July 18th, 2010
From Ireland to Egypt, Sweden to Spain, this week’s group of Saints draws from a multitude of cultures and languages. I could choose many from this list by altering the forms to suit our family: Margaret becomes Marguerite, Frederick becomes Frederic, and Lawrence Lorenzo (just because I like it). Do you get ideas from this list too?
Bruno- Germanic, “brown.” Bruno of Segni was a Benedictine bishop and served as Vatican Librarian under Pope Gregory VII. His work on the Eucharist was the standard for hundreds of years thereafter.
If Rocco and Dante can be cool again, there’s no reason Bruno shouldn’t be given the nod (Sasha Baron Cohen notwithstanding).
Frederick- Germanic, “peaceful ruler.” Ninth century bishop of Utrecht, who was stabbed in the back while leading a prayer because he defended the Empress Judith against those who attacked her for alleged immorality. He composed a prayer for the Trinity that continued to be used in The Netherlands for centuries.
The Brits love Freddy to death, but he still sounds Fresh on American soil.
Marina- Latin, “of the sea.” Spanish martyr from Galicia.
Your “friend” and mine Matt LeBlanc overlooked the obvious boat dock connotations when he named his daughter this in 2004. Kudos to him, it’s lovely.
Ambrose- Greco-Latin, “immortal.” St. Ambrose Au-pert was Charlemagne’s tutor and a Benedictine monk. Not to be confused with St. Ambrogio, patron saint of Milan.
Can Ambrose be the next Ignatius? Does its lack of nicknames detract from any potential cool factor?
Elias- Hebrew “the Lord is my God.” Arab educated in Egypt who founded a monastery in Jericho and then elected a Patriarch of Jerusalem. Exiled to Aila the Red Sea by Emperor Anastasius I.
A brilliant compromise for the cross-cultural family, Elias is hip the world over.
Margaret- Greek, “pearl.” The legend of St. Margaret of Antioch goes something like this: she was imprisoned after refusing advances of the prefect, and in prison encountered the devil in the form of a dragon. The dragon swallowed her whole, but the cross she wore so tickled his throat that he had to throw her back up. Then she was tortured, burned, and drowned, and each time miraculously survived. Thousands of people who witnessed this were made believers and converted.
Margaret boasts the best short forms, Maggie, Maisie, Meg, Peg and Greta. A nice alternative to Elizabeth if you want your daughter to have options.
Julia- Taken prisoner by the Romans from Troyes, France, she was given to soldier Claudius.
She converted Claudius, and they were made martyrs together by beheading.
Lawrence of Brindisi, a Capuchin from the 16th century, was in his life a Definitor General of his Order, and is now regarded as a Doctor of the Church.
He founded the Capuchin house in Madrid and helped to avert an uprising in Spain. Don’t forget Lawrence’s cognates, Lorenzo, Laurent, Lauro, Lorenz.
Mary Magdalene- Mary- various possible meanings, including “bitter”, “sea”, and “beloved child.” The meaning of Magdalene is more straightforward, and suggests simply “from Magdala.” A notorious sinner who redeemed herself through her faith. As the story goes, when Christ rose from the dead, he showed himself first to her.
Both Mary and Magdalene/Magdalena are today underused classic choices, but together they are still perhaps too much of a stigma.
Birgitta of Sweden- The Patroness of Failures. Birgitta set out to build a monastery, it never materialized. She went to Rome to lure the Pope from Avignon, he did not come at that time. She acted on the visions she received, and never wrote in the first person, as she saw herself as a vessel through whom the will of God transpired (or didn’t).
Birgitta takes me to “The Sound of Music” in an instant. You?
Valerian- An eloquent orator, Bishop from Cimeiz, Gaul (France) in the 400s.
Valerian is an ornate alternate to the trend of names ending in N. So ornate one might wish to save Valeriana for a girl.
Declan- One suggestion is that this name means “full of goodness”, but the meaning may be lost. Declan preceded St. Patrick in Ireland, and is credited with performing many miracles there.
Declan is gaining steam in fashionable circles. It’s a laudable alternative to Aidan and Connor.
Above: Mary Magdalene by Frederick Sandys
June 27th, 2010
Time for some high culture up in this joint!
The saints are back.
Cyril- from the Greek kyrios meaning “Lord”; the outspoken archbishop of Constantinople in the fifth century. St. Cyril was born in Alexandria, Egypt. Both sensitive and tough, Cyril has potential.
Ferdinand of Aragon- Fifth bishop of Cajazzo (Sicily). Can the bull release his stronghold on this name?
László- “to rule with glory”; – László was an 11th century king of Hungary, and a national Christian hero. A Z, an O, and two accents, what’s not to love?
Vincenza- Co-foundress with San Bartolomea of the Sisters of Charity circa 1824. She was orphaned as a child and devoted her life to helping the poor. An authentic Italian bella, more along the lines of Cosima than Gabriella.
Cassius- 6th century bishop of Narni, Italy. Praised by Pope Gregory the Great for his kindness. Very surprised I don’t run into more of these. A boxer, a saint, an intellectual, and an actor’s son, Cassius has widespread appeal.
Paul – Latin “small, humble”; Paul changed his name from Saul. As Saul, he was a persecutor of Christians, but he fell off his horse when he was struck by light from heaven and a voice asking why Saul was persecuting him. An all but forgotten classic.
Peter: Greek petros means “stone”; The most prominent of the twelve apostles, given his name “the rock” by Jesus himself. St. Peter is said to hold the keys to the kingdom of God. Peter has loads of personality. A brother for Edward and George.
Bertrand- 6th century bishop of Le Mans, France. He grew grapes there long before it was a racing capital.
Lucina- “Light”; First century martyr, there were also several saints by this name, one who was connected to St. Sebastian. An original way to get to Lucy, should you want one.
