Monthly Archives: November 2006

St. Austin?

Here’s my quick rundown on some currently popular boys’ names. Again, it’s a lot easier to detect the Christian names among them than among the girls!

Austin is really just an old-fashioned form of the name of St. Augustine.

Other saints’ and Biblical names: St. Aidan (also St.Aidan of Lindisfarne), St. Nicholas, Jack (Jackson), William, Justin, James, Zachary, Caleb, Noah, Nathan, Benjamin.

Hopefully, Jaden and Jayden are meant to be the Biblical name Jadon, “thankful”.

Connor/Conor comes from the extremely old Irish name Conchobar. Conchobar mac Nessa was the kingly protagonist of huge chunks of the Ulster Cycle, mostly known for trying to marry Deirdre, treacherously killing the Sons of Uisnach, and being the the uncle of Cu Chulainn. However, the storytellers also say that he was so enraged when he heard of the unjust death of Jesus Christ that he burst an old wound, which killed him. Obviously, the O’Connors are all fond of him. The martyred bishop Blessed Conor O’Devany is an excellent patron saint for all Connors. However, in the old days, there used to be functional equivalents laid out for this purpose for Irish names not specifically associated with saints. Back then, Conns and Conors considered themselves under the protection of St. Cornelius, and often used this as their name with non-Irish people. That’s why a lot of older men named Cornelius have the nickname Connie.

I suppose the functional equivalent thing might be one way to deal with all the crazy names people give their kids…. For example, Ryan, like Reagan, comes from the Irish word for king. So presumably these guys are under the protection of Christ the King.

I don’t know what you’d do with “Logan”, good Scottish last name that it is, since it just means “little hollow”. Likewise, what do you do with “Cameron”, which means “crooked nose”? Camillus or Camilla, maybe.

Brandon actually does have a St. Brandan, though the English name means “broom-plant hill” and the Irish one means something totally different. Or you could just go with Brendan.

But it really is a lot easier if you just go with a normal name. I mean, you can call your kid Logan as a nickname as much as you want! Just not a good idea as a baptismal name, ne?

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St. Hailey?

This one isn’t on the list, but it’s such a popular girl’s name that I have to try!

Well, we’ll go to the English martyrs again. There’s no Hailey, Haley, or Halley, but there is Father John Haile, who was martyred on May 4, 1535. I’m pretty sure that’s all part of the Hale/Hall surname group, so hopefully Father Haile will look after the Haileys of this world.

I’ll do a quick rundown on some other popular girls’ names:

Kaitlyn and Caitlin are really forms of Kathleen (St. Catherine).

Madeline is St. Mary Magdalene (the French is Madeleine).

Kaylee is a bit more problematic. Ceilidh is just the Irish for “party”. But if you take the name as literally meaning Kay + Lee, Kay is another form of Catherine. Ditto for Kayla. Kylie… that I can’t find anything for. Unless you count it as standing for the Kyles of Bute, in which case you can pick among such popular Bute saints as Ss. Brendan, Ronan, Michael, and Cathan.

(UPDATE: Kylie is an aboriginal Australian synonym for “boomerang”. However, I do have some info on saints’ names that go with Kyle.)

Naming children with surnames instead of Christian names is in general problematic; you end up having to give them a middle name for a Christian name. Unless you can find some handy English martyrs with the right last names, I guess. (I like presidents as much as anyone, but I still don’t get the thing with Taylor and Tyler. You’re naming your kids “a person who sews up men’s clothes” and “a person who lays tiles”.) The patron saint of tailors is St. Homobonus Tucenghi, a medieval merchant known for his cheerfulness and virtue among the good people of Cremona, who petitioned for his canonization after his death (feastday: Nov. 13). The patron saint of all members of the building trade, including tilers, is St. Stephen, the first martyr.

“Riley” is proclaiming your kid a descendant of Raghallach. If she were a descendant of Raghallach, her family patron saint would be St. Maedoc, but it seems a bit hard to go that far from a baptismal name! A Mackenzie is at least associating herself with St. Kenneth in a more direct way. Morgans go under the martyred Welsh priest Venerable Edward Morgan, who was hassled about being too cheerful on the Tyburn scaffold. The martyr replied, “Why should anyone be offended at my going to heaven cheerfully? For God loves a cheerful giver.”

Alyssa, Alicia, Alison, and Alice ultimately come from Adelaide, and there’s a couple different St. Adelaides (one a Holy Roman Empire one), as well as a St. Alix. There are a couple of different Ss. Alexis, though I hate to break it to you — Alexis throughout history was a male name! Not until Dynasty came out did that change.

