spiritual practice

What’s in a name? How our kids got their Catholic saint names and why it matters

Our family has an unwritten but unbroken rule about naming our children. Every child gets a first name and middle name that has to cover three bases: a name unique to them, a name shared with a saint, and a name with family history. (At least one of the names does double-duty.)

When we reached pregnancy number six, our list of names on the boys’ side had been somewhat depleted. Ahem. I turned to Kate of Sancta Nomina, a blog about Catholic baby names, for help and inspiration. After sharing the names of our other children, I explained the three rules above, as well as the note that our family tended toward the “Germanic and slightly offbeat.” Then I sat back to see what she came up with.

She totally nailed it. Her list of names for girls included several of my very favorites, but we felt pretty set there already. Her list of names for boys included some we’d already considered, some that had already been “taken” by friends and family, and a couple new ideas. Leopold, Hugo, Victor… but nothing quite fit.

Then, as an afterthought, in a separate email, Kate suggested, “Oh! I just thought of an eighth idea for a boy! Oscar or Oskar! Oscar Romero might be canonized soon, which is so awesome.”

The morning we went to the hospital for Oscar’s birth, Todd and I were out to breakfast, just the two of us, talking names. Todd felt very strongly about using Thomas (after Merton), and I felt strongly about using Thomas (after Aquinas), and it satisfied the family connection. But we both felt Thomas couldn’t stand up on its own as a first name, alongside our other kids’ names.

I was looking through Kate’s list again and suggested Oscar, half-jokingly, then said, “You know, I kind of like it. Oscar Thomas works.” Todd started researching: apart from the Hispanic/Romero connection, we learned that it’s a variant for St Ansgar, who has German and Norwegian connections, and that Oscar also has strong Irish/UK roots. So the name covered every single base in terms of our family cultural heritage on both sides — no small feat!

St. Oscar Romero

We were surprised to use a name that hadn’t really clicked to us until the very last minute, but it wasn’t the first time we’d changed our minds unexpectedly. Theda was nearly Teresa for a few hours; Benedict we called Silas until I prayed the Magnificat that night — “all generations shall call me blessed” — during Evening Prayer on All Hallow’s Eve.

It wasn’t until this year that I fully appreciated, though, how important those saints are in protecting and shepherding our children through their years on earth. I wrote back to Kate a few weeks ago with this update:

Oscar began having seizures when he was five months old, and it turns out he has some profound, lifelong disabilities. I am telling you this because I feel like Oscar is THE ABSOLUTELY PERFECT name for him, and one we would never have considered without your nudge. It is strong and determined and a little funky, just like him.

St. Oscar Romero was beatified while I was pregnant, but not canonized until after the worst of our trials, when we had really found our peace with Oscar’s medical issues. We prayed for his intercession on a daily basis and felt like he walked the whole journey with us, while he waited for his own reward. […] We didn’t know at the time our Oscar was born how much we were going to need someone like that.

If you’re new to the blog, I encourage you to read more about Oscar’s amazing journey and miraculous healing here. (Oscar Romero is now his number two intercessor, after Our Lady of Lourdes!)

Our other kids all have saints in their corner as well — we did actually use Teresa (as a middle) for our feisty, keen-witted, iconoclastic oldest daughter. Would this have been her nature already, or was it the influence of feisty, keen-witted, iconoclastic Teresa of Avila? The chicken or the egg? Does it matter? The connection is strong.

Our “Stephen” has not been stoned by an angry mob, but he has been battered by a statistically unlikely number of blows to the head, and he continues to live out the gospel with his life, in resilience and hope and untouchable tenderness of heart.

Our Miriam has a devotion to the Blessed Mother that absolutely takes my breath away. She still talks almost daily about how much she feels homesick for Lourdes, like that is where she belongs in the world.

Benedict, our blessed boy, brings the joy of deep contemplation and quiet happy work into every space he enters, just like his namesake, the founder of Western monasticism. (And by this point we had fully embraced the power of the saints; each of the three little boys got TWO saint names — one “his own” and one with a family connection.)

Ambrose is our honey-tongued, sanguine songbird, who can sweet-talk anyone into just about anything, like the “honey-tongued theologian” for whom he is named (patron of bees and beekeepers!).

What a privilege to have the inspiring examples of these saints woven into our family history, to see the avenues where their influence and love and intercession on behalf of each of our children is already playing out.

Coincidence? No, providence. We chose the names; the names chose us. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that our children know and love the stories of the people who bore the names before them — whether those are people related to them by blood, or people only related as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

10 thoughts on “What’s in a name? How our kids got their Catholic saint names and why it matters

    1. We also named our children after particular saints as examples and intercessors, and I am completely convinced each child shares personality traites with his/her patron. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who is experiencing this.

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      1. Well, when you put them into relationships with real people via a name connection, it’s bound to rub off a little! 🙂

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  1. I love the way you and your husband chose your children’s names! I would use the same method if I have children some day. (I especially love the name Ambrose.) I stumbled on your blog after searching for info about Lourdes. Hoping to visit there soon in search of physical healing…

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