Salome- Also known as St. Mary Salome, one of three women present at the crucifixion, and Mary’s midwife. Incidentally, she is also the wife of Zebedee. What do we think about the usability of Salome, given the more famous one who cut off John the Baptist’s head?
Felix- “Happy”; St. Felix became the first Bishop of Como, Italy in 390. An enduring choice that hits all the right notes for modern parents.
Junipero- From the island of Majorca, Miguel Jose Serra took the name of Junipero when he became a Franciscan monk in 1730. He went on to teach philosphy and theology in Padua, Italy, and then became a leading missionary in Mexico. All you Junipers out there have a saint as your namesake.
Otto- German, “wealth, fortune”; 11th century Bishop of Bamberg who preached peace and led a humble existence under Henry IV and Henry V. Otto is gaining steam in urban areas, yet for now remains remarkably rare for how cool he looks.
Anatolius- Fifth century patriarch of Constantinople, a miracle worker and a fighter of heretics. While Anatolius might be a bit much to wrap your mouth around, try Anatole.
Hyacinth- Meaning is for a flower of the same name. Emporer Trajan’s chamberlain, she starved to death when imprisoned and given only meat that had been blessed for pagan. If you can get over Hyacinth Bucket, this would make a refreshing choice. If you cannot disassociate with that kooky character, try Jacinta instead.
Thomas- A devout apostle, Thomas became known as “doubting Thomas” for his skepticism regarding Christ’s resurrection. Like Peter and Paul, Thomas is a classic that deserves a bit of resurrecting himself.
Above: The Visitation by Ghirlandaio (Salome pictured here)
April 28th, 2009
Casilda. Macaria. Brychan. Ruadan.
This list is full of new discoveries for me, and I hope for you as well. If you find “this week’s” saints’ post to be a little long, it is because I’ve been a bad girl and have not kept to my Sunday ritual of posting. Sometimes they overwhelm, but I promise to keep being diligent and bang these puppies out as often as I can!
Any you would use?
Brychan- Welsh, “speckled.” King of Wales, notable for having 24 children, all of whom were saints. Visually, he’s connected to popular choices like Bradon and Bryson. Yet this is a venerable old classic that hasn’t gotten much attention. With this name, your son would fit right in, and have a long history of which to be proud.
Finnian / Finan- Old Irish, “white.” 6th century disciple of St. Brendan, he founded a monastery in Kinitty, Offaly, Ireland. Finan is yet another one of many innumerable ways to get to the newly hot Finn.
Januarius, Maxima, and Macaria- African martyrs killed together by Romans. Maxima- Latin, “greatest.” Macaria- Greek, “blessed, happy.” Macaria has great potential, while Maxima’s meaning might be too much. It’s working for the Dutch princess though. January might be more portable than Januarius, and could be worn on a boy or a girl. A girl is going to have an easier time of it though.
Casilda- Latin “dwelling place.” 11th century hermitess from Toledo, Spain. Gorgeous, no?
Apollonius- Greek, derived from Apollo, god of sun, medicine, music, and poetry. Egyptian martyr persecuted by Emperor Diocletian for being a Christian. He and his convert, Philemon, were sewn shut into sacks and thrown into the sea to drown. Apollonius is a lot to carry on a modern child. Sneak this one in the middle or choose one of its derivations.
Gemma- Latin, “Precious stone.” Gemma Galgani lived most of her life very ill. She had many visions and a passionate spiritual life, but her health prevented her from being admitted to a nunnery. She received the stigmata several times, and died in 1903. The Gemma love has yet to take over this country. Be one of the first to choose it for your precious jewel.
Vissia- Ancient Roman. Virgin and martyr persecuted under Emperor Trajan in Italy. Vissia’s a snazzy choice for a young lady or a fictional character. It’s got style, spice, and a bit of bite.
Caradoc- Welsh, “beloved.” Never formally canonized, but believed to be celebrated as a saint from the thirteenth century onward. Welsh harpist who played for Prince Rhys in South Wales. He is buried at St. David’s Cathedral, and his remains were long believed to be those of St. David. The prefix here leans feminine in modern times, but Caradoc may have its day.
Lydwine- Scandinavian, “people’s friend.” Dutch patron saint of the sick, she suffered multiple illnesses throughout her life. Accompanying the illnesses were visions of heaven and hell which she believed were sent from God. Could be quite lovely. Try also Lydwina.
Ruadan- Gaelic, “red-haired.” A disciple of St. Finian, he was one of the twelve apostles of Ireland. He established the monastery of Lothra in Tipperary. Kind of yummy, no?
Bernadette- French, Old German, “brave bear.” During her life, she received many visions from the Virgin Mary herself. The Holy Mother told her to dig a spring in Lourdes, France, where people migrate for its healing miracles. Wonder if Bernadette made Madge’s short list?
Elias- Greek and Hebrew, “the lord is my god.” A Spanish ninth century priest from Cordoba who was martyred alongside St. Paolo and St. Isidro, patron of Madrid. You say “eh-LIE-us”, and I say “eh-LEE-us.” This has been a friend’s experience with the name, but I would love to see it used a *bit* more.
Agia- Benedictine woman who made the decision with her husband, St. Hidulphus, to part ways and join in the service of God. She became a nun, he a monk. Almost reminiscent of the Aegean sea.
Timon- Greek, “respect.” One of the Seven Deacons mentioned in the Bible who helped the Nazarenes in first century Jerusalem. Proximity to Simon and Timothy aside, I’m liking this one. ”Tee-MOHN.”
Agnese- Greek, “chaste.” An extremely important Tuscan saint, particularly in Montepulciano. She entered a convent at age 9, and became head of another at 15. She had multiple visions which included holding baby Jesus in her hands, and receiving communion from an angel. Pronounced “ahn-YAY-zay” more or less, try to think of this one as gorgeous rather than fugly. Not convinced yet? You need to hear an Italian say it.