Grace and Sophia are virtue names, and Zoe and Chloe are both ancient and venerable saints’ names for Christians.

Megan is a Welsh diminutive of Margaret.

Jordans are looked after by Blessed Jordan of Saxony (another man’s name!).

Laurens are covered by the numerous St. Lauras: a widowed abbess martyred by the Moors in boiling lead in Spain, a Italian martyr from Roman times, and a couple of South American religious.

Briannas are under Blessed Brian Lacey, one of the London Martyrs of 1591.

(UPDATE: There is a St. Brienna! (Bryene or Bruene in Greek, but Brienne or Briena or Brienna in Latin.) Her feast day is June 15, and she is listed as being an abbess in Sivapolis/Sibapolis, close to Nisibis. Despite her advanced age, she was on fire for martyrdom and longed to follow her niece St. Febronia’s example of martyrdom, but she ended up dying of natural causes two years later. So her name doesn’t derive from Brian at all, but she’s a great patron saint if you don’t want a guy as patron.)

Btw, there is a St. Bailey — Venerable Lawrence Bailey, who was executed in Lancaster on Sept. 16, 1605. And for those romance novelists among us who insist on naming their brainchildren “Tempest”, the Jesuit Nicholas Tempest was sent to the scaffold. (But I’m not clear on his official status.)

And for Amy — Hercules Welborn was sent to prison and put in chains.


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Top Ten Popular US Boys’ Names

The top ten boys’ names are a lot easier! Biblical and saints’ names, and nothing but….
Jacob: Well, duh.

Michael: I think we all know the angel in question.

Joshua: fought the battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumbling down. Also the name of some guy from Nazareth who got crucified.

Matthew: the evangelist.

Ethan: Ethan the Ezrahite was notoriously wise, and was also supposed to have written one of the psalms.

Andrew: the apostle.

Daniel: lion’s den prophet. (And in the apocrypha, a lawyer and dragonslaying detective.)

Anthony: St. Anthony of Padua, and St.Anthony of Egypt, founder of monasticism, among many others. “Anthony” means immortal, so it’s always been a popular name for Christians.

Christopher: tons of saints, including the one who legendarily carried the baby Jesus across a ford.

Joseph: Jacob’s son who interpreted dreams and saved Egypt and his tribe from famine. Also, the foster-father of Jesus, who had a dream that saved his family and took them to Egypt. Also tons of other saints.

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St. Ashley?

Actually, yes! A bona fide martyr! You just can’t get any more christened than this, so it’s okay that it’s the tenth most popular baby girl’s name in the US.

Blessed Ralph Ashley was a cook at Douai College, then went to Spain and joined the Jesuits as a brother, not a priest. He returned to England in 1598 and served there until he was captured with Father Edward Oldcorne, due to trying to hide Father Garnet and Brother Nicholas Owen during all that Gunpowder Plot nonsense. He was tortured and imprisoned in the Tower of London, then hung, drawn and quartered at Worcester in 1606. His feast day is December 1.

So all you Ashleys out there are safely under the protection of your name saint! :)

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St. Ava

Ava is the 9th most popular baby girl’s name in the US. I don’t know where, as I’ve never met anybody who’d even named their kid Eve. But clearly, somewhere this is occurring.

St. Ava was the daughter of one of the King Pepin’s. After being miraculously regaining her sight thanks to St. Rainfredis, she became a nun and later an abbess at Dinart, in Hainault. Her feastday is April 29.


The Dictionary of Saintly Women, Volume 1, says that Bucelin said that Ava was the daughter of Adelbert, Count of Austrofandia, and Regina, niece of King Pepin.

Here’s St. Ava’s listing in the Acta Sanctorum for April. In Latin.

A very informative story about her miraculous healing. In French. This Ava she went on a ton of pilgrimages and offered rich gifts at many shrines, but an angel directed her to St. Regenfredis/Renfroi’s tomb. After she got her sight back, she decided to stay there at Denain as a nun in gratitude to God; and eventually she became abbess.

St. Ava’s listing in an old German encyclopedia of saints.

A different Ava, St. Ava the Powerful (die Kraeftige), from Melk in Austria. Her feastday is February 7. She was the mother of two sons who became priests. When widowed, she became an anchoress, and she wrote poems on “John,” “The Life of Jesus,” “The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit,” “Antichrist,” and “The Last Judgment.”


