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Why on earth do parents want to give their children silly names?

We should return to the days when children were named after saints rather than following the example of celebrities

By on Monday, 6 May 2013

David and Victoria Beckham with their children Romeo, Cruz and Brooklyn Photo: PA

David and Victoria Beckham with their children Romeo, Cruz and Brooklyn Photo: PA

I do about 40 baptisms a year, and oddly I have never ever had to baptise a Kylie, or even a Jason. I have not been keeping a record, but the most popular girls names seem to be Olivia and Grace, and the boys names are all what you would expect, traditional names, with a few ‘comeback’ names from the past, like Joseph.

The opening of the baptismal rite is the question put to the parents: “What name have you given your child?” Baptism is not a naming ceremony. And that is good news. Otherwise one might be left with the difficult choices facing registrars in New Zealand, who have the power to refuse to register certain names if they are deemed offensive. There is no list of banned names, so the discretion rests with the registrars, who, according to this report are all following the same playbook.

Why on earth, though, do some parents want to give their children silly names? It may have something to do with our celebrity obsessed culture, in which case the blame lies with the initiators of the fad, Mr and Mrs Bob Geldof, and Mr and Mrs David Beckham, among others.

The sad truth remains that once upon a time we were all named after saints, or heroes from antiquity, as was once a legal requirement in France. And in having a saint’s name, we had roots of a sort. It is still common in Italy to find that Christian names are linked to a certain region. Everyone called Calogero, in my experience, is from Sicily, though I find to my surprise that Saint Calocerus was a second century martyr from Brescia in the north of Italy, at least according to Wikipedia. However, recourse to Italian Wiki brings one face to face with San Calogero the sixth century hermit much venerated in Sicily.

Sicily is of course a great place for saints, but the localism of Christian names is common to the rest of Italy as well. Maurizio (Maurice) is a Piedmontese name (after another martyr of Roman times), and Gennaro (Januarius) is still common in Naples, though it has spread to Kenya, thanks to Italian missionaries, as has Consolata, the Madonna venerated in Turin.

It is rather sad that we English do not have this custom. True, a few of us are called George and Edward after our national patron saints, but it is simply impossible to go up to someone and say “So tell me, Wilfred (or Cuthman, perhaps,) where exactly do you come from in West Sussex?” Are there any people in the north east, perhaps, called Bede? Not many, I fear. Are people from Chertsey often called Erconwald? Come off it! But it is a sad reflection on our rootless existence.

Once in Africa, I met a priest who had a Scottish surname, and an unusual Christian name. “So,” I said, “You come from Floriana?” He ought not to have been surprised. Everyone ought to recognise the name of Saint Publius, Malta’s first bishop, and patron saint of the parish Church of Floriana. He was thrown to the lions, which always fascinated me as a child, and which his statue graphically illustrates.

Being named after a saint gives you a patron saint. Having a name from classical antiquity, as I do, leaves you a little adrift. My three elder brothers are all named after saints, but I have to do with an Empire-builder. Frankly, I feel cheated. But not as cheated, I suspect, as some children in contemporary Britain (but not New Zealand) will one day feel.

  • Fr Mark Drew

    There are several St Alexanders. My favourite is the Bishop of Alexandria who first opposed and disciplined Arius. He was the bishop whom St Athanasius first served as deacon and then succeeded.

  • londiniensis

    Now, now. Wiki offers a choice of thirteen canonised Alexanders … I’m sure a decent book of saints will offer more. My late uncle always observed his Saint’s Day on 27th February, a “traditional” day (not quite sure why, there are two St Alexanders to shoose from on 26th February).

  • lewispbuckingham

    Some of the names hapless children are burdened with are unusual, but set them for stardom and celebrity.Like Star, Crystal Kiralee and Schapelle.
    Later they always have the choice of changing them by Deed Poll.

  • Patrick_Heren

    Our first son was baptised Bede, despite the attempts of the officiating priest to prevent it on the grounds that he would have a tough time at school. “Can’t you call him John Bede?” the priest helpfully suggested. All of us, and most especially Bede, are glad that we stuck to our guns: he never had a tough time over his name – perhaps because there are so few standard names around now – and generally his friends seem to think the name cool. He is the only Bede I have met who is not a monk.
    The name, by the way, means “prayer” from Old English, and shares the same origin as “bid” and “bead” (as in Rosary). Whatever St Bede’s birth name was – perhaps Eggfroth, or Wolfthwang, or the like – he was renamed by the Abbot of Wearmouth who took him in aged 7 after his parents had been killed by the Vikings.

  • Pastor in Valle

    I’m with Fr Drew about Alexander of Alexandria. But there are several perfectly good saints who have names one mightn’t wish on ones’ children: St Miggin, for instance, a North African martyr, or St Willihad (English, I think, a missionary), or St Cuccufat, a Spanish martyr.

  • Caroline Farrow

    You can never win. My youngest is Theodora. Apparently we named her after Robbie Williams’ offspring…

  • Romulus

    Designer names are a tattoo equivalent — an assertion of ownership and individuality, minimizing the person’s social existence.