Maximian- Latin, “greatest.” Patriarch or Constantinople and friend of Pope Celestine I. We haven’t maxed out of Max names just yet. If Maximilian’s too poncey but Maxwell feels to homey, give this a shot.
Leonides- Greek, “lion.” Scholar from Alexandria who was beheaded under the rule of Septimus Severus in the year 202. His life is recorded by Eusebius. Cool Leo names may be in short supply. While Leo works beautifully on his own, Leonides gives this up-and-comer an ancient vibe.
George- Greek, “farmer.” Behind the dragon fable is a soldier who took on his leader, Emperor Diocletian, for being so merciless to Christians. George was then tortured and eventually executed, but his bravery remains an inspiration for anyone facing adversity. Poor George. Gets such a bad rap these days, but I argue this is an eternal classic and you will be ahead of the curve!
Sabas- Roman martyr persecuted under Emporer Aurelian. Also known as Sabas the Goth. Sabas feels as if it could go unisex. While I don’t necessarily advocate it, this one could be easily worn on a girl as well as a boy.
Mella- Eighth century abbess and widow from Connaught, Ireland. Her children, Cannech and Tigernach, were also saints. Ostensibly easy to pronounce and to spell. A worthy competitor for Ella and Bella.
Alda- Old German, “old, prosperous.” One of the patron saints of Siena, Italy who chose to live an ascetic life, give everything to the poor and administer to the sick. She was known for her visions. Also known as Aldobrandesca. Always on the search for fresh names that end in A, Alda suits today’s naming climate perfectly.
Cletus- Greek, “called forth, invoked.” Third bishop of Rome and one of St. Peter’s early disciples. He is buried in the Vatican next to St. Linus. Come on. What’s more likely to cause a stir than Cletus? Recommended for urban kids only.
St. Casilda, 1630–35 Francisco de Zurbarán; Bernadette Soubirous
April 6th, 2009
Modern sounding 8 and 10 point letters come tidily packaged in venerable saints’ names this week: Zeno, Octavian, Felix all imminently usable. For an edgy hip choice for your little girl, why not Musa or Agape? (Three syllable pronunciation on that last one, please). A lot of other gems here too– take liberties with your child’s name! As long as it’s spelled correctly, please.
Lea- From the Hebrew Leah, which may mean “weary.” A fourth century widow who traded her wealth for a life of piety and austerity and became the superior of a Roman monastery. St. Jerome expressed concern in a letter to St. Marcella that she be rightly remembered and praised.
Octavian- Latin, “eighth.” Fifth century archdeacon from Carthage, executed by Vandals.
Felix- Latin, “happy.” An African saint martyred with twenty companions when persecuted by Vandals.
Aldemar- Old High German, “noble” + “famous.” A favorite of an Italian regional Princess Aloara, St. Benedict was called upon often to help her when he was reassigned to a monastery in Monte Cassino. The Princess was very angry, and tried to have him killed. He had to flee to Abruzzi, where he founded several religious institutions.
Lucia, Lucy- From the Latin, lux, “light.” A native of Tuscany, she founded the childrens’ school the Insitute the Maestre Pie, or Filippine, which are widespread in Italy today.
Margaret- Originally from the Greek, “pearl.” Margaret Clitherow was born a Protestant in mid-16th century England. She married into a Catholic family, and converted. She became so devout that she harbored fugitive priests in her home. For this she was imprisoned and in typical Medieval fashion, pressed to death.
Augusta- Latin, “great.” Fifth century noblewoman, the daughter of the Duke of Friuli, Italy. She insisted on not marrying and remaining a virgin, and it is said that this so angered her father that he killed her himself with bare hands.
Rupert- Germaic, “fame” + “bright.” Once sitting pretty as the Bishop of Worms, Germany, he took it upon himself to become a missionary. He and his sister Eerentrudis built a church and abbey in what is now Salzburg, Austria, and is now the Apostle of Bavaria and Austria.
Conon- Basilian Abbot at a Greek Monastery in Sicily.
Berthold- German, “bright” + “ruler.” He and his brother Aymeric went on the Crusades together. At Mount Carmel they discovered a group of hermits, and there founded the Carmelite Order.
Zosimus- Greek, “viable.” Seventh century Bishop of Syracuse, known for giving alms to the poor and attention on education.
Benjamin- Hebrew, “son of the right hand.” Persian martyr imprisoned under Abdas. He was eventually released with the agreement that he wouldn’t continue to preach Christianity. An agreement he could not comply with, he was apprehended again and tortured with reeds inserted and removed from beneath his fingernails.
Hugh- From the Germanic hug, “heart, mind, spirit.” Benedictine Bishop of Grenoble, he is also the patron of St. Bruno, who founded the Carthusian Order at the Grande Chartreuse.
Theodora- Greek, “gift of God.” Administered to her brother St. Hermes while he was in prison. Not to be confused with the Empress.
Musa- A child mystic from Rome, whose visions were recorded by St. Gregory.
Agape- Greek, “love.” She and her Macedonian sisters, Irene and Chionia, were sentenced to death when found to be in possession of scripture– a direct defiance of Emporer Diocletian at the time.
Benedict- Latin, “blessed.” Patron saint of African-Americans, this slave was set free and became a devout hermit and later reknowned convent chef in Italy.
Isidore- Greek, “gift of Isis.” Also known as Isidro, Bishop of Seville, Spain in the 600s. He fostered learning and enlightenment in an otherwise dark era.
Zeno- Greek, possibly related to the Indo-European word for “shine” or “sky”, and related to Zeus. Third century Bishop of Verona whose story is vague, though is mentioned in the writings of both St. Gregory and St. Ambrose. Also the name of two prominent Greek philosophers, Zeno of Elea and Zeno of Citium, founder of the Stoic School.
