Category Archives: Saint Names

St. Atreus?

No. Don’t do it. Don’t name your kid “Atreus.” Please. And there’s no saint. It’s an ill-omened name, and if you only know the name from the God of War games, you need to figure it out.

(And the only reason the hero of Dune is named Paul “Atreides” (ie, descendant of Atreus) is so that you will know right away that his entire family is going to be dysfunctional in the extreme.)

Pelops, the legendary founder/settler of the Peloponnese peninsula, started out life being a beautiful young man who was a grandson of Zeus, and a son of the human king Tantalos and the Titaness Dione. Tantalos had the gods over for dinner, and decided to prove that they were just as stupid as humans by killing and cooking his son Pelops and serving him up to them. (This may have been a power move, because making the gods break an important taboo would make them lose their power, and possibly allow that power to be usurped.)

As soon as the meat was served, the gods figured it out and refused to eat — except for Demeter, who was depressed about Persephone and not paying attention, and therefore chowed down on Pelops’ shoulder. Hermes (or Rhea) put all the pieces back in the cauldron, and then used his (or her) power to resurrect Pelops from the cookpot, and Hephaestus made an ivory shoulder prosthesis for him. All his descendants were then to have one discolored ivory shoulder, lighter than the rest of them. Tantalos was punished in Hades by never being allowed to eat but always having food dangling in his face.

(Interesting comparisons to both the Welsh cauldron-born and to the pickled boys resurrected by St. Nicholas.)

Anyhow, Pelops ended up getting out of Phrygia and settling the Pelopponese, and his sons Atreus and Thyestes got involved in a struggle for the throne with both their half-brother Chrysippus (either murdered by his brothers or by Pelops’ wife Hippodamia, or both) and with each other. Atreus married Aerope, who was in love with Thyestes. Thyestes and Aerope cheated on Atreus, and Aerope gave her husband’s kingship claim object to Thyestes. Atreus killed a bunch of Thyestes’ sons and successfully got Thyestes to eat them at a banquet, and Thyestes slept with one of his daughters to conceive a son who could depose Atreus. It was ugly.

So of course all their kids were cursed. Menelaus married Helen, which was nothing but trouble, and started the Trojan War; Agamemnon sacrificed his own daughter to get favorable winds for the war, stole Achilles’ woman and nearly lost the Trojan War, raped a Trojan princess who correctly prophesied his death and her own, and then got murdered by his wife for the whole sacrificing his daughter thing. And then Agamemnon’s son Orestes had to avenge him by killing his own mom, although this would have meant he would have to kill himself. The gods stepped in and saved Orestes, but there was lots of killin’.

Atreos means “not-shiver, not-tremble” which is probably what led the God of War people to think of linking Greek and Norse mythology, as well as Norse fairytales. The implication is “fearless,” but “not-fear” would be Aphobos (which is a Biblical and Gospel word and has good connotations all over the place!). “Not tremble” possibly implies also that one is not afraid of the gods or of doing things that are shameful or wicked, things that a sensible man would never do.

There’s a famous set of Norse fairytales about “the lad who could not shiver,” because he was both fearless and very literal, and possibly not all that bright. He finally learns to shiver by having his wife stick ice down his back, IIRC. These are connected to similar stories about Ashenlad, who can be depicted as stupid or as very wise and tricky, and with other seeking your fortune stories. Loki and Thor’s stories are very similar, so connecting Loki/Atreus to “the lad who could not shiver” is a nice tie-in.

(It doesn’t totally work, because actually, it turns out that most of Norse mythology seems to post-date Norse contact with the Roman Empire, and a lot of the Norse gods are actually deified late Roman historical figures from Burgundy and the Lombards, or various Germanic tribes. Which is freaky and weird, but there you go. And to be fair, deified founders or ancestors weren’t unusual in world religious history.)

Overall, the character in the God of War series is positive, but not everybody plays God of War; and everybody generally does know about the whole multiple-cannibalization-incest-and-kinslaying curse of the House of Atreus.

The ancient Greeks did not use Atreus as a given name. For good reason. The Christian Greeks didn’t name their kids Atreus either.

So please don’t name your kid Atreus. Especially not your Catholic kid.

(Oh, and btw, “Thyestes” means something like “sacrificer.” So his parents initially meant him to be pious and to appease the gods, but he wasn’t.)

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St. Blythe?

Yes!! Yes, it’s a real saint’s name! Hahahahahah! I am really delighted to find this out!