  • Kevin

    Some famous people do not seem to realise that most famous people have ordinary names, e.g. John, Paul, George (forget Ringo), Mick, Keith, Brian, Charlie, Bill, Roger, Pete, Ray, Eric, Jim and so on. Not to mention the Bob, Paula, David and Victoria referred to at the beginning of this article.

  • stroika

    One thinks of Bertie Wooster’s remark upon discovering somebody was named Lemuel Gengulphus: “there’s some raw work pulled at the font from time to time, is there not?”

  • James M

    “Romeo” is actually a perfectly good Christian name – there is a Romeo in Dante’s Paradiso. The name was first used as a word describing a pilgrim to Rome. As for “Cruz” – is it different in kind from “Stavros”, which likewise means “Cross” ? Both of these are Christian names for Christian subjects – just like “Pilar”, “Dolores”, & others.

    Even “Brooklyn” is not as strange as it may seem – “Gordon” began as a place-name too; if “Brooklyn” becomes at all common, the impression of strangeness may wear off, and it may even be borne by someone who comes to be recognised as a Saint. Which could then make it very popular among Catholics.

    “Mauritius” = “Moorish” – it’s not Christian in origin; any more than:
    Liberius (“belonging to Liber” AKA Bacchus)
    Pelagius (“belonging to the sea” – or possibly “belonging to Isis Pelagia”)
    Aeneas, etc., are.

    As for Alexanders: in the 1966 “Book of Saints” (the fifth edition – at least two more editions have come out since) there are 41 Saints of that name by that date, and 4 Beati. Johns are however far more numerous. There is a thirteen-volume Italian work, the Biblioteca Sanctorum, which is list of all the Saints and such, which contains a much fuller list.

  • James M

    That’s a Saint’s name – a 9th-century Byzantine Empress (d. 867) is perhaps the best-known of 7 listed in the 1966 edition of the “Book of Saints”. None of whom is the much more famous wife (d. 545) of the Emperor Justinian – though this Theodora is honoured as a Saint by the Monophysites.

    Here’s an eighth – she was canonised in 2006:

  • James M

    St. Bede the Venerable is – as of 1920 – a Doctor of the Church; the only English one. Good choice of name.

  • Matthew Roth

    And a not-altogether unusual one. Very sensible, I think. I would never name a child today Athanasius, as much as I admire him.

  • Matthew Roth

    I have the idea hat when-hopefully soon after I leave Franciscan University!- I get married, my wife and I will name all of our children with names that are those of Irish saints like Patrick, Kevin, and Brigid (or virtues! I love Kathleen), or names of saints and apostles popular in Ireland such as Joseph, Thomas, and Dominic. My thought is my cradle Catholic great-grandmother would nod her approval, and my convert-to-Catholicism Ulster Protestant great-grandmother would be a little tiffed. What is more unrealistic is attaching Mary to all of the girls’ names. We are not the Martins.
    Fr Z’s advice has made it easy: Pick a saint’s name and spell it normally! I wonder if he considered this when he regularly encourages us to use the Punic spelling for St Monica (Monnica is the more ‘correct’ version).

  • ZuZu Lamarr

    Walk around any shopping centre and you’ll hear some made-up name being called and mis-spelled.
    Brooklyn Beckham’s middle name is Joseph!
    The name Victoria was considered with the same disdain as, say, Kylie and Shania… before Victoria came to the throne. St Bernadette’s real name is Marie-Bernarde (which she took as her name when she professed as a nun at St Gildard) and Napoleon’s famous wife, Josephine, was actually Marie-Josephe!
    If you are a fan of Horrible Histories, there are shocking but genuine monikers from Victorian times such as Princess Cheese, Toilet, Farting Clack, Minty Badger, Ham, Despair, Tram …
    Enough to make you drop the baby into the font in shock upon hearing those, eh?

    I prefer saint’s names myself, like Zeno, America, Faustina and one which can either be male or female – Mel.
    PS: ZuZu is my nom-de-plume!

  • Myshkin

    Our local pastor here in the USA has to remind parents when making announcements of Baptismal preparation classes to “give your child a Christian name.” The general run of names given to children in the USA has devolved beyond silliness into total ignorance.

  • bluesuede

    I’ll never understood why actress Gwyneth Paltrow named her son, Apple. I think that children may have a hard time with odd names. The reason why I was told that Christian names are recommended is, because, when we have a saint for a namesake, we may be influenced by their holy life, and because we might be encouraged to ask them for help in life, and be proud to be named after a person who was heroic. It does work.

  • Julian Lord

  • Julian Lord

    All true, but of your list, Philip, Alexander, Julius, and even Aeneas have been common names without any real un-Christian onus attached to them — and both Socrates and Plato are not exceptionally given to newborn Greeks.

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    The Atmosphere ( or say the Environment) in which we are trapped or the one we create for ourselves determines and controls us. It is just like the first Premise of a syllogism. Everything depends on it.

    Those who LIVE in the atmosphere of THE WORD OF GOD give their children BIBLICAL names. Spontaneously the SECURITY and VALUES of these children come from here.

    In some peoples’ life CHURCH and SAINTS dominate.