Francesco del Cossa, Portrait of St. Lucy,, 1470
March 16th, 2009
We’re graced by the presence of one of the world’s most reknowned saints this week, St. Patrick, for whom “we’re all Irish” on one day a year. I wish there were days when we were all Greek, all ancient Romans, or all Dutch!
Some fashion-forward, some good classics, and some not-quite-ready-for-revival from the saints’ coffers this week. Which are which? That’s ultimately up to you.
Louise- From the Germanic Ludwig, hlud “fame” and wig “warrior.” Patroness of social workers, St. Louise de Marillac was a disciple of St. Vincent de Paul. She established the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in her home, and helped to place her nuns in hospitals and orphanages throughout France. While Louise and Eloise get more attention these days in the first name slot, Louise is a venerable classic along the lines of Alice and Charlotte. Let’s not foresake her!
Eusebia- Greek, “pious.” Seventh century Benedectine who became a nun at the age of twelve. St. Gertrude’s great-granddaughter. I’m on a one woman mission to bring back the “eu.” They all have such great meanings, as eu in Greek means “good” or “well.”
Gertrude- From the Germanic ger “spear” and þruþ “strength”. Patroness of gardeners and travellers, St. Gertrude of Nivelles visions helped guide herself and those around her. She was the daughter of the Blessed Pepin of Landen and Blessed Itta of Ida. Gertrude may not exactly be ready for a comeback herself, but with the tempting Trudy? It may be hard to resist forever. I have come across one child Trudy, but I bet that’s her name in full.
Patrick- From Ancient Roman Patricius, “nobleman.” Neither Irish by birth nor by blood, St. Patrick was the son of Romans Calprunius and Conchessa, and born in Scotland in 385. He was captured as a child and taken to Ireland to serve as a slave to tend sheep. When he was twenty, he escaped and left for Britain, where he studied under the tutelage of the Bishop of Auxerre. He eventually became Bishop himself, he was returned to Ireland to preach the gospel. He spent the next forty years converting the Emerald Isle. The shamrock was used in his teachings to demonstrate the trinity.
Cyril- From the Greek Kyrios, “lord.” Bishop of Jerusalem who fought against Arianism, or the belief that Christ was mortal and not the son of God. He endured many battles until the Nicene Creed was officially approved at the Council of Constantinople in 381.
Adrian- Roman, “from Hadria.” Disciple of St. Landoald, he was begging for alms for the poor in Maastricht, Netherlands, when he was assaulted and killed by a band of theives.
Alexandra- Greek, “defender of mankind.” St. Alexandra and her companions Claudia, Euphrasia, Matrona, Juliana, Euphemia, Theodosia, and Derphuta, were were burned to death under Emperor Diocletian in Amisus in Paphlagonia.
Martin- Derives from Mars, the Roman god of war. A scholar who wrote Formula Vitae Honestae and De Correctione Rusticorum, he travelled from the Danube to Palestine and eventually settled in Spain. He became the bishop of Braga in Galicia, and helped to covert the king of the Visigoths there.
Enda- Irish, “bird-like.” One of the founders of Irish monasticism, he became a monk only after being a great leader in battle. He had renounced that life when his fiancee died, and went on to found the monastery of Killeaney on the Island of Aran. Despite its feminine meaning and sound, this name is all boy. In these gender bending times of nomenclature, some of you might want to change that.
St. Gertrude of Nivelles by James C. Christensen
March 8th, 2009
I went on the hunt for crowd pleasers as last week’s list went over so well. What I found were Matilda, Serafina, Julian and Frances– all of which are on our radar already. Consider this the saints’ week of celebrity babies. The devil’s in the details here: be sure to check out the names of their family members.
Julian- From the Ancient Roman Julius, meaning “downy bearded.” Seventh century archbishop of Toledo, Spain. He established Toledo as the primal papal see of Spain and Portugal, and helped to revise the Mozarabic liturgy.
Ogmund- “Young protector.” Twelfth century bishop of Iceland, who is also considered one of the country’s apostles.
Frances - “Frenchman” or “free.” St. Frances, or Francesca, as she was likely known, came from a 14th century noble Roman family. She was very hesitant to marry because she preferred to live a life of piety. Yet she acquiesed to her father’s blessing, and marrried the kind and wealthy Lorenzo Ponziani. Having to attend numerous parties and banquets nearly led to her undoing, until she realized she could use her fortune to help the poor. With Lorenzo she had three children, Battista, Giovanni Evangelista, and Agnese. Two of her children were torn away from her in times of war, and near the end of her life she founded a secular order related to the Benedictines called the Oblates of Mary. They housed widows, and she lived amongst them in her final years when she herself became a widow. I’d always associated Frances with the male St. Francis, but her story is equally inspiring.
Anastasia- Greek, “resurrection.” A noblewoman of Istanbul (now Constantinople), she was the object of Emporer Justinian‘s fervent desires. After the passing of Empress Theodora, he stepped up his pursuit, but she escaped to the desert instead to live as a Hermitess.
Aengus- “One strength.” An Irish hermit who suffered a bit from his own notoriety during his lifetime. He is the author of The Martyrology of Saints and The Felire, or the Festology of the Saints of Ireland. This spelling may be foreign to our eyes, but it does help get away from the steak association.
Serafina- Derived from Seraphim, the highest order of angels, and means “ardent, fiery one.”A young pious girl who suffered terrible illness, she lay nearly paralized in the form of a cross for six years. After her mother passed away, she prayed to St. Gregory, who was known for having had to endure horrific pain. She died on his feast day, and it is said that white violets grew from where she lay. To this day, the people of San Giminiano, Italy, bring white violets to her grave. In a different stratosphere since Seraphina Affleck’s birth.
Euphrasia- Also known as Euphraxia, she was raised by Emporer Theodosius in Ancient Rome. Her widowed mother entered a convent in Egypt when she was five. Euphrasia soon followed at the age of twelve, preferring a life of piety to marriage, as so many of our saints do. ”Eu” may get a bad rap, but she’s due for a comeback.
