This is confirmation weekend in my church, and while there are many, many things I appreciate about this right of passage, I’d be lying if I said that names weren’t right up there.
If you’re unfamiliar with the tradition, Confirmation – at least for Catholics – is the final sacrament of initiation. In some ways, it marks a child’s full membership in the church, almost like a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. There’s lots that goes into it, but an important part involves candidates for Confirmation choosing a saint to serve as their personal role model.
That’s right. Sometime around the end of middle school, you get to choose a whole new name.
Ideally, we’re moved to choose our saint because of a spiritual meaning. They’re the patron saint associated with something that matters to us, or we find their story inspiring.
It’s not because we think the saint’s name is just plain great … though searches to this site for “cool saint names” suggest that it’s always a factor, too.
Faith aside, though, I love that a rite of passage incorporates taking a new name.
Because there’s something about entering adolescence, and having the chance to define ourselves, that feels particularly appropriate. Our parents give us our name at birth, but as we grow, it feels like we ought to be able to choose part of our identity for ourselves.
Western culture doesn’t make much space for that. A legal name change comes with costs and paperwork and a certain amount of hassle. And, really, the name I would’ve given myself at 13 or maybe even at 17 might not have been ideal.
But the concept still appeals.
Confirmation names are relatively low stakes. They don’t become part of your legal identity. For all the people that I know, even within my parish, I really don’t know their confirmation names unless they choose to share them deliberately, and very few people do.
And so I’ll ask this community: do you have a Confirmation name? (Or a similar name from another faith tradition or secular custom?) Would you choose it again if you had the chance?
Do I need to say it? If your favorite name is James, and your sister’s favorite name is Astra, you both need to agree to not talk about it. Really. One of my new rules: arguments about names are usually NOT about names. They’re a proxy for systems of belief, lifestyle choices, and a zillion other things. I like the advice from the psychologist in this article: when asked for an opinion, “I always recommend caution.”
Can science tell us which names are most pleasing? Maybe … this study is based on phonemes, or units of sound. It puts Sophia at #1 for girls; Matthew at the top for boys. I have lots more thoughts about this, but I’ll save them for Tuesday’s newsletter. (Subscribe below!)
I’m fascinated by this challenge from Swistle. They want to name a daughter with the middle name Mary, that will go with the maybe-possibly-future sister name Freya Florence.
Namespotting IRL: twin sisters named Alice and Clara. I’m not sure why, but I find that such a perfectly balanced pair. Traditional, familiar but not Top Ten, feminine but not fussy.
It’s that time again! Namerology is taking nominations for the Name of the Year. Read all about it – and submit your nominations – here. Past winners include Delta, Karen, and Atticus. Names really are a snapshot of what’s happening in the world.
Can’t get enough name talk? Sign up for the newsletter, sent every Tuesday:
That’s all for this week. As always, thank you for reading – and have a great week!
Fun post! I wonder how many of us considered confirmation names for children? My husband and I are Magdalene and Dominic, and we’ve considered both names for the our children.
Oh yes, I’ll have to ask friends this question … it didn’t come up for us, but I can imagine it might have for other families. (Funny thing: two people I know well both confessed that they remember their confirmation name, but can’t recall precisely which Saint John – for example – they chose because there are so many!)
My confirmation Saint is Philomena. She has a great martyr story and a unique name, which was part of the motivation to choose her. Funny enough, my husband assumed we would name a daughter Philomena (we named a son after his Saint, Augustine), but I no longer like long and frilly names like that. Much prefer short and spunkier ones – Tess and Helen are top of the girls list now.
I’m a Christian, but not Catholic, so no confirmation name for me. But your discussion of confirmation names and the chance to define yourself with a new name as you enter adolescence reminded me of this book:
It’s written by a New Zealand author. The main character is September Tuesday who, at 12, is now able to select her forever name. My husband saw it at the library and borrowed it for me knowing how much I love names. It was a fun read.
How fascinating! My library doesn’t have it available electronically, so I’ll have to go in and see if it’s available in print. Thank you!
My confirmation name is Jadwiga, for St. Jadwiga Queen of Poland, who was canonized in 1997 (not St. Jadwiga of Silesia). I love the saint, but not the English version of the name, Hedwig. I appreciated an onomastics outside the box article on the name with a lot of variants, but I’m not sure that any of them are usable in the U.S.!
Jadwiga was my husband’s grandmother! (Who lived her entire life in Poland, so not an unusual name – and it sounds amazing in Polish.) He has great stories about her, but I never could figure out how to make it work in English. Hedy is fun, but I’m not sure how it would wear. The closest I ever got was considering Jade as a bonus middle name for a future daughter.
My confirmation name is Maria Goretti, patron saint of assault survivors.
I remember the bishop did a double take when he read it on the list—the other hundred or so girls getting confirmed along with me were almost all Mary or Catherine.
Sarah Elizabeth says
My confirmation name is Catherine for Catherine of Sienna, but really for my grandma, Catherine. My legal middle name, Elizabeth, is my paternal grandmother’s name, but I wanted my name to honor both of them.
Faustina for me and Florian for my husband. And if I had to choose for my babies, based on their birthdays and character, if pick Appolonia, Helena, and Valentine. We shall see what they pick 🙂