “calls his own sheep by name” (John 10:3). “The name one receives is a name for all eternity” (No. 2159). It is the name that will be used during a person’s life on earth, and eventually it will be inscribed in the Book of Life in heaven for all eternity (Revelation 21:27).

Golden opportunity

If God is the center of the life of the parents, and if their faith is their greatest treasure, then it makes sense to choose a name that expresses their faith and reflects their spiritual values. Over the centuries it has been the custom and practice of Catholic parents to choose Christian names for their children.

An increasing number of parents, however, are not choosing faith-based names for their children, which is a departure from the Christian tradition. This may be due to lack of religious education or the advance of secularism in modern culture.

There is nothing improper with naming a child after a relative, entertainer, star athlete or celebrity; or choosing a name that reflects one’s ethnic heritage. In fact, the church does not insist on a Christian name. It teaches that any name can be chosen as long as it is not offensive to the Christian faith. Nevertheless, the Judeo-Christian tradition places an extremely high premium on spiritual names, and they are highly recommended to parents.

Faith-based names

Names with spiritual value are highly encouraged and there is a wide array to choose from. One excellent category is Old Testament biblical figures, most which have a spiritual meaning —  a name like Joshua, which means “God saves” or Hannah, which means “God is gracious.”

Another recommended group is New Testament biblical characters. Mary and Joseph stand at the forefront.  Other possibilities would be Elizabeth or Martha, apostles like Peter or Andrew, evangelists like Mark or Luke, or martyrs like Stephen or James.

A third category is angels, with names like Angela or Michael.

The saints are a fourth category — individuals who lived exemplary lives and serve as an inspiration, patron and intercessor. There are literally thousands to choose from: wonderful women like Clare, Catherine and Theresa, and magnificent men like Francis, Anthony and Patrick. Christian virtues offer yet another option, with names such as Faith, Hope, Charity or Joy.

Canon law prohibits certain names: “Parents, sponsors and the pastor are to see that a name foreign to a Christian mentality is not given”(Canon 855; see also Catechism, No. 2156). Some names are so offensive to Christian decency that, if chosen, the sacrament of baptism is to be refused. Objectionable names include those for the devil, such as Satan, Beelzebub or Lucifer; names for pagan gods like Molech or Baal; curse words or derogatory slang terms.

The birth of a child is a miraculous gift from God. The selection of a faith-based name honors God and offers thanks for the gift of a new life.

Father Michael Van Sloun is pastor of St. Stephen in Anoka.

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Category: The Lesson Plan

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