Roderigo- Germanic, “famous power.” An Andalusian priest who was beaten by his brothers for his failure to adhere to the Muslim faith. He was imprisoned and eventually beheaded for his rejection of the Moors’ faith. Roderic is the handsome Catalan form, and Roderick the English.
Matilda- Germanic, “strength in battle.” Matilda, also known as “Maud“, married Henry the Fowler, son of Duke of Saxony in 909. She allowed peace and charitable works to lead her in tumultuous times. She was criticized by her family for her kind works. After the death of her husband she built three convents and a monastery. Of note are Maud’s family members: father German King Conrad I, father-in-law Otto, daughter-in-law (married to son Otto) Edith. Matilda may be spotted in name nerd circles, but it’s still much up for grabs on this side of the pond.
Above: The Image of St. Fina by Domenico Ghirlandaio
March 3rd, 2009
For newcomers to You Can’t Call It “It”, you may not be aware that I used to post saints’ name days religiously once a week. Old timers will recall that I fell out of the habit and would then have up to two months to catch up on. Quite the task. I think the last time I wrote them was December.
But I miss the new discoveries of names I’d never heard, the dusting off of old favorites, and the revelation that people named things like Jordan and Blaise were also canonized.
So I’ve decided to recommit. In the future, I will post on Sundays. For more history on the saints’ days, please see my original post.
Aubin- Latin, “white.” Sixth century Bishop of Angers, renowned for administering to the sick and unfortunate, and for various miracles he performed in his life and beyond. Also known as Albinus. A two syllable standout for parents wishing to move beyond Aidan.
Agnes of Bohemia- Greek, “chaste.” Canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1989, St. Agnes of Prague (as she was also known) was born into nobility. She refused to marry Emperor Frederick II of Germany and devoted her life to the Franciscan Abbey of Poor Clares instead. She is credited with many miracles, including the victory of her brother Wenceslaus over the duke of Austria. While Agatha is starting to make minor inroads in urban areas, Agnes is still off limits. If you’re looking for ways to get to Aggie, I personally prefer Agnes.
Anselm of Nonantola- Germanic, ans ”god” and helm ”helmet, protection.” St. Anselm was another who decided to renounce his title in favor of service to others via the church. He founded a monastery in Nonantola and many other charities, but was banished when Desiderius took power. Anselm remains the patron saint of Friuli, Italy. Incidentally for those looking for an alternative for Trudy, his sister’s name was Gisaltruda. Artist Anselm Kiefer connects me to this.
Casimir- Polish, “destroyer of peace” or “keeper of peace”, depending on who you ask. Patron saint of Poland, he preferred to serve the holy father rather than his father in this life, the king of Poland. If any scholar can give us a definitive meaning of this name, I’m sure we’d all appreciate it. Dashing and daring, the first meaning makes me hesitate to recommend this. Withycombe lists “proclamation of peace.” Let’s go with that until further notice.
Kieran- Form of the truly Irish Ciarán, “black.” From Ossory, he is known as the first born of the Irish saints, it is debated whether he was consecrated by St. Patrick in Ireland or in Rome. He lived for a time as a hermit, and is credited with numerous miracles. Also known as Kieran Saighir or Kevin the Elder. While we’re meeting more young Kierans than before (currently at 571 nationally), it still sounds fresh in comparison to so many other brogues. Note the original spelling. You could name twins Kieran and Aubin, meaning black and white. Or not.
Colette- ”Victory of the people.” Born Nicolette DeBoillet in Picardy, France, Colette was orphaned at the age of 17. She devoted her life to reforming the Poor Clares. She died in Ghent, Belgium, where to this day there remains a branch of the Poor Clares known as the Collettines. Diminutive and twee or due for a comeback? I’m in the “like it on other peoples’ kids” camp.
Felicity “Happiness” and Perpetua “Continuous”- Martyred together in the Roman Colosseum under Caesar because they were Christian. They were separated from their babies and are now patrons of women separated from their children, particularly those separated due to imprisonment. We’ve seen these two before as like many saints, they are actually celebrated on more than one day. They deserve two days, being that there are two of them. The T.V. show starring Keri Russell mainstreamed this for my generation. Little ones will associate it with the American Girl Doll. Love both, but Perpetua is where it’s at if you ask me!
Images Above: 1) Confirmation at St. Casimir’s Church in the 1950s, Erie, Pennsylvania. 2) “Rapunzel”, Anselm Kiefer, 2002.
October 9th, 2008
This week’s– ahem, two months worth of saints’ names provides a lot of inspiration, at least for me. Many of these ancient relics sound shockingly modern. Some, like Linus and Phoebe, are already being revived overseas. Several may not have the most pleasing meanings: ”Sturdy shoe” and “empty and vain” are not exactly what I’d like to call my son on a daily basis, but still, I think little Brogan or Cassius would weather that just fine, and sound pretty cool doing it to boot. We are reminded that Damian and Dionysius were indeed saints and good guys, and that Monica has a pure pedigree.
Parents and new baby namers, I urge you to take these and other venerable old names into consideration for your son or daughter. They’re bound to be the wave of the future, and will mark your child as the individual he or she is. I mean come on. Can a little Flora or Bruno be anything but ahead of the pack?
Louis- From the Germanic, Hludwig, “famous warrior.” Thirteenth century king of France, the ninth Louis, and a leader of the crusades. Whether LOO-iss or LOO-ee, this poised for revival in my book.
Yrieix- Founder of a monastery in Limousin, France, and bearer of a fabulously bizarre name.
Elias- Greek, from the Hebrew Eliahu, “my god is Y_hweh.” Seventh century Benedictine Bishop of Syracusa. This is handsome choice is favored among Latinos and has all the makings for widespread use.
