What’s in a name?

| Father Michael Van Sloun | November 20, 2017 | 0 Comments
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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 person’s title or identifier for life. This is a not a decision that should be taken lightly. The selection of the name is primarily the duty of the parents, and only secondarily the duty of the sponsor or the pastor.

The name that is chosen is extremely important. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “Everyone’s name is sacred. The name is the icon of the person. It demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it” (No. 2158). God calls each person by name (Is 43:1). Jesus, the good shepherd, “calls his own sheep by name” (Jn 10:3). “The name one receives is a name for eternity” (No. 2159). It is the name that will be used during a person’s life on earth, and then it will be inscribed in the Book of Life (Rv 3:5; 21:27), the list of those who are redeemed and saved by Jesus, the official directory of all of the citizens of heaven, and it will serve as the person’s name for all eternity.

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 faith-based 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 cultural heritage. In fact, the Church does not insist on a faith-based or a specifically Christian name. The Church teaches that any name can be chosen as long as it is not offensive to the Christian faith. Nevertheless, the Judeo-Christian tradition places a high premium on spiritual names, and they are recommended to parents.

There is a wide array of names with spiritual value to choose from. One excellent category is Old Testament biblical figures, most of which have a spiritual meaning: Joshua, which means “God saves,” Hannah, which means “God is gracious,” or Ruth, which means “friendship.” Another recommended group is New Testament biblical characters. Mary and Joseph stand at the forefront. Other possibilities would be Elizabeth, Anna or Martha, apostles like Peter or Thomas, evangelists like Mark or Luke, or martyrs like Stephen or James. A third category is the angels, 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, Rose and Theresa, and magnificent men like Francis, Anthony and Patrick. Christian virtues offer yet another option, names such as Faith, Hope, Charity, Constance or Joy.

The Church does, however, prohibit certain names: “Parents, sponsors and the pastor are to take care that a name foreign to a Christian sensibility is not given” (Canon 855). 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, Lucifer or Beelzebul; names for pagan gods like Baal or Molech; curse words; and 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 Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata. This is the eighth column in a series on baptism. Read more of his writing at CatholicHotdish.com.

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Category: Faith Fundamentals