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St. Isabella

The sixth most popular name is yet another popular medieval name, Isabella. It’s a Spanish form of Elizabeth.

St. Isabel of France was the daughter of King Louis VIII and Blanche of Castile. She refused many suitors, cared for the poor and sick, lived as a consecrated virgin, and founded an monastery; but refused to become a nun. Seeing as consecrated virgins have come back in a fairly big way in the US, she is clearly a saint for today. (And February 26, her feastday.)

Blessed Isabel Fernandez was a Spanish woman living in Japan at the time of the Martyrs. She sheltered Blessed Charles Spinola, and was beheaded for it at Nagasaki along with her four-year-old son. (Her husband was burned alive.)

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St. Olivia

The fifth most popular girls’ name in the US. This is an easy one, though.

This name was apparently semi-popular in the Middle Ages, at least in romances. Since Roland’s best friend was named Oliver, Oliver’s sister who was Roland’s true love is sometimes called Olivia. Also, there’s a Charlemagne-related story of Queen Olive held captive in a pit full of snakes, and of course Shakespeare’s Olivia. This follows the pattern of other adventure heroines being named after trees; one Breton lai even stars girls named Le Fresne and Le Codre. (The common American girl’s name of LaFrayne apparently comes from this story.) Also, olive trees starred in the Bible as well as being important and beautiful economic resources throughout the Mediterranean.

St. Oliva was a martyr under Hadrian (feastday March 5).  Blessed Olivia was a Palermo girl carried off to Tunis by the Muslim slave raiders, and martyred for her evangelism and cures (June 10). (On the male side, there’s St. Oliver, an Italian monk (February 3), and St. Oliver Plunkett, the martyred Irish archbishop (July 11).


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Ss. Abigail, Hannah, and Samantha

The fourth, seventh, and eighth most popular names for girl babies in America this year are solidly biblical names of good saintly women. If you want to christen your kids this, I don’t think there’s a priest in the land who’d object. In fact, they will probably sigh with relief that you actually understand this whole baptismal name thing. Jewish biblical names are often associated in the US with evangelical Protestants, but I don’t see where they should have all the fun. Annoy Marcion, support the doctrine that Jesus preached to the patriarchal dead during those three days when he descended into hell, and christen your kid with the name of an Old Testament saint!

St. Abigail, of course, is best known for meeting King David on the road and saving her husband Nabal and all his people from his anger. Nabal kicked the bucket a few days later, and David married Abigail (among others). Secularly, the name Abigail is associated in America with the second First Lady, Abigail Adams, a feminist and good household manager who was also deeply loved her husband and family. We also have tons of fictional girls called Abby around.

St. Hannah was the mother of Samuel, who dedicated him to the Lord before he was born. Mary’s mother is also traditionally named Hannah (Anna), and so was the prophetess who greeted Jesus when he was presented in the Temple. (There are a ton of later St. Annes, too, as it has perpetually been one of the most popular names in Europe and America. So you can look ‘em up for yourself.) Hannah means “grace”.

Samantha apparently is one of those invented names, but it is apparently meant as a female form of Samuel. St. Samuel is of course the prophet known for listening to the Lord and anointing both Saul and David.

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St. Madison?

The third most popular baby name for girls in America today, according to the Social Security Administration, is Madison. Setting aside the wisdom of naming your daughter something that’s obviously a patronymic ending in -son, I’m sorry to say that although this name is presidential, most people are not trying to inspire their daughter with the canny constitutional wisdom of James Madison or even the style and coolness under fire of Dolly Madison. No, I’m afraid this name has come to prominence because of that mermaid in Splash. Sigh.

Nevertheless, all is not lost. This particular Old English patronymic is not Bubba’s-son or Harry’s-son  or anything of that nature. It’s the rare patronymic based on a mother’s name: Matild’s son, or Maud’s-son. Matilda/Maud means “strength in battle”. It was another very popular name in the early Middle Ages, among the Norman crowd, and thus spread throughout Europe. Since the Empress Matilda was a longtime claimant to the English throne and mother of King Henry II, it was very popular in England, too.

So yes, we have a St. Matilda — another royal family member. St. Mathilde was queen of Germany, lived a holy life, founded churches and convents, and was sorely persecuted by both her sons as they battled for the throne of the Holy Roman Empire. Her church at Quedlinburg includes a picture of her in stained glass, crowned and holding the church in her arms.

So if your name is Madison, you still have a patron saint to be proud of.