Zephyrinus- Greek, “the west wind.” Pope from 199-217, his cult was suppressed in 1969. A name that has popped up on my radar with relative frequency throughout the summer, in the forms of the masculine Zephyr and feminine Zephyrine.
Monica- Greek, “one” or “alone.” Patron Saint of wives and abuse victims, she married a much older man without her consent, and bore three children: Augustine, who was baptized by Saint Ambrose and became a saint himself, Navigus, and Perpetua. This ancient traditional name will surely shed the image of Miss Lewinsky sooner or later, won’t it?
Edmund- Old English, “rich, blessed protector.” Baptized Brian, this English saint preferred his confirmation name of Edmund. Evidently he was a bit of an aficionado himself! He was convicted of preaching Catholicism in Protestant England, and in the 1970s canonized as one of the forty martyrs of England.
Sabina- Latin family name. Rome’s Aventine basilica is named for this mysterious saint, about whom little is confirmed.
Felix- Latin, “happy.” Forth century priest and Roman martyr. This jubilant moniker is on the hit parade in Europe, and is beginning to get some attention from fashion-forward parents on these shores.
Aidan- From Old Irish, Aodhan, “fiery.” Lest we forget, Aidan is an venerable Irish saint, and a legendary scholar. He founded a monastery in Lindisfarne which became a center of learning. Admittedly suffering from uber popularity, yet let this serve as a gentle reminder of who the original was– and how to spell it.
Giles- Greek, “young goat.” Patron saint of the physically disabled. The story goes that St. Giles’ piety was so notorious in his own country of Greece, that he longed for anonymity, which was to be found in France for only a short time before the people caught wind of his miracles. He became a Benedictine and died in or around 724. A particularly modern sound that could wear well on an athlete, an executive or a doctor.
Verena- Latin, “truth.” An Egyptian hermitess cum Swiss hermitess. A personal favorite from the land of obscure saints’ names, for its lilting quality and tempting initial V.
Brocard- Germanic, “brave protector.” Instrumental in establishing the Carmelite Order, Brocard had ruled for 35 years as prior in Mount Carmel, and garnered respect from Christians and Muslims alike.
Ingrid- Old Norse, “Ing is beautiful”. Ing is a Norse god of fertility. Sweden’s first Dominican nun and founder of the first Dominican cloisters there. A popular saint for hundreds of years, her cult was halted during the Reformation, all her relics destroyed.
Phoebe- Greek, “bright, pure.” First century deacon in Corinth, and good friend to Saint Paul.
Hermione- Greek, “messenger.” Prophetess in the Acts of the Apostles. I am a champion of the movement to reclaim this name from Harry Potter, back to Shakespeare, back to Greece, and on to your little girl.
Rosalia- Latin, derived from Rose. Patron saint of Palermo in Sicily, who as a young girl secluded herself in a cave to show her devotion. Equally beautiful and worthy of consideration, and hot in Quebec, is Rosalie.
Quintius- Related to the Ancient Roman Quintus ”five”, traditionally bestowed on the fifth child. Italian martyr. An increasing interest in Ancient Roman appellations might make this one usable, for some. Quentin is another more modern option.
Faustus- Latin- “auspicious.” Belonging to two saints this day. One, an abbot in Syracusa, Italy; the second, an Egyptian martyr who suffered beheading. Faust or Fausto make intriguing options as well, but pick up a copy of Goethe’s Faust before you take the plunge (or at least the Cliff’s Notes.)
Cloud- We’ve all heard of St. Cloud, Minnesota, but how many of you actually registered that this was a saint’s name? I didn’t. Originally born Clodoald, his uncle plotted against him and his brothers so that he could inherit their land. St. Cloud’s brothers fled and were apprehended and killed, but Cloud himself never went to claim his fortune. Instead, he became a teacher. Might make a nifty nature name or surprising middle.
Adela- Means literally, “noble.” Noblewoman who became a Benedictine monk when her husband, Count Baldwin IV of Flanders, died. Adela and Adele are shockingly underused, as of now.
Isaac- Hebrew, “he laughs.” Isaac the Great founded the Armenian Church, helped support the creation of an Armenian alphabet, and brought translations of the Bible and Greek and Syrian medical texts to his country.
Finian- Old Irish, “white.” Known for his miracles, St. Finian was born into the Irish royal family in the sixth century. He was ordained monk in Rome and returned to his home country to build monasteries. Another option for Finn fans.
Theodora- “God’s gift.” An Egyptian who repented for her sins and became a hermit, thereby disguising her gender until her death. Theodore may be garnering a wee bit more attention on the boys’ team.
Guy- Possibly related to “guide” or to “wood.” Born in Brussels, St. Guy of Anderlecht lived in poverty and traversed a seven year pilgrimmage on foot to Jerusalem and Rome.
Amatus- “Love of God”, “beloved.” Benedictine abbot mentored by St. Eustace and mentor himself to a nobleman named Romaric.
Cormac- “Impure son.” Irish abbot and friend of (the male) St. Columba. Author Cormac McCarthy is a distinguished modern bearer, and Mac could not be a more fun call name.
Nicomedes- “Victory of the people.” Roman priest who was beaten for his refusal to pray to multiple gods. An unexpected way to get to Nico.
Eugenia- “Well born.” Suceeded her aunt Ottilia as abbess of a French Benedictine monastery. Despite not being conventionally pretty, this ancient noble name has panache that demands respect.
Ariadne- “Most holy.” Phrygian slave who refused to participate in pagan rites honoring the prince. She is said to have entered a chasm in a ridge which opened for her and closed behind her, thereby providing a safe haven from authorities. She’s truly lovely, isn’t she?
Brogan- “Sturdy shoe”, and related etymologically to the Irish brogue, or accent. Irish abbot who may have authored the Hymn to St. Brigid. Hard to hear in your head without the pronunciation of an Irish brogue. He’s two syllable, he’s Irish, and he’s rare.