    Adjusting with the WORLD the Church has overtaken the WORLD and so worldly values and fads are are all over, so much so non-sensical names are used even by Priests – Look for example: Baiju, Biju, Bhaji, Biji, Shaji, Shaiju, Shiji, Saju, Saji how funny!

  • Ted

    As a school teacher I came across several inappropriate names. There were girls named Lolita and Darling, for example. But perfectly acceptable names could become embarrassing when the initial was used instead – like the two brothers T Staines and P Staines

  • Zuzu Lamarr

    Apollonia was an early Christian martyr who had her teeth pulled out when she was martyred… she is the patron of dentists!

  • James M

    Exactly my point – they are no more Christian in origin than some that are complained of; yet they arouse no comment.

  • moodystrikenahab

    I’m afraid that traditional English names died out about a generation after the Norman Conquest. They were replaced by, for example, Robert and William. Such is the lot of a conquered people (or perhaps I should say “folk”).

  • AugustineThomas

    I was lucky. My mother picked a faddish name, but it happened to be that of an Old Testament patriarch.

  • AugustineThomas

    That’s a beautiful name.

    The sad thing about the new names is not their outlandishness, it’s their lack of coherent meaning.

    The author is right to note that i’ts going to be tough for these kids in the future to grapple with the fact that their names came about for no better reason than that some reality star tweeted that it would be cool or something.

    Your son will have a great man to look back on, one who can show him to another man who holds the keys to the kingdom, as you well know.

  • LeticiaVelasquez

    I am from the melting pot culture of New York City, where my Italian descendant dad wanted to name me Angela and my Irish descendant mum wanted Brigid. Neither is a bad choice, but I am so pleased that they found a Catholic Baby Names book like this one and agreed upon a compromise name.
    Leticia comes from the Litany of Loretto list of titles for Our Lady. Causa Nostrae Laetitiae (Cause of Our Joy). They chose the Spanish spelling Leticia which happens to blend so perfectly with my husband’s surname Velasquez, that I have trouble convincing people I am not Latina. Such is the beauty of the Universal Church.

  • ZuZuLamarr

    It’s a good job Gwyneth Paltrow’s husband’s surname isn’t Pye…

  • ZuZuLamarr

    Doesn’t the name Pilar come from the Spanish Marian Shrine of Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragoza?

  • $20596475

    I presume these remarks apply only to Catholics. If so, it is OK, you can decide to stay with saints if you wish. Its your choice.

    For everyone else surely its really up to them. I personally think we should avoid anything which might cause a problem for a child, so nothing odd or ugly, no matter if it as a saint’s name of not.

  • $40858710

    A good article. I’m Patrick Joseph Kenneth Christopher, which is quite a mouthful, but all good saints and to all of whom I pray. The debauched modernists are especially bad – Zowie Bowie, a musician’s son, is infamous. but their are plenty of others. It saddens me as it seems we have cased to think as a Christian country (inevitable as Britain apostatized from Holy Faith in the 1500s).

  • Malcolm Drummond

    Our school war memorial for those who fell in the Great War had one name “Alphonsus Bede McGlynn”. It is the only name I remember –that says a lot.

  • Malcolm Drummond

    When I was teaching, it was the commonly held belief that the more outlandish the name, the more unmanageable the child. I retired before some brainless parent called her daughter Chlamydia because she thought it sounded “classy”

  • jferioli3

    omg, it that true?? poor, poor child when she learned that definition! but there are some strange names here in my own neighborhood: Lake, Gage,Trippe. Now put them in a sentence together. They are all related. Go figure.

  • Craig Michaelson

    Some rather silly names and towns

  • bluesuede

    Common sense applies to every person, not just Catholics. Christians have taken the names of saints for centuries. In this pagan world, it seems to be unimportant. But, since choosing a Christian saints name, children have also been given a hero to look up to. It gives children role models.

    You can just imagine who a child who’s named Apple, has to looks up to.

  • bluesuede


  • $20596475

    I don’t suppose for one moment that that child would have the slightest idea of any Biblical connection. More likely they would think of Sir Issac Newton! Best not to look up though! The apple of my eye might then have a different meaning!

  • AnthonyPatrick

    Yes, Kevin. And almost spot-on: why “forget Ringo”? Not only highly respected by many ‘name’ and ‘session’ drummers he is, in fact, Richard – Ritchie to family and close friends including those talented fellows who (pace the admirably named Pete Best) brushed also-rans (together with the stock fills of non-players and lazy media hacks) from the kit, in favour of his dependable and influential beat.

    Indeed, drummers and nicknames have gone stick in hand (just listen to the drum roll-call of the history of jazz) since long before solidly-named English baby-boomers even crashed a cymbal or swung an axe. Hence, Bonzo (John) swinging the lead with Jimmy, Robert and (two-for-the-price-one) John Paul. Who’s next was never going to be a sell out for a quick one, with the wild side of Moonie (aka Keith) the Loon in the mix. And without Ginger (Peter Edward) Baker’s fire, would Eric and Jack have reached rock’s summit to milk the blues cow sitting on top of the world?

    Anyone for tennis? I’ll stop there…

  • AK P

    Indeed it does.