As a Catholic, do you need to name your kid after a saint? What names does the Church say are off-limits? Where can you find super-Catholic, or subtle-Catholic, names? This post gives details on Catholic teaching and inspiration regarding naming your child.
Catholic Teaching on Names
For Catholics, baptism is when a name is officially conferred on a child. If you’re curious when in the sacrament the name is given to the child, check out section 76 in the rite of baptism for one child here.
Because of this, the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of naming in its section on baptism. You can find these sections here and reproduced below in blue. (The last section is short and repetitive because it is part of the summary the Catechism includes after each chapter.)
2156 The sacrament of Baptism is conferred “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”85 In Baptism, the Lord’s name sanctifies man, and the Christian receives his name in the Church. This can be the name of a saint, that is, of a disciple who has lived a life of exemplary fidelity to the Lord. The patron saint provides a model of charity; we are assured of his intercession. The “baptismal name” can also express a Christian mystery or Christian virtue. “Parents, sponsors, and the pastor are to see that a name is not given which is foreign to Christian sentiment.”86
…2158 God calls each one by name.87 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.
2159 The name one receives is a name for eternity. In the kingdom, the mysterious and unique character of each person marked with God’s name will shine forth in splendor. “To him who conquers . . . I will give a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it.”88 “Then I looked, and Lo, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him a hundred and forty- four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.”89
…2165 In Baptism, the Christian receives his name in the Church. Parents, godparents, and the pastor are to see that he be given a Christian name. The patron saint provides a model of charity and the assurance of his prayer.
…2167 God calls each one by name (cf. Isa 43:1).
For context, Isaiah 43:1 reads, “But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.'”
More recently, Pope Francis has also emphasized the importance of the name. In Lumen Fidei (no. 38), he wrote, “Persons always live in relationship. We come from others, we belong to others, and our lives are enlarged by our encounter with others. Even our own knowledge and self-awareness are relational; they are linked to others who have gone before us: in the first place, our parents, who gave us our life and our name.”
And in Amoris Laetitia (no. 166), he wrote: “For God allows parents to choose the name by which he himself will call their child for all eternity.”
Permissible and Impermissible Names
Church teaching on what names are allowed to be given a Catholic child has had a storied past century, which is why you might have heard conflicting advice from older generations. The short version of this history is: from 1917 to 1983, the Code of Canon Law had a bit in it requiring that names be Christian. Some people and parishes interpreted that to mean that you had to give your kid the name of a canonized saint. According to canon lawyers, you didn’t need to do so. Check out this article if you want to learn more.
The 1983 Code (the code currently in effect) clarified this discussion. Canon Law 855 states, “Parents, sponsors, and the pastor are to take care that a name foreign to Christian sensibility is not given.” The name given to a child is not required to be the name of a canonized saint; rather, any name that fits within a Christian sensibility can become the name of your child, who hopefully will sanctify the name when they themselves become a canonized saint!
If you have a question about whether a name is permissible or not, I suggest you do three things.
- Look up the etymology and historical usage of the name. What connotations does the name carry?
- Reflect on what draws you to the name. Is that of God?
- Talk to your parish priest about the name. Do they approve of it?
Catholic Name Inspiration:
I enjoy many of the posts from this blog devoted to Catholic baby naming.
This article describes several ways, beyond looking through lists of canonized saints, to find a meaningful Catholic name.
This website lists several names in alphabetical order and by feast day.
And this blog post presents some great name ideas for Catholic twins.
Quick Note on Name Days:
A child’s name day is a special day to celebrate them and the way the faith is reflected in their name (see this article for more).
There’s even a special blessing for a child on their name day, which you can find here.
Looking for fun ways to celebrate your child’s name day? Or wondering when to celebrate if your child’s name isn’t a saint name (yet)? I like Kendra Tierney’s suggestions, which you can find here (she also introduced me to Bl. Dina Belanger, who has become my patron saint for naming children because of her response shown in the picture below).
If you want to talk to someone about naming your child, contact me at the form above. I’d be happy to chat with you!
This post is the fourth part of a six-part series on naming. Check out the other articles as they are published on the website every Sunday.
If you’re looking for a patron saint during pregnancy, I’ve got a list for you here.