Eumenes- “Good strength.” Cretian “Wonder Worker”, known for performing miracles.
Peleus- Burned alive in Egypt along with two other priests for saying mass.
Dionysius- “Of Zeus.” Martyr from Phrygia, included because it is also the Greek God of wine and merriment. Child of the sixties Denise derives from this.
Matthew- “Gift of Y_hweh.” One of the twelve apostles and author of the first Gospel, which he wrote in his native Aramaic for the people of Palestine. Matteo, Matthias, and Matthieu are appealling cognates.
Jonas- “Dove.” Martyred in Paris, and a friend of St. Denis.
Linus- “Flax.” Consecrated Bishop by St. Paul, and successor to St. Peter as Pope in the year 67. The famous Peanuts character may have made this name unusable for some, but it is enjoying widespread popularity in many European countries.
Rusticus- “Rural, rustic.” Roman Gaul and fifth century bishop. Urban’s twin brother and alter ego?
Finbar- Originally baptized Lochan, he was renamed Fionnbharr “white head”, because of his light hair. Founded a monastery in Cork, Ireland. Does it suit your little toehead?
Cosmos & Damian- “Order” and “to tame”, respectively. Patron saints of pharmacists. Arabian brothers who were both doctors, and garnered respect from their community as they provided services for free.
Vincent- “To conquer.” St. Vincent de Paul- Patron saint of charitable societies. Captured by African pirates in the 1600s, he escaped after two years in captivity and returned to do missionary work in his native France. Generations of Vinnys have kept this alive in the Italian-American community.
Lorenzo- Latin, “laurel.” The first Filippino saint, martyred with fifteen others in Japan when he was persecuted and tortured and refused to renounce his faith. An educated man and professional calligrapher. Pope John Paul II canonized this group of saints as recently as 1987. Italians go-to name for boys.
Raphael- Hebrew, “healer.” Patron saint of the blind, of physicians, and of travelers. One of seven archangels, three of whom, himself, Gabriel, and Michael, are mentioned by name in the Bible. Hot in France.
Jerome- Stems from the Greek Hieronymos, literally translated “sacred name.” Always pictured with a book in his hand, St. Jerome spoke many languages and translated the Bible into Latin. This name needs a serious image makeover, but I think it’s within the realm of possibility.
Therese- May be related to summer or harvest. Known as the “Little Flower”, St. Therese of Lisieux was made a saint because of her notoriety, rather than any single great act. She died in the convent at age 24.
Theophilus- Greek, “loves God.” An opponent of iconoclasm in what is now Turkey. Theophile good be another option if you’ve got to have a Theo.
Cyprian- Latin, “from Cyprus.” Bishop of Toulon, France in the sixth century. Why aren’t people naming their sons Cyprian? Doesn’t he have it all for the modern parent?
Francis- “Frenchman”, or “free.” St. Francis of Assisi was a famous lover of animals who gave all his worldly possessions to the poor. Founded the Franciscan order of monks in 1181.
Flora- Latin, “flower.” Patron saint of the abandoned and victims of betrayal. Many mystical things happened to her, and she remained humble throughout all. A little girl will like that her name means “flower.”
Bruno- Germanic, “brown.” Chancellor of the famous Rheims cathedral. Due to upheaval within the church, he left Rheims and became a hermit. He and several others founded the Carthusian Order at La Grande Chartreuse, where they make the drink of the same name. The former bartender in me will tell you this: It is the only liqueur to have a color named after it, and has over 100 different herbs in it. Three monks each know one third of the recipe, and no one man knows it all. On the right person, Bruno is very hip in my book.
Augustus- Latin, “venerable.” Discovered the remains of St. Ursinus. We’ll get to him later. Yields the user friendly nickname Gus or the still more daring Auggie.
Nestor- Greek, “homecoming.” Executed under Diocletian’s reign. This name merits revival.
Thaïs- Greek, “the bond.” Wealthy Egyptian woman who gave up everything and repented for her sins of greed. St. Anthony helped to free her from her own demons. Two syllables, please: ”Tha-EESE.”
Goswin- “Friend of God” or “good friend.” Benedictine abbot, with a winning name.
Cassius- Latin, “empty, vain.” Martyred with his companion Florentius in Germany under Emporer Maximian. Cassius Clay remains the most reknowned modern bearer, AKA Muhammed Ali. Balthazar Getty also has one.
Juliana- Greek, “downy-bearded.” A servant and yet another Benedictine for today’s list. With so many Olivias and Julias, I’m shocked I don’t hear this more out and about.
August 22nd, 2008
Remarkably contemporary the names this week! Magnus, Helena, Beatrix, Caspar, and Jane all have made an appearance in my world of the under six set. I was shocked to find a Blane, and the simple Ebba was new to me. Double whammy with the last two weeks of saints’ days in one post, I’m a bit behind on these. If you ever should need it immiediately, I get most of my info here.
Blane- Gaelic for “yellow”; A Scottish monk who studied in Ireland and eventually became a Bishop in Scotland. Many miracles are credited to him. Also known as Blaan, this is perhaps the most surprising saint’s name I have come across to date. I had thought Blane was a newer name, exemplified best by hi-pro-glo Blayne on this season’s Project Runway. Could the meaning not be more perfect for him?
Clare- Latin, “clear, bright”; A follower of St. Francis and founder of an order of nuns now reffered to as the Poor Clares, this beauty cut off her hair and lived in complete austerity, wearing no shoes and refusing meat.
Lelia- This Irish saint is now identified as Saint Liadhain, baptized by St. Patrick and the great-grand-daughter of Prince Cairthenn.
Just- Latin, “just, justice”; Alternately described as a hermit and a martyr, there may be several “Just” saints. Also known as Justus, this makes an interesting word/virtue name for a boy should you be on the lookout for one.
Merewenna- Daughter of Brychan of Brecnock, with a really intruiging name.
Junian- Sixth century abbot and founder of Maire Abbey in Poitou, France.
Maximus- Latin, “greatest”; Born in 7th century Constantinople, St. Maximus the Confessor was a theologian and a mystic. You might also recall Russell Crowe’s memorable character in “The Gladiator”, and is an appealling way to get to crowd pleaser Max.
Anastasius- Greek, “resurrection”; 11th century Benedictine archbishop from Hungary.
Neopolus- Egyptian martyr who suffered under the persecutions of Diocletian. This might make a great name for a sci-fi character á la Neo in “The Matrix.”
Beatrix- Latin, “blessed voyager” and “bringer of joy”; Born into Portuguese nobility, Beatrix da Silva accompanied Princess Isabel to the court of Spain. There she joined the Cistercian convent of Santo Domingo de Silos in Toledo, and founded the Congregation of the Immaculate Conception. Near and dear to my heart, this one.
Titus- Related to Latin titulus meaning “title of honor”; Roman who was killed by Visigoths during the sack of Rome while trying to feed the poor.
Bartholomew- From the Aramaic meaning “son of Talmay”; Born in Mexico City in the 1500s, this Franciscan monk traveled to The Philippines to study medicine before being executed in Japan because of his faith.
Caspar- Persian, “treasurer”; Martyred in Nagasaki in 1627 with his wife Mary Vaz. One of relatively few Japanese saints.
Helena- Greek, “torch”; The mother of Constantine the Great and modern Christianity, she became a devout Christian and humanitarian of Rome.
Joachim-Hebrew, “raised by Y_hweh”; A Spanish ship captain in charge of carrying the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary, captured by Dutch pirates and marytred in Japan.
Magnus- Latin, “great”; 7th century native of Avignon, France, Benedictine monk, and father of Saint Agricola. Wonder how many father-son saint pairings there are out there?
Bernard- From the Germanic bern meaning “bear” and hard “brave, hardy”; Patron saint of Candelada, Spain.
Cyriaca- From the Greek kyriakos, meaning “of the lord.” Roman martyr who housed St. Dominica while they distributed alms to the poor.
Sigfrid- From the Germanic sigu “victory” and frid “peace”; Deacon at the Benedictine Wearmouth Abbey, in Durham, England. Erudite in the scripture.
Ebba- Abbess of Coldingham, England, who mutilated her own face in order not to be raped during the Danish invasion in 870. As American name tastes Ebb and flow, this might make a nice alternative to Emma, Ella, or Etta.
Zacchaeus- Greek form of the Hebrew name meaning “pure”; Fourth Episcopal head of Jerusalem. A mighty fine historic alternative to Zachary or Zachariah.
Jane- “God is gracious”; St. Jane Antide Thouret entered the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul and founded the Institute of the Daughters of Charity in 1798.
Above: “St. Helena Holding the Cross” by Lucas Cranach
August 6th, 2008
STILL ACCEPTING YOUR LOCAL TALLIES BELOW IN THE INTERNATIONAL POLL: CALLING YOUR TOP 20!
THROUGH MONDAY, AUGUST 11, 2008.
This week the saints’ calendar was wrought with names like Hormisdas, Emygdius, and Famianw. Needless to say, there were slim pickings for a modern baby. Yet from what there was to excavate, I was really pleased. Many of these are or have been considered by friends, and it’s nice to know they have such long illustrious histories!
Lua- From Limerick, this Irish male saint was a monk who helped St. Comgall build over 120 monasteries. His name might actually be a nice one for the ladies to adopt.
Abel- Hebrew, “breath.” Eighth century Benedictine abbot and missionary. For those of you who only think of Cain and Abel, this was the good brother (Ahem, Trish).
Afra- Arabic, “whitish red.” An alleged prostitute who ran a brothel, she housed the Bishop Narcissus of Gerona, Spain, and hid him from authorities during the persecutions of Diocletian. She was caught and burned to death. Afra also may have been the daughter of the king of Cyprus, and is sometimes spelled Aphra. Aphra is also a Biblical place name.
Cassian- Ancient Roman, “empty, vain.” Fourth century Bishop of Autun, France, who may originated in Egypt, and was credited for multiple miracles.
Theodoric- From the Gothic Thiudreiks, “ruler of the people.” Bishop of Cambrai-Arras, France in the ninth century. Yet another way to get to Theo, without the religiosity (sort of).
Bettina (Hungary)- Short form of Elizabeth, “consecrated to God.”
Inez (Sweden)- “chaste.”
Albert- Germanic, “noble and bright.” Carmelite hermit from Sicily who attracted thousands of people with his miracles.
Claudia- Ancient Roman, “lame, crippled.” The mother of Linus, second Pope, who is mentioned in St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy.
Donatus- Latin, “given.” Two St. Donatuses share this day: Sixth century French monk Donatus of Besancon, and forth century Italian martyr (should you have a boy, Nicole, you can still name him after your mama).
Dominic- Latin, “of the Lord.” Patron Saint of Astronomers, and founder of the Dominican Order of preachers.
Myron- Greek, “myrrh.” Martyred while protecting his church from a mob in Cyzicus.
Julian- From the Ancient Roman, Julius, meaning “downy-bearded.” Martyred with eleven others in Constantinople for their opposition to iconoclasm.
Asteria- Greek, “star.” She and her sister Grata were martyred together in Bergamo, Sicily. Bears an uncomfortable resemblance to hysteria, but pretty nonetheless.
Lawrence- Ancient Roman, “from Laurentum”, which derives from “laurel.” A humble man who gave all his worldly possessions to the poor, St. Lawrence was burned to death by the prefect of Rome because instead of material treasures, Lawrence brought the prefect the city’s poor whom he considered to be treasure.
Above: The bell tower at St. Donatus, Croatia by Mariana Tomas