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St. Emma

St. Emma of Krka is pretty easy to find. She was one of the Holy Roman Empire royal family saints. She was fostered at the court of Emperor Henry II by St. Cunegund. She was married, apparently happily. But then both their children were killed; and when her husband went on pilgrimage to pray for them in Rome, he died on the way back, too. She decided to devote herself to God, gave generously to the poor, founded several religious houses, and may have died as a nun in one of them. Since the monastery’s estate was then used as the start of a new diocese, she was honored as the spiritual mother of Carinthia (Austria and Slovenia).

Emma is the easier Norman way to pronounce a tricky old Germanic and Norse name. In Old English, its equivalent was “Aelfgifu”, Elf-gift. But the name may be related to Ermin, as in Ermintrude. (I don’t know enough about Norman names to really say.) But it was an immensely popular name with royals, nobles and commoners in the early Middle Ages.

Anyway, it’s likely that the name’s huge popularity today is all due to the character Emma Peel on The Avengers, Emma Frost in the X-Men comics, and all the kids named after them.

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St. Emily

According to the Social Security Administration, the most popular baby name for girls right now is Emily. This is a charming old name, which appears in all sorts of good contexts, like the poet Emily Dickinson and Chaucer’s character Emily, the gentle Amazon of the Knight’s Tale. The name dates back to Roman times and the famous Aemilius clan.

The name is also borne by many saints. St. Emily de Rodat founded an order for teaching poor children in France (Her feast day is Sept 19). St. Emily de Vialar founded another French order, this one for helping the sick and needy as well as teaching the poor. Blessed Emily Bicchieri was a Dominican prioress and mystic in early Renaissance Italy (August 19). St Emiliana was one of the saintly aunts (on his dad’s side) of St. Gregory the Great. The Orthodox apparently also celebrate the mother of the theologians St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Macrina (and six other kids) as St. Emilia.

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St. Tiffany

There are a lot of folks out there from supposedly Christian families who, sadly, are not named after saints, virtues, or holy things. Not knowingly, anyway. (I’m pretty sure that anybody naming a child after a family member is trying to name him or her after a saint, however inchoately.) Instead of moaning and poning about this sad situation, we should make the best of it by looking into what their names really stand for.

For example, there are a lot of girls in this country named Tiffany because Tiffany is pretty, and because the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s was romantic. But surely Tiffany as a name has more roots than a jewelry store?

Of course. Tiffany is actually a very old name. Tiphaine is its French spelling (though it’s got occult associations in English, alas, since the medieval lord Bertrand du Guesclin’s canny wife Tiphaine was called by legend a fairy or witch). The name comes ultimately from the Greek “theophania”, theophany — an appearance or manifestation of God (as when God shows up at Abraham’s tent, or in the burning bush, etc.). As a name, however, it was traditionally given, in the Eastern Churches, to those born on the Feast of the Epiphany — which is called Theophania there, because Jesus showed Himself as God and Man to the Magi, and hence to all Gentiles; and also as a celebration of the Lord’s Baptism, when the Father and the Holy Spirit pointed out the Son.

On the Constantinople patriarchate’s site, you can see another example of this old name. In the Patriarch of Constantinople’s current home church, the relics of the ascetic Byzantine empress St. Theophano — St. Tiffany — are preserved. This is certainly a different image for the name Tiffany!

(There are also a couple of male martyrs who bore variants of the name: St. Theophanes the abbot and historian, martyred by the Iconoclasts; and St. Theophane Venard, martyred in Vietnam.)

So here’s to the Tiffanies of the world. They bear a truly majestic name of great depth and significance.


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Bad, Bad Chema! No Biscuit.

In the exciting world of election irregularities, I actually have one to report!

The local Democratic candidate for Congress, Dick Chema, proved himself unable to follow orders, obey the law, and keep 100 feet away from the polls. And remember, we’re talking about an ex-Federal prosecutor, Navy veteran, and generally mature human being — who apparently can’t follow simple directions even after being warned!

I will paint the picture. I vote at a local school. Like most schools around here, there’s a sidewalk running in both directions down the front, and a semi-circular drive leading in from and back out to the street. There is also a parking area in front, next to the semi-circular drive, that most voters use. But there are also a good many voters that approach along the sidewalk.

Most candidates and campaign volunteers choose to stand out in the parking area, which is 100 feet from the polls. But often, when they see voters approaching along the sidewalk, they can’t get from parking lot to sidewalk quickly enough, if they stay outside the 100 foot radius.

