Saints, sinners and baby names
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Every May, I eagerly anticipate the release of the most popular baby names issued by the Social Security Administration. Last year’s champions defended their title this spring, with Jacob in the No. 1 spot for the 14th year and Sophia on top for a second time.
The top-10 list looks mostly the same — Mia and Madison flip flopped. Mason held while Jayden rose — with the two new arrivals of Liam (ousting Daniel) and Elizabeth (kicking out Chloe). Old-fashioned names like Henry (No. 43) and Lucy (No. 66) continued their ascent, alongside modern picks like Wyatt (No. 41) and Harper (No. 24).
I find baby names a fascinating cultural statement — pairings of sounds that please the ear and ignite the imagination, somehow expressing the great expectations of parents in just a handful of letters. My girlfriends and I keep lists in Google documents, reconsidering childhood favorites and combing the family tree.
That’s why I was delighted to receive a copy of “The Catholic Baby Name Book,” written by Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur and published this year by Ave Maria Press. The 554-page paperback contains short biographies for more than 3,000 saints along with many more derivatives and alternative spellings.
If you’re looking to name your child after a saint — and what better inspiration is there? — this book is your definitive guide.
Patrice is a 38-year-old Massachusetts mom who spent a year researching and writing this book, whipping out her laptop at any opportunity — in the school lobby, in the car, at a Panera, in the living room once her kids were in bed.
“I was blown away by the different paths to sanctity,” she told me. “There are the expected popes, monks, nuns and martyrs, but there are also saints of every profession and economic background. There are saints who led lives of holiness from day one and others who were notorious sinners before giving themselves to God, those that died young and those that lived long lives. Each of these saints has something to teach us about living a life dedicated to God. Knowing we have these friends up in heaven is a wonderful gift.”
I, too, was dazzled by Patrice’s findings, especially the religious meaning behind trendy names, which I tend to view as secular.
Aiden, for instance, is linked to the seventh-century Irish saint Aidan; Ava, meanwhile, was a Benedictine nun cured of blindness. Sophia, the winner among girls, was a saint whose three daughters — Faith, Hope and Charity — were also canonized. The catalog of saints includes sturdy picks, such as David and Michael, and delicious girl names like Faustina, Seraphina and Anastasia.
“They give an air of sophistication,” Patrice said. “I can easily imagine a member of royalty having those names.”
As for comebacks, she’s got her money on Francis, as inspired by our new pope, and Mary, which currently doesn’t crack the top 100, outranked by Savannah, Serenity, Sydney and Skylar. “[Mary] is such a beautiful name in honor of the most beautiful woman who ever lived.”
That’s the ultimate goal: to emulate the saint whose name we bear, to feel at once dignified, challenged and comforted by the commonality. Their lives are filled with bread crumbs leading us to heaven. If one path doesn’t pan out, there’s always another saint to point the way. As for Patrice, she’s chosen St. Therese as her patron saint but calls on St. Anne for parenting wisdom and St. Gianna as a working mom.
In an era of celebrity worship, saints offer real-world inspiration. Lodovico founded an orphanage and a publishing house; Begga built a convent after she was widowed; Eric evangelized. When we learn about their trials and triumphs, we can more easily see a place for ourselves at the table. What a raucous feast it is!
Capecchi is a freelance writer from Inver Grove Heights.
For reflection: What saint do you admire most? In what way does he or she inspire you?