The importance of giving a Christian name

The following is The Knight of Tradition’s first post on the importance of giving a Christian name to children.  Many thanks for such an excellent post, Steven!

The traditional Code of Canon Law clearly states that a child must be baptized with a Christian name:

“Pastors should take care that a Christian name is given to those whom they baptize; but if they are not able to bring this about, they will add to the name given by the parents the name of some Saint and record both names in the book of baptisms.” (Canon 761)

The 1983 Code, while regrettably a bit more ambiguous on this matter, still states in Canon 855 that “Parents, sponsors, and the pastor are to take care that a name foreign to Christian sensibility is not given.”

It would seem perfectly licit to question whether many of the popular names in the ever de-Christianizing West are acceptable to a proper”Christian sensibility”.  Compared to pre-Vatican II times when Christian children were most often named after a great saint, a particular virtue, etc., the world appears to be reverting to paganism with the newest name trends and ideas.

If a name is supposed to symbolize the parents’ love and interests, what does that say about so many Christian parents today?  Our Blessed Mother and the great Saints are being passed over for the movie stars and latest “trends”.  The current loss of Faith in the West is most certainly reflected in the names it chooses to give to the next generation.

Fr. Roger Landry, in a 2011 column for The Anchor, writes:

“…Recently, the Social Security Administration published a list of the 1,000 most popular boys’ and girls’ names chosen by American parents in 2009. The main headline for most of the press accounts was that the name “Mary” – which in every year from 1910-1965 was either the first or the second most popular girls’ name – was no longer even in the top 100. American parents as a whole were choosing the names Alyssa, Aubrey, Avery, and Aaliyah, Hailey, Bailey, Kaylee, and Riley, Layla, Makayla, Morgan and Destiny more than they were choosing to name their child over the spiritual mother Jesus on the cross gave to the human race. While Marian derivatives Maria (71st) and Mariah (88th) did make the top 100, they still trailed those named after Manhattan boulevards (Madison, seventh), adrenal disorders (Addison, 12th), Big Apple Boroughs (Brooklyn, 37th) and even the suggested overturning of heaven (Nevaeh – heaven spelled backwards – 34th) by large margins.

On the boys’ side, things are not much better. Beginning in 1910, when the frequency of names began to be documented, through 1972, the names of the foster-father of Jesus and of the four evangelists were firmly entrenched in the top 10 each year. They haven’t fallen nearly as much as the name of the Mother of God, but Joseph is now 16th (its lowest since records began getting kept in 1910), Matthew is 13th, John is 26th, Luke is 48th, Mark is 154th. At a practical level, parents are opting just as much or more for Braydon, Brody and Bryson, Jayden, Jaxon, and Jace, Colton, Caden and Camden.

At a human level, one of the first and most long-lasting gifts – or burdens – parents give to a child is a name. This is the way the child will generally be referred to for the rest of his or her life. The child will hear that name literally millions of times over the course of a lifetime. The choice of a name can have a profound impact on the child’s development and self-identity. If, for example, the child receives a name that is equally given to boys and girls – in 2009, like Peyton (43rd for girls, 147th for boys), Taylor (22nd for girls, 298th for boys), or Jordan (45th for boys, 150th for girls) – he or she will likely have a lifetime of misaddressed envelopes, salutations and other tiresome or embarrassing situations. If someone is given a neologism like Addisyn, Aditya, Alayna, Arjun, Ayaan, Deandre, Jaliyah, Jamarion, Jaxen, Kaydence, Kimora, Misael, Nayeli, Saniyah, Xander, Xiomara, Xzavier, Yamilet, Yareli Yaritza, or Zavion – all of which are among the top 1,000 U.S. names in 2009 – not only will these children have to suffer through others’ not knowing by their name whether they’re male or female but they’ll also have to endure a lifetime of mispronunciations as well as having to repeat and spell out their names over-and-over-again. What may have begun with the parents’ wanting to give a “special” name to a beloved child will turn into a lifetime of unnecessary hassles, when others will be forced to ask them, “What did you say your name was again?”

A child’s name is not an email handle where one can basically get as creative as one wants. A child’s name, rather, communicates in a sense a person’s identity and can dramatically impact a child’s development. If Mr. and Mrs. Dover call their son Ben, they’re setting him up for a life of ridicule. If they name him Benorenaliyah, they’re setting him up for a life of social confusion and awkwardness. If they name their child after a soap opera star, professional athlete, rock star, or reality show personality, not only are they manifesting a regrettable superficiality, but they are also linking their child to someone who likely will be irrelevant later. How many adults today would prefer to be called Humphrey or Petula? It’s quite possible that in 50 years, people will feel the same way about being called Eminem or Rihanna, Shaquille or Shakira.”

Thank you, Father!  May Catholic parents hold to the traditions of their forefathers and give their children truly Christian names!  What a rebuke it is to the modern world, which tries night and day to eliminate the last vestiges of Tradition from our grasps!

This is not to say, however, that we ought to cast judgement on children who have these names or on their parents who have chosen these names for them.  Let us simply strive to be faithful to our beloved Catholic Tradition and to show a true Christian love in selecting the perfect name for our children!

~Steven C., “The Knight of Tradition”


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