So if they’re excited and get aggressive,  they don’t. And then they get dinged by the watchful eye of the observing judge.

Mr. Chema was there himself. And on the scale of screwing up? Oh, he was… unuuuuusually aggressive. He came right up to me when I was on the sidewalk in front of the front door.

The front door. That’s made of glass. Where the observing judge can’t help but see.
And was this for a huge precinct, chock full o’ voters? Er… no. No, it’s a tiny one, where you usually don’t have more than two people in line at any one time.

To paraphrase A Man for All Seasons,  I can see breaking the law — but for Southdale?

I do want to be fair, though. Many over-enthusiastic candidates have done the very same thing, including a host of the most distinguished citizens of our fair city and county. But nobody in a federal race… until now.


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Doctor Who of the Dead

Over the weekend before Halloween, I had a chance to watch Shaun of the Dead. Finally. (Yes, I know, I should have seen it in the theater. Many things I should see in the theater but don’t.) It was a funny, funny movie, but also a gamer movie, allowing people to do both reasonable stuff and crazy stunts to survive.

And now I know what the new Doctor Who is trying to be.

I’ve puzzled over this, like many another American fan.What is that commonality of the old seasons of Doctor Who – diverse as they were, separated across time as they were — that the new seasons don’t have? There is something, and it has bothered us. We count the differences.

It’s all The Rose Show, not The Doctor Show.

Open relationship plot, instead of shunting it off to the side.

Rose really does dress like a skank, whereas the other Companions dressed modestly even in the sixties. And Jack’s a male skank, albeit better dressed.

Open contempt for the US, instead of the odd gentle poke.

Open contempt for everybody outside the little TARDIS circle, and often for them.

Constant treating of one character like crap, something the old Doctor wouldn’t even do to his enemies.

Blatant plot contrivance interfering with character development.

But the really pitiful thing is that Russell Davies is clearly trying to imitate Shaun of the Dead with Doctor Who, except that he doesn’t grant the characters and story even as much consistent dignity as Shaun of the Dead did.  And Shaun of the Dead was a comedy that enjoyed “taking the mickey”.

The sad thing is that, whenever the Doctor Who writers condescend to take the characters and situations seriously; allow us to go along for an adventure in surroundings that aren’t cardboard and don’t turn the supporting characters into cardboard to compensate; stop copying themselves and thinking that makes them clever; and quit being so frenetic or making the characters into stereotypes of themselves — the new show can be both touching and powerful.

But too often, in both seasons, the new Who doesn’t bother.

Which is why I’m profoundly disinterested in Torchwood, as it seems like it will be more of what I don’t like, including characters I was glad to see gone. There are fanfic writers with a more realistic view of the UK government and military in their left toe than Russell T. Davies has in his whole writing staff. So, no, I don’t expect anything but a rag doll made from bits of The X-Files and The Quatermass Xperiment, which UK sf hacks have apparently been copying ever since it was made. I’m sure said rag doll will be popular anyway, but that’s the UK’s problem.

So if you want that old UNIT flavour in something really entertaining, try UNIT UK 24: Gotterdammerung, Gottohades and Gottapermit? by ComSatAngel. This is one of a long line of UNIT stories, as you can guess by the numbered title. This one’s a decently long novel, set in the days of the Fourth Doctor, Harry Sullivan, and Sarah Jane out gallivanting the universe. This novel focuses almost entirely on minor characters from the series (or his own imagination) having an adventure while everybody else is occupied with other events. This allows free rein to ComSatAngel’s SAS-meets-SF imagination, resulting in a plot that blends the daily slog of military life with inventive action and speculation.

So do the UNIT guys cast themselves into despair, swear eternal vengeance, perform the odd violation of the laws of war, and act like caricatures of themselves because the Doctor’s not around? No. They act like professionals and soldiers instead. (This is not to say that they can’t occasionally be ruthless — but they’re ruthless the way they would be, not the way that’s convenient for Russell T. Davies.) They also call upon the good offices and good sense of Liz Shaw, which is always a good plan.

I’m actually not terribly fond of “The Sea of Sand”, the author’s Fourth Doctor adventure, though I like the idea of going to North Africa during WWII. But “The Cadaverites”, a Third Doctor adventure set in the USSR, seems more comfortable. (I think he just writes better for Jon Pertwee!) But everything UNIT I’ve read by the guy has been wonderfully fun and fresh. He writes Captain Scarlet fanfic too, which might tell you something. :)


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