St. Merida?

There are two names at issue here. One is Merida without an accent mark, as in the Disney/Pixar movie, Brave. The other is Mérida with an accent mark, as in the cities in Spain and Mexico.

So let’s look at them both. Are they okay as Christian baptismal names? Are there patron saints associated with them? What name day would you celebrate?

Let’s start with the newer one.

The Disney/Pixar Scottish princess, “Merida,” has (in some ways) a totally new name. Like Fiona and other names from literary sources, it’s not Scottish Gaelic (or it wasn’t, until now). If you give your daughter this name today, everybody is going to know that it’s a Disney princess name.

However. Disney/Pixar production sources have revealed that she was originally going to be named Mairghread, Mhairghread, or Mairead, all of which are Gaelic forms of the name “Margaret.” Staff decided that all those forms were too long, too hard to remember, or too weird to pronounce, so they coined the name “Merida” instead.

This is not a totally implausible form of Margaret for a native early medieval Gaelic speaker to come up with, especially as a diminutive form, baby mispronunciation, or nickname. Just as people got away with “Fiona” because it was similar to “Fionna,” it is likely that “Merida” will become a pretty normal form of “Margaret” in Scotland and around the world. So it’s not a bad name, and you can definitely use it as a baptismal name. (Might be better to call the girl Margaret and just use Merida as a nickname. Heck, she might turn out to be more of a a Meg or Peg or Margita, for all you know.)

You are spoiled for choice, when it comes to patron saints. There are a lot of St. Margarets, all around the world. The name means “pearl,” and is associated with the “pearl of great price” parable.

The most famous is the original St. Margaret, an early Christian martyr from Antioch in Pisidia (today’s Antakya, Turkey), who is also known as “St. Marina the Great” in the East. Legend shows her slaying a dragon with her Bible. Her feast is July 17 or July 20.

In Scotland, however, the most famous St. Margaret is St. Margaret of Scotland, the Scottish queen who helped the poor and raised good kings. She was a Saxon princess from England. Her branch of the family fled to Hungary to escape royal displeasure, and was later invited back by the saintly King Edward the Confessor. She was then sent north to Scotland to marry their king and bring peace, which she did. Unfortunately, William the Conqueror showed up pretty soon afterward… but hey, she did her part. Anyway, three of her sons were known for being good men and good kings, and that’s a pretty good record. But people really loved her because she helped the poor, acting as both a generous queen and a humble Catholic woman. Her feast day was June 10 (the translation of her relics and a nicer day for Scottish festivals), but has been moved to her death day of November 16 on the new calendar (so people can freeze instead of celebrating, I guess).

There must be something in the water in Hungary. A lot of pious queens have lived there.

Now for the Spanish Mérida!

Mérida with an accent mark is the name of the city of Mérida, Spain. It is also the name of a colonial city in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, and a lot of folks with Mexican family are being named after that city.

“Mérida” comes from the old Latin name of the Spanish city, Emerita Augusta. The colonia city of Emerita Augusta was founded in 25 BC by the Emperor Augustus, as a home for retired (“emeriti”) legionaries. However, the feminine form of the name means that it is named for the Empress (“Augusta”) Livia Drusilla, aka Julia Augusta. In this context, and since she wasn’t retired, “Emerita” would mean something like “deserving woman” or “woman of merit.”

There were many land grant cities like this, typically created or enlarged, and with the soldiers given farmland all around in the surrounding countryside. Sometimes these were in undeveloped areas; sometimes they were an attempt to beef up Roman garrisons with a loyal and well-armed citizenry. Emerita Augusta was settled by members of the 10th Gemina and the 5th Alaude Legions, two legions which had done a lot of fighting in the area. (Guys from XX Valeria Victrix may have settled there, too.) Even today, Mérida boasts a huge Roman bridge and a really big Roman theater, as well as a lot of other Roman things.

Mérida in the Yucatan was settled by Spanish people from the Spanish Mérida, and it apparently is a very lovely and historic place.

So who is the patron saint for this kind of Mérida?

Obviously, St. Eulalia of Mérida (the patron saint of Mérida, Spain) has a pretty good claim, especially with all the Catholics naming kids “Siena” after St. Catherine of Siena. St. Eulalia was an early Christian virgin martyr, under the Emperor Diocletian. She was eager to be martyred and got her wish despite her youth, being burned alive. Her corpse was exposed to be eaten by birds, but a timely snowfall kept her body safe and uncorrupted until Christians could spirit it away. Her feast day is December 10.

However, there is also a very early St. Emerita or Emerentiana, who was the sister of an early Christian king in Britain, St. Lucius. She is listed in catalogs of Welsh saints. Some say she just lived out a holy life in Gloucester or Glastonbury. Others say that St. Lucius resigned his throne and went off with her as missionaries to Switzerland, where they became martyrs. (Diane Duane uses this story in her Rhaetian Tales.) Her feast day is May 26 or December 3.

The most famous St. Emerentiana is the one in Rome who was the foster sister of St. Agnes. She was a still-unbaptized catechumen when she was stoned to death by pagans, after being discovered in the act of praying at St. Agnes’ tomb. Her feast is January 23.

So if you want to use either “Merida” or “Mérida” as a baptismal name, you have a pretty good argument.

And if you are already named “Mérida,” you have some awesome patron saints and name days to choose from.

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1 Comment

Filed under Saint Names, Saint Stories

One response to “St. Merida?

  1. Thanks for this, and all the posts on patron saints. I pointed a couple of my CCD kids this way when they were considering different patron saints for confirmation. Not sure any of them made it here, but it’s a good resource.

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