Friday, November 30, 2012

On the Naming of Children

Apparently, there is a newborn baby whose mother decided to name her Hashtag. That's right folks. A little baby will be forever referred to something from Twitter. Here's what St John Chrysostom has to say about this:
“So let the name of the saints enter our homes through the naming of our children, to train not only the child but the father, when he reflects that he is the father of John or Elijah or James; for, if the name be given with forethought to pay honor to those that have departed, and we grasp at our kinship with the righteous rather than with our forebears, this too will greatly help us and our children. Do not because it is a small thing regard it as small; its purpose is to succour us.” — An Address on Vainglory and the Right Way for Parents to Bring Up Their Children.
Names are very important to us as humans. Man has a need to discriminate between things, and the development of distinct names for different items is a way to fulfill this need stemming from the intellect. Also, for human beings, personal names mark our place as children made in the image and likeness of God with each individual having special qualities to use for the glory of God. (This is why names are such a big deal in The Lord of the Rings, which can be contrasted with Lewis Carroll's approach to names in the Alice books .)

Why do this to such a cute baby??
A saint's name given at birth, and consequently baptism, gives us a personal patron for our entire lives. Indeed, with the custom of having a middle name being prevalent in the West, we have two patrons with whom we have a special bond of prayer. It also gives one a spiritual lesson, and can be seen as the first lesson in the faith for a child.  It is an easily-accessible example of virtue, and identity as a human. For example, I have the example of St Matthew's evangelism and martyrdom to look to. But, I think what his name means ('Gift from God' in Hebrew) is just as important. In another example, a child named for St Peter will always have a link to the foundation of the Church, as well as someone to learn from in living a life with Christ.

Parents are the primary educators of children, and what does this teach them?  That the saints and the Faith are not important? Now, I know many good Catholic, parents and children alike, whose names are the shortened forms of a saint's name, or have a name that is not associated with a particular saint (AFAIK). But, they aren't in conflict with the Church, which gives us this in the CCC:
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.-CCC § 2156
Faith, hope, charity, grace...all really important, and appropriate names for children (Aside: Why are girls the ones named for virtue, and not boys?). One friend of mine is named Grace, and that's uber-important, since it is given to us as part of God's plan for our salvation. Another friend of mine is named Alyssa, which means 'rational' in Greek, apparently. That's a quality of humans, stemming from our souls, that sets us apart from animals and plants. So it's quite in line with giving your child a good Christian life.

There's also this from CIC § 855:
Parents, sponsors, and the pastor are to take care that a name foreign to Christian sensibility is not given.
Hmm. This is usually referenced in order to tell people that Lucifer, Satan, and Jezebel are inappropriate (I would also say Thor and Menelaus are out as well.) I wonder if an over-reliance on the Internet in trite and silly ways is 'foreign to Christian sensibility.'

From the Catholic Encyclopedia:
The priest is directed to see that obscene, fabulous, and ridiculous names, or those of heathen gods or of infidel men be not imposed. On the contrary the priest is to recommend the names of saints. This rubric is not a rigorous precept, but it is an instruction to the priest to do what he can in the matter. If parents are unreasonably obstinate, the priest may add a saint’s name to the one insisted upon.
There's a pastoral way to do this. If it's a virtue, or something for which no connotations contrary to the Faith can be found, then the priest shouldn't be overly difficult about it. Simply ask them to think about using a saint's name for at least the middle name. But, he should insist on adding a saint's name in the given conditions above. (Just a thought: names that don't go against the Faith are OK. But, I have a hard time with the sound quality of many of those names that were popular from about 1900-1965, so I for one would never give my children those names)

Also, there's nothing wrong with giving everyone the same first name, and a different middle name. The family of the Little Flower, Ste-Thérèse-de-Lisieux, apparently gave each child the first name "Marie." That's kinda cool, actually. 

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