St. Blitha of Martham (also known as St. Blyth, Blythe, or Blida) was a laywoman in East Anglia. She was a kinswoman of the illfated King of the English, Aethelred the Unready, and of his son, King Edmund Ironside. She was married to a wealthy nobleman named Benedict. He had at least one son, St. Walstan, who moved to Taverham at the age of twelve and became an ordinary farm laborer, albeit a pious one.

Benedict and Blitha seem to have lived in either Blythburgh, Suffolk (which may have been her property, or may have changed its name in her honor) or in Bawburgh, Norfolk. But at the time of her death, after Benedict died, she was living in Martham, which is a lot further inland and somewhat closer to Taverham. A chapel was built in her honor in Martham.

The Old English word “blithe” or “blythe” meant friendly, agreeable, cheerful, kind, merciful, pleasing, gentle, pretty — basically, a lot of pleasant qualities. Its ultimate root means something like “shining.” It’s a great name — and now we know it’s a saint’s name! Great stuff!

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St. Denver?

Nope. Denver in Colorado was named after a politician with the last name Denver. His family was probably named after the town of Denver in Norfolk — “Dena faer” or Dane ford, Dane passage.

Another girls’ name that the Social Security Administration says is increasing in popularity. It’s not a bad name; it’s just not a saint’s name.

There is a Servant of God from Denver, Colorado, who is being submitted for the process of being named a Venerable. Julia Greeley was an ex-slave who moved west, worked as a housekeeper, and used her small wages to help others. She only had one eye, because it was whipped out by her ex-master, and she towed a little red wagon full of needful things like food, coal, and clothing, giving them out to anyone of any race who needed them. When she died, the bishop laid her in state in the cathedral, and thousands of people came to say goodbye to this saintly woman.

Servant of God Julia Greeley, pray for us!

Denver, Norfolk was a very small village until the fens were drained a bit, and it’s still pretty small. So there don’t seem to be any local saints.

There are tons of saints from the general Norfolk area, both missionaries (St. Felix the bishop from Burgundy, Ss. Fursa and Foillan from Ireland) and royal laypeople (Edmund, Etheldreda, and Sexburga). There are also martyrs killed by the Danes.

The most unusual saint was Walstan, a nobleman with royal kindred and wealthy parents (his mom was St. Blitha, aka St. Blythe), who decided he was called by God to become an ordinary farmhand. He left home at age twelve, moved inland from Blythburgh to Taverham, and got a job, vowing celibacy but otherwise living a normal life. He died in 1016, but the oxen drawing his body on a wagon took him to Bawburgh, and that’s where his shrine was built. His feastday is May 30. In the Middle Ages in the area, many farmers visited his shrine on his day.

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St. Navy?

“Navy” is an up and coming name for girls in the US, according to the Social Security Administration.

Um. Well. I don’t want to be too negative, because it’s certainly patriotic. But you do realize that there are certain traditional connotations about young women vs. young military men, right? If you are naming a girl after the color, maybe you should pick another shade of blue? (Indigo, Azure, stuff like that. But those probably make better middle names.)

There’s an Indian name, Anavi (“kind to people”), that has the nickname form “Navi.” Other names from India include Navya, Navita, and Navistha. Some of them refer to the Sanskrit for “new.”

There’s a Hebrew girls’ name, Navi, which apparently means something like “named.” I don’t know if it’s an allusion to the Name of God, but normally that would be Shem.

The Hebrew word for “prophet, seer, one who sees” is pronounced “Na-BEE” and usually spelled “nabi.” (So if that is the name you want for your kid, please spell it that way.)

The feminine form (“prophetess”) is “nebiah” (nuh-BE-ah) or “hannebiah” (HA-nuh-BE-ah).

That said, there is a traditional connection between the Church and St. Peter’s fishing boat, and hence with the Church as a ship or as Noah’s Ark. So yes, there was a St. Navida (martyred in Africa) and a St. Navigia (at St. Etienne d’Auxerre).

Nautica would be an okay name, although everybody who speaks English would call the girl “Naughty.” Also, it’s a clothing brand.

Nausicaa is a pretty name, if you want to go all classical. She was the (probably a fairy) princess who found Odysseus shipwrecked on the shore, and kindly helped him out. (Although what her name means is “burner of ships.”)

Other pretty names come from devotion to Our Lady of the Snows (Aug. 5), like “Nieves” (Spanish). There’s also the related names “Nova,” (Latin for “new”), “Novita,” and “Novella” (although that’s a literary form now, so probably not a good plan).

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St. Briar?

According to the Social Security Administration, this name is growing in popularity for girls in the United States. I think it’s a bad idea. I don’t know about the rest of the US, but in Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia, “Briar” is a slur term for poor rural Appalachian people. So if you wouldn’t name your little girl “Hillbilly,” don’t name her “Briar,” either.

If it’s one of your family surnames… well, make it a middle name, that’s all I can say. Alternately, call the kid Briar-rose, like Sleeping Beauty. (But in that case, why not just call her Rose?)

It’s also not a good name, because it associates the kid with the bad effects of the Fall cursing the plants of the earth. You know, “and thorns infest the ground”? Briars are also associated biblically with the ‘crackling’ sound of fools talking, with abandoned settlements and fields, and with all sorts of dire prophecies against the wicked and the pagan nations being burned up. The only positive association is the Crown of Thorns, and that’s an awfully sad name for a kid; or the “lily among the thorns,” which is a comparison of the Beloved to other women. And your kid would be the “other women,” not the Beloved.

If you want a Bri- or Bree- name, there are tons of those.

That said, there is a St. Spinella (“thorn”), who was martyred in Rome with St. Felix and her seven brothers (feast: June 27), and a Bl. Spinela who was a Cistercian nun in Arouca, Portugal (Nov. 1).

I suppose you could go with Bruyere, the French version, if you really really wanted to inflict this name on your kid. It means “heather” and “moorland” as well as “briar,” so at least your munchkin will have some positive associations.

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St. Regis?

I’ve wondered about this name before, and why such a Catholic Catholic as Regis Philbin would have some weird name like that. But since he passed away this week, I finally got around to looking it up.

If you look at it, it looks like it would be from “regis,” the genitive case of Latin “rex,” king. So this would be a kid who belongs to Christ the King.

But no! Regis was named by his dad for Regis High School, a free-tuition Catholic boys high school in Manhattan, run by Jesuits and founded on the big honking money of one Julia M. Grant, the widow of Mayor Hugh J. Grant. His dad was accepted into the school in the 1920’s, but was expelled in his sophomore year for fighting. With a teacher. All the same, Regis’ dad got a good education there, and was grateful and sorry afterward. Hence the name.

But who was the high school named for? (Yes, we will now expose my lack of Jesuit knowledge.)

St. Jean-Francois Regis, a Jesuit priest, worked as a missionary/revival preacher in France in the 1600’s. Before he joined the Jesuits, he was a shy kid of a merchant turned minor nobility, deathly afraid of displeasing his parents and teachers. He learned voraciously and kept his head in his books. But as a Jesuit, his fervent love of Jesus led him to start preaching to everybody, everywhere, in a simple way that came straight from the heart.

He was made a priest early, and immediately began to serve in areas stricken by bubonic plague. Then the next year he was assigned to spread the Gospel, first by working with his community in Montpellier, and then by being sent out on his own.

He walked from town to town, preached ex tempore, heard Confession in the morning, visited hospitals and prisons in the afternoon, and relied on the hospitality of locals on his missionary journeys. He often lived off apples and black bread. He spent much of his time preaching to Protestants, but he also was out to help Catholics be saved.

Along the way, he provided help for the desperate people he met, mostly by helping them get job training and learn entrepreneurship (such as in the lucrative lacemaking industry). He found safe housing for orphans and poor women, including ex-prostitutes. But since he didn’t have a parish or funding, he had to persuade members of each community to do this stuff on their own, and to leave them the job of running it. (So in other words, he was a _real_ community organizer, unlike most people with that name.)

If you joined one of his confraternities for Eucharistic adoration and you had money, he would often send you a note asking for help for a specific person, right down to the number of sous, or send you the person to feed, as his special gift to you! But it worked.

As he helped prostitutes get out of their bad situations, he was often threatened by armed pimps and angry exes. By showing no fear, and by speaking clearly about their own situation, he got them to drop their weapons and leave him (and the women) alone.

All that made him sad was opposition from supposedly good people, and the fact that his superiors refused to let him go to Canada and work for Jesus there.

He seemed tireless. But like many pre-modern priests, he died of exhaustion and a lung sickness that wouldn’t go away, at the age of 43. He literally died on the job in the confessional in the tiny mountain town of La Louvesc, asking Jesus to receive his soul, on December 31, 1640.

After his death, the French formed many “Regis Societies” in his honor, dedicated to helping the poor and the unemployed, as well as educating people in rural areas. He was canonized in 1737, and is often called “St. Regis” for short. St. Jean Vianney gave all the credit for the success of his own parish mission to the intercession of St. Jean-Francois Regis. There is a miraculous spring in La Louvesc near the site of his death, where many people find healing. And the order of the Cenacle Sisters was originally founded in his honor.

So yes! It’s a very Catholic name!

There’s also a St. Jean-Francois-Regis Clet, who was a Vincentian nicknamed “the walking library.” After working as a professor and seminary director, he saw all his work destroyed in the French Revolution, and his community disbanded.

So he went to China to serve as a missionary, at the age of 43. He worked in China for 28 years, but never mastered any of the languages to the point where he felt fluent. Still, he persevered in a mission territory that stretched over 270,000 square miles. In 1811, the Vincentians were falsely accused of inciting rebellion, and they had to live on the run. But he managed, until he was betrayed to the authorities on June 16, 1819, and executed as a traitor on Chinese New Year — Feb. 17, 1820 — at the age of 72. (Two hundred years ago, this year.)

He was tied onto a cross, and then strangled slowly… in Wuchang (then Frankified as Vu-tsheng-fu or Ou-tchang-fou)… which is now merged with Hankou and Hanyang, and called Wuhan, China.

(“Hopei Province” is now spelled “Hubei.” He also worked in Hunan.)

He was buried on Red Mountain in China; but eventually had his remains translated to the Vincentian motherhouse in France, and then to St. Lazare’s in Paris. He was canonized on October 1, 2000. His day is February 18; and he is is one of the Martyr Saints of China.

St. Jean-Francois-Regis Clet, pray for us! And please pray for Wuhan!

These are really great models of the Christian life, and awesome patron saints for anyone bearing their name.

(Btw, many other Christians were executed in Wuchang in various persecutions, including another Vincentian priest, St. Jean-Gabriel Perboyre, on Sept. 11, 1840. He was big on spreading the Miraculous Medal, and was apparently the actual guy who prayed “May my hands be the hands of Jesus,” as part of a prayer for Christian tranformation to become more Christ-like. I’m going to look that up and report back.)

(Oh, and it was the Vincentians and many convert friends who were saved during the Boxer Rebellion, in the small village of Donglu, by an apparition of Our Lady in the sky. The Boxers shot at her, but obviously that didn’t work. Then a “fiery horseman” appeared in the sky on a heavenly horse, charged the Boxers, and drove them off. This was the first big apparition of Our Lady of China. The second big one was on May 23, 1995, also in Donglu, on the eve of the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, when she appeared with Baby Jesus in the sky, for 20 minutes, to tens of thousands of people. The church was banned the next day, and destroyed within the year by the Chinese government. To this day, thousands of soldiers are sent to Donglu in May every year to stop “illegal” pilgrimages, and yet the pilgrims sneak in and out.)

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St. Hermione the Unmercenary Physician

I got into a search engine/linkfest today… And it turns out that Hermione, daughter of Menelaus and Helen, and wife of both Neoptolemus and Orestes (doom, doom, doom-doom), was not the only famous Hermione of the ancient world.

As we all know, St. Philip the Deacon had four daughters who were all prophetesses in the Church. But on the Eastern side of things, a lot of folks who get mentioned in passing in the Gospels or Acts do have traditional names attributed to them.

So the daughters of St. Philip the Deacon are remembered to have had the Greek names of Hermione, Eutychia or Euchidia, Irais, and Chariline or Mariamne. They all seem to have taken vows to live as virgins.

St. Hermione seems to have been the eldest. After Philip moved his family to Herod’s port town of Caesarea Maritima, in order to spread Christianity, Hermione studied Jewish and Greek medicine and became a female physician. As mentioned in Acts 21, St. Paul and various of his companions (including St. Luke) stayed at Philip’s house.

Tradition says that after Paul went up to Jerusalem to get arrested, as prophesied by Agabus, the Christians of Caesarea Maritima got driven out.

(The Christians soon came back. According to Eusebius, who was from around there and would know, the first bishop was St. Zacchaeus himself! He was succeeded by Cornelius (maybe that Cornelius) and then by Theophilus (maybe that Theophilus.)

Philip ended up moving to Hierapolis in Asia Minor, a hot springs town still known for its amazing natural rock formations (the Pamukkale). His tomb is there.

At some point, St. Hermione moved to Ephesus along with Eutychia. They were planning to get spiritual guidance from John, but he died shortly before they got there. So they helped out the new bishop by starting a free medical clinic, along with the first known xenodochium, a house of hospitality for visiting Christians that would become common in most large parishes.

Dr. Hermione ran afoul of the authorities during the co-reign of Trajan and Hadrian. Accounts of her life say that she was subjected to various tortures, but just didn’t die. Finally the governor ordered two men to execute her, but at this point they were doubtful that it would work, and sure that the governor would execute them for failure. So they set their problem before the prophetess, and begged her to pray God to take her to heaven. So she took pity on them, and did so, and just died all of a sudden.

Assuming this story is historical, she’d be a confessor, not a martyr. But she’s always been counted as a martyr. Either way, her feast day is September 4.

As for St. Philip’s other daughters, Eutychia/Euchidia seems to have left Ephesus before all this happened, and died somewhere in a way that no story has come down to us. But Irais and Chariline lived out their lives in Hierapolis, and were visited by many Christians who wanted to hear their eyewitness stories. Papias (the bishop of Hierapolis and a historian) took down their accounts extensively, in his lost book, as Eusebius tells us in his own history.

BTW, the people who are counted as the very first early Christian unmercenary physicians are Ss. Zenaida and Philonella, two cousins of St. Paul who set up a free clinic in Thessaly. They were baptized into the faith by their brother Jason, who was then bishop of Tarsus.

(Zenaida, Philonella, and Jason would all be their Greek use names, not their Jewish names. Zenaida means “of Zeus” or “of God.” Philonella is a female form of Philo/Philon, “friendly love.”)

They decided to enter the local philosophical academy and study Greek medicine, and then moved to the area of Thessaly around Mt. Pelion near Demetriada, and near the famous Asclepius temple of healing. Priests and physicians in the area were known sometimes to charge exorbitant prices or demand big donations, and obviously healing included pagan worship and magical amulets and potions.

So they found a mineral spring, set up a Christian chapel and little huts for themselves, and offered treatment for free.

Legend says that St. Philonella was an experimental physician, willing to try to treat people with unknown diseases, and trying to create better treatments through totally natural, non-magical means. St. Zenaida was particularly interested in treating children who were sick, as well as psychiatric disorders. Both of them lived a life of prayer when not treating patients. Later on, a monastery for men was founded nearby, by their students Pateras, Philocyrus, and Papias. (Which is probably how Papias ended up becoming bishop.)

Legends differ as to whether they were stoned to death as martyrs, or whether they lived out their lives in peace. But their feast is October 11.

Other saints classified as “anargyroi” (literally, “no-silvers”) include Ss. Cosmas and Damian the surgeons, St. Pantaleon, St. Tryphon, St. Thaleleus of Anazarbus, Ss. Cyrus and John, St. Samson the Hospitable. But there’s a ton, and of course many religious orders still provide free medical treatment today.

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St. Luna?

Short answer: No. But it’s an okay name.

According to a list of the top twenty baby names from the UK baby name site Nameberry, “Luna” is the #1 baby name for girls in 2020, so far. In the US, the Social Security Administration says that in 2018, Luna was up to #23 for girls.

Of course we know why. It’s the character Luna Lovegood, from the Harry Potter books. (And possibly, just a little influence from Luna the cat in Sailor Moon.) Two popular UK celebrities apparently named their daughter Luna last year, and this pushed it over the top in the UK.

So let’s look on the bright side. It’s a real name, with history and everything, and it sounds pretty and feminine. But it’s also a name of the Roman goddess of the Moon. Is it a suitable baptismal name?

Weeeell, lots of early Christian saints and martyrs were converted pagans with pagan names. Their conversion made their names Christian. So there is precedent.

The funny thing is that, at the time of big Roman conversions, most of the Gentiles turned martyrs were either Roman women bearing Roman clan names, or slaves bearing fashionable Greek names. You do get some ethnic names (St. Monica’s name was Punic, ie, Phoenician/Carthaginian), but you don’t usually get “given names” like we have, until later Christian times. Also, the moon goddesses were pretty popular, so people may have avoided giving moon-related names.

But nowadays, there’s no real reason not to name your kid Luna, if you feel like it. Lu- names like Lucy and Louise are getting popular. Probably more of a middle name, though.

Lunicia is a name today, although an uncommon one. There’s a saint named that in North Africa, on June 7. Lunicie is another spelling. (And yeah, avoid your kid being called Lunacy.)

That said, there’s also a St. Luna Mista listed on April 6 in some old martyrologies, but she’s also listed as “Summista.” Either way, nobody knows more about her (or him) than that.

The more common name is Diana, or in France, Diane. Diana is an Italian name and just means “goddess.” She was originally a rural goddess of the hunt, but got tacked onto all the Greek stuff with Artemis, Selene, and Hecate.

Diana was not popular with early Christians for the same Roman reasons; but it came back big as a Christian name in the high Middle Ages.

Blessed Diana d’Andalo was a real character. She came from a rich family in Bologna, but wanted to join the Dominican order of nuns and build a convent. So she first made a private vow of virginity, witnessed by St. Dominic and other Dominicans. Then she took a field trip with friends to a Benedictine convent of nuns, who had agreed beforehand to keep her until the Dominicans could get a convent going, and help her learn the nun business.

But as with St. Clare, her family showed up. They kidnapped her away from the nuns. When she got away, she joined some Augustinian nuns with their prior permission (you have to admire this girl’s letterwriting and plotting skills), and got kidnapped again. The family broke her rib and she was confined to her bed, but she managed to write St. Dominic while he was on his deathbed. She escaped again to the Augustinians. Finally, Blessed Jordan of Saxony (and his 24 charisma points) visited her family, and persuaded them to build a Dominican convent close to their home, so that the family could just visit, like normal people. This worked out, and the convent also produced Bl. Cecilia and Bl. Amata of Bologna. She died on Jan. 9, 1236. Her day is June 10, or June 8, or June 9 (depending on the calendar).

There’s also Bl. Diana, the first prioress of Sobrives in Provence. She was the aunt of St. Rosseline de Villeneuve, the patron saint of the Carthusians and the Order of Malta.

On the Greek name side, of course there is Phoebe from the Bible. Phoebe, “shining” or “bright one,” was one of the titles of Artemis. (And there’s a Phoebe in Harry Potter, too.)

There doesn’t appear to be any saint named Selene. There are several saints named Artemia, after Artemis. There’s the martyrs Ss. Artemia and Attica, on February 18, and the abbess of Cuteclara in Spain, St. Artemia.

The widow and abbess St. Artemia was not a martyr of Cordoba, but she taught one, St. Maria, in her convent. Maria was deeply impressed by St. Artemia’s description of how her sons were martyred by the Muslims, which was why she sought the religious life; and that’s part of St. Maria she went to Cordoba with St. Flora and formally denounced Islam in front of a qadi. They were executed on Nov. 24, 851.

(Another Cuteclara martyr nun was St. Aurea or Aura, who was born and raised Muslim but converted, and who stayed a nun for twenty years after being widowed. Her convert brothers, Ss. Adolphus and John, died martyrs on Sept. 27, 822. During the Cordoba persecutions, her relatives found her and dragged her out of the convent to face an Islamic judge. She renounced Christianity under duress and was stuck back in her relatives’ household. Secretly, she went back to practicing Christianity, but eventually the relatives found out. She refused to go back to Islam and was executed for apostasy on July 19, 856.)

(A few years later, another widow, St. Laura, was the abbess of Cuteclara, when she was martyred on October 19, 864 by being plunged into a cauldron of boiling pitch.)

The most famous St. Artemia was a misnomer for the Emperor Diocletian’s daughter, who was harried during his lifetime for being a Christian or Christian-friendly, and then was killed by a mob in Thessaloniki. (Her name was actually Valeria, after her dad’s clan name, and her married name was Galeria Valeria.) It’s not entirely clear whether she was technically killed as a martyr, or because she refused to marry, or because she was a convenient target. Either way, she went through plenty of hell on earth. Her bones are supposedly in Rome, in the Church of St. Sylvester, and her feast is August 8 or August 16. (Similarly, her Christian mother Prisca is sometimes miscalled Serena or Alexandra.)

There’s a town in Brittany named “Saint-Lunaire,” for St. Lunarius or Leonor, a male Breton saint who worked and was buried there.

There is a Castillo de Luna in Rota, Spain, and “Santa Luna” is a placename that occasionally comes up. De Luna was the name of a powerful Spanish family that conquered the town of Luna in Zaragoza. There’s also an Italian town named Luni, which was called Luna in Etruscan and Roman times. So in classical times, Carrara marble was called Luna marble. The town was once a notable port, but it got sacked by both Vikings and Muslims, until the port silted up. So the town was eventually abandoned, but has been excavated now.

The Moon gets mentioned in the Bible, of course, but Middle Eastern folks thought of the Moon as male, not female. The god of Ur of the Chaldaeans was Sin the moon god, and later the Babylonians worshipped him as Nebo or Nebu. Funnily enough, King Nectanebo, who was probably the Bible’s Nebuchadnezzar, was a commoner from Ur; and he notoriously put his god Nebo ahead of Babylon’s god Marduk. (Sometimes the Sun was thought of as female, but usually Shamash was pictured as also a guy.) So when you see the Beloved in the Song of Songs compared to the Sun, the Moon, and an army, it’s all masculine images. (Yeah, not very intuitive to us, but the Moon is also masculine in Japan.)

There was once a part of the Divine Office called the “Luna,” just like Lauds and Matins and Vespers. It came after Prime, and it was basically some readings from the martyrology. The little round window in a monstrance is also called a “luna.”

Lovegood or Love-God, btw, were Puritan names for girls. Love-Well was a boy’s name.

During Puritan times, it was pretty common for Royalists or Catholics to give their kids classical Roman or Greek names, as a sort of protest. So there were lots of guys named Hercules, Paris, Neptune, etc., and a fair number of women named Venus, Cassandra, Diana….

Oh, and the surname Moon is usually the Norman surname De Mohun, which comes from the town of Moyon or Moion in Normandy.

UPDATE: Delia is Greek for “Delian, person from Delos.” Artemis and Apollo were twins and both born on Delos, so Delia and Delios are also their titles. “Phoebus” is one of Apollo’s titles, too.

I also forgot Cynthia (“person from Mount Kynthos”), which is a title of both Artemis and Aphrodite. Again, nobody thinks of it as a pagan name anymore.

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St. Asher?

The UK baby name website Nameberry just put out a list of the top twenty baby names from 2020 (so far). Obviously this is totally non-official, being a list of the most popular names used for babies of their website patrons! But it’s interesting, so let’s check it out.

The number 1 Nameberry boy’s name is Asher.

Asher is a traditional Jewish name. He was one of Jacob’s sons, his eighthborn. His mom was Leah’s handmaid Zilpah (or Zilpha, in Greek-influenced versions). He grew up to be the ancestor of one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

The Bible tells us Leah named him “Asher” because she was happy to beat out Rachel and her handmaid Bilhah’s son count, so the name means “happy.” But the actual Hebrew also means “blessed.” (Much as the Greek “makarios” means both “happy” and “blessed.”)

So let’s look at what is actually said in Genesis 30:13 —

And Leah said:

“Be ‘asseri ki ‘isseruni banowt.”
(“I am happy, because the daughters” (ie, the women) “will call me blessed.”)

So she called his name ‘Asher.

Interesting, huh? Who else do we know who was called “blessed among women” (Lk. 1:42) by Elizabeth, and who then replied that “Henceforth, all the generations will call me blessed”? The same woman who also called herself a “handmaid” in that poem. Yup, Mary says that she sees herself in both Zilpah and Leah, although there are also Biblical typologies of Mary with Rachel and Bilhah. (And pretty much every other Biblical matriarch, for that matter.)

Asher’s older full brother, Gad, had a name that means “lucky,” because Leah says she was feeling lucky to beat Rachel and Bilhah’s son count (Gen. 30:11).

In Jewish tradition, Asher is portrayed as having been a good guy and a peacemaker between his brothers. The people of Asher were prosperous and wise, and they had the most sons. The women of the tribe were remembered as exceptionally beautiful, and much courted by Jewish leaders and priests.

One of their ancestresses, Asher’s daughter or stepdaughter Serah (also spelled Serach), is noted by name twice in the Bible. There are interesting traditions about her kindly nature and good relationship with her dad Asher and her grandfather Jacob. On Jacob’s deathbed, he is said to have blessed her along with his sons and with his grandsons Ephraim and Manasseh. The traditional wording of this blessing was “May you live forever and never die,” and so she is supposed to have been taken up to Heaven like Elijah and Enoch. Serach is also supposed to have remained on earth until the time of Moses, and have been the only one who remembered where to find Joseph’s tomb with his bones. After being taken into Heaven, Serach occasionally returned to earth to help rabbis with their studies. When one later rabbi wondered about the crossing of the Red Sea, she poked her head in the window and told him about her memories of the event.

(But shyeah, Catholics are totally nutso and pagan in their ideas about Mary. Yup.)

The tribe of Asher ultimately were taken into captivity and not returned, and became of the “lost” Ten Tribes. However, some members of each tribe did remain in Judah. For example, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, the prophetess in Luke 2:36, is identified by Luke as a member of the tribe of Asher.

In Gen. 49:20, Jacob prophetically blesses Asher among the rest of his sons on his deathbed, saying, “From Asher shall be rich bread, and he shall yield royal delicacies.”

In Deut. 33:24, Moses blesses this tribe, saying, “Asher, most blessed of sons: let him be favored by his brothers, and let him dip his foot in oil.” The Jewish interpretation is sometimes rendered as “most blessed with sons,” ie, with descendants. “Foot dipped in oil” refers to the tribe’s lands assigned to them in Israel, which would be good for olive orchards and olive oil.

The controversial part is that the Asher and Gad tribes had their land in the areas that would become Phoenician and Gentile territory (in Galilee), and they might have been related to pagan groups too. There’s a Phoenician god of luck named Gad, and the god of the city of Assur was named Assur, which is really close to Asher. (Assyria is really “Assur.”) And the Egyptians mentioned people called “Asaru.” So people kinda wonder what that tribe was doing.

(The name of the Phoenician goddess Asherah or Athirah, btw, is from a different word stem — the word “to walk, to stride.”)

As a patriarch of one of the Twelve Tribes, Asher is a saint. So it’s totally normal and appropriate to name a baby after him. You will find his name spelled “Aser” in Greek and Latin sources.

In the Latin/Roman Rite, the traditional feast day of St. Asher is February 5. This is also the feast of Ss. Abraham and Sarah, St. Melchizadek, St. Lot, Ss. Isaac and Rebecca, St. Jacob, Ss. Leah and Rachel, and all the other patriarchs of the Twelve Tribes.

On the Eastern side of things, the second Sunday before Christmas is called “the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers of Christ,” when all the patriarchs and matriarchs get celebrated. But they also have various saints’ days for individual Old Testament saints.

In the US, Asher has always been a Jewish name, but it seems to have been growing in popularity as a Christian name over the last five years. (In 2018, it was #47 in boys’ names.) In this unhappy time, one can see why people would want a name that means “happy” or “blessed.” It also sounds a lot like other popular names, such as Ash, Ashley, and Aislinn.

(But bear in mind the obvious mispronunciation of all Ash- names.)

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St. Chad?

St. Chad of Mercia. Yup. Totally legit bishop and missionary in Anglo-Saxon England. His Latin name was Ceadda.

His famous brother was St. Cedd (pronounced Keth, with a soft/voiceless “th” like in “width”) or Cedda (the same, with an “ah”). They were both educated at Lindisfarne, and became abbots of the monks of Lastingham. The other brothers were Cynibil and Caelin. (Bede tells us about all this.)

Chad stepped into history after the Synod of Whitby (AD 664). Shortly after the synod ended, many prominent bishops and churchmen who had been in attendance came down with the Yellow Plague (probably the same as Justinian’s Plague, but possibly a kind of yellow fever) and died. Chad’s brother Cedd, King Oswiu of Northumbria’s chaplain, was one of the dead, as was Bishop Tuda of Northumbria, and Archbishop Deusdedit of Canterbury.

King Oswiu of Northumbria decided that he needed a bishop of Northumbria. The bishop of Canterbury was dead, and no successor had been named in three years, so every king and abbey felt like they could and should do their own thing.

King Oswiu and his under-king, Alfrid of Deira, originally picked a guy named Wilfrid (St. Wilfritha, in fact) and sent him off to France for consecration (bishops being rather thin on the ground after the Yellow Plague/Synod), but Wilfrid didn’t come back. So Oswiu named Chad the bishop of Northumbria.

Chad protested his unworthiness, and then set out for Wessex to be consecrated by one Saxon and two British bishops. Then he traveled barefoot to visit all the parishes in his diocese, preaching the Gospel and giving the Sacraments.

Meanwhile, without knowing all this, Wilfrid was over in France, gathering support along with his mentor Agilbert. Agilbert and several other French bishops consecrated him a bishop for Northumbria, but Wilfrid did not go home right away. When he did, he was named bishop of York, and gathered allies but did not fight Chad’s bishoping. Much like Northumbria and Deira, they seem to have acted as allied bishops that shared territory.

At this point, stuff was happening in Rome. In 667, King Ecgberht of Kent decided he needed an archbishop of Canterbury. Local discussion among priests and the king seem to have hit on Wighard, a member of Archbishop Deusdedit’s household. So they sent him off to Rome. He seems to have gotten consecrated with papal approval, and then kicked the bucket. So Pope Vitalian picked one of the Greek refugees from the Muslim conquests of the East, a monk named Theodore of Tarsus. He was learned, experienced, holy, and from St. Paul’s hometown. What more could you want?

When St. Theodore arrived in Britain in 669, he was shocked to learn about Chad’s political appointment unapproved by Canterbury and hence felt it was a false consecration as bishop. Chad expressed all readiness to step down and hand the job to Theodore’s candidate. But when Theodore learned of all Chad’s hard work and holiness, Theodore decided he also wanted Chad to be bishop, and eventually named him bishop of Mercia!

(St. Theodore had almost twenty years of conflict with St. Wilfrid about the division of Northