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Aug 7, 2020

What’s in a Name? Quite a Bit, Actually

Matt Charbonneau

A dear friend of mine and her husband recently welcomed their first child into the world. While we were chatting and she was sharing some details, I learned of the darling angel’s name: Celeste. 

Known as a punster, I could not help but joke the proud parents must feel like they’re in heaven, given their daughter’s name derives from the Latin caelestis, meaning heavenly or celestial. 

There’s a kernel of truth with my suggestion, however, as their baby is a gift of life and a blessing from God above. 

Now, as Celeste grows, she can learn and understand the significance of her name while forging her personal identity. 

This is a concept I bring up with my students on occasion in class when discussing the subject of identity. 

A Name as an Identity

As we aim to discover who we are—as a world, as a nation, as a community, as a family, as individuals—we can realize how we express our identity through many forms. 

Certainly, our various cultures distinguish us, as we define ourselves by our choice of food and music, family customs, and any personal hobbies, the clothing we wear, the language we speak. 

Yet, while all of these elements help present our identity, we can also reveal who we are at the core simply by considering our name. 

Whether it be “rock” (Peter) or “humble” (Paul), “princess” (Sarah) or “friend” (Ruth), a person’s name can reflect so much about one’s identity. This is evidenced by no better example than our Lord, as we declare his glory and magnitude each time we say his name as Jesus (“God saves”) or Emmanuel (“God with us”). 

A Touch of Character

The meaning of names can share so much about our character and foundation—a point I encourage regularly with our children when giving them their nightly blessing. 

For our two sons and daughter, I wish for them to always know the importance of their names, appreciating how this can help lead them in their lives.

For instance, each of them has faith-based names (John*, Luke, and Rebecca) related to biblical figures or saints demonstrating strong qualities. My wife and I believe it is essential that our kids know their namesakes’ identities, including what they did for God during their earthly lives and how they help protect and guide our children from heaven.

Their names also feature a nod to their ancestry, paying homage to grandparents or great-grandparents (BrunoFrancis, and Anne) who have served as wonderful models of positive, impactful, and Christian living. Celebrating our heritage, they all have names pronounced equally in French as well as in English.

Lastly, each of our kids have a name my wife or I hold (JosephPatrick, and Elizabeth), signifying a lifelong link, while giving us the honor of always striving to embody the faith-based values and characteristics of those names we wish for our children to carry.

Part of a Family

But while we are no different from many others regarding certain rationale in naming our kids, it could behoove any parent in our faith to recognize the responsibility one has when choosing names for their children. 

As taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we are fully and formally received into God’s family at the time of our baptism, when a Christian receives his or her name in the Church (CCC 2165). As part of this sacrament: 

Parents, sponsors, and the pastor are to see that a name is not given which is foreign to Christian sentiment (CCC 2156).

Thus, parents can give their offspring any name that supports the Lord’s sanctifying of humanity (CCC 2156), including that of a saint, biblical figure, Christian mystery, or virtue. Examples of this last component include names such as Faith or Hope. 

A Way to Glorify God

Of course, whatever parents name their children, it is essential they acknowledge the sacred nature of the selections: 

“God calls each one by name. Everyone’s name is sacred. The name is the icon of the person. It demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it.”

CCC 2158; see also Isaiah 43:1

In addition, the Church teaches that each baptized member holds mysterious and unique character, marked with God’s name and shining forth in splendor (CCC 2159). Parents must choose wisely, then, as their children’s names are intended to stay with them forever. As such, our names can help inspire us to live out our holy call so that we may one day find our eternal place in God’s kingdom. 

With this in mind, instead of feeling any pressure when deciding a baby’s name, may all parents delight in the prized occasion of naming their child. 

And whatever names we have been given, may all of us savor the opportunity of displaying their attributes, aware of their origins while always glorifying God through our living. 


You May Also Like:

The Names for Mary in the Litany of Loreto


Why Is Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain Wrong? [Fr. Mike Podcast]


Why Religious Change Names {CFR Video]


Belonging: Baptism in the Family of God [Study Program]


Matt Charbonneau is a high school religious education teacher who inspires his students to explore a deeper relationship with God. Applying uplifting lessons, engaging activities, and insightful experiences, he strives to demonstrate the powerful presence and unconditional love of God in everyday life. For more of Matt’s writing, visit God’s Giveaways at www.mattcharbonneau.com.


*The names of the author’s children have been changed to protect their identity.


Featured photo by Allie on Unsplash


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