Sunday, 12 January 2014

Silly names

What is it about  our contemporary culture which makes parents want to pass on their own misplaced sense of individuality or tribal identity in the names they inflict on their children? As in most things, the more strenuously we strive to be different, the more we end up just running with the herd.

On the one hand - even in the leafier parts of the country - clergy are asked to baptise children with the names of professional footballers, pop singers or antipodean soap stars - how do you say 'Kylie' without that fatal upward inflection of the voice? 

These days it's increasingly necessary to ask one of two questions: either, 'How do you spell that?' or 'How do you pronounce that?' - neither of which exactly endears one to the parents... 
However, Christian names as such - the names of Saints - are in short supply.
I remember as a (not particularly callow) curate being taken to task for misspelling a name on a baptismal certificate:  in fact, 'Chelsie' - not, as I thought, ..... as in Kensington ....

And, to be even handed, there's also the tendency among the more affluent middle classes to go for the obscure, the precious or the downright silly, if not actually Wagnerian. 

On the other hand, if a child can learn to overcome that particular handicap, they're set up for life ....  (say I, who inherited a particularly silly surname ....)

But this is Father George Rutler making a very serious point: 
 "Conferring a name in baptism signals an intensity in our relationship with God, who “adopts” us as his sons and daughters. Pope Benedict XVI once baptized twenty-one babies in just one month, and said: “Every baptized child acquires the character of the son of God, beginning with their Christian name, an unmistakable sign that the Holy Spirit causes men to be born anew in the womb of the Church.” So it is salutary to be careful in choosing names that identify with the great saints who have gone before us. The first pope to change his name upon election was John II in 533. He did so because his father had named him for the pagan god Mercury. The more pagan a culture becomes, the more it lapses into pagan and even downright silly names. There is, however, the hope that the grace of baptism can make even someone burdened with a fashionably pagan name, a saint. Saint John Vianney said, “Not all the saints started well, but all of them ended well.”  


  1. Kylie and Chelsie - SOOOO Eighties (perhaps there'll be a retro backlash?)

    1. Yes, the anecdote was from the late eighties! These days, names, like popular culture itself, have moved on to the wildly inventive and crazily spelt. A retro backlash? Not, I hope, in that sense but perhaps in some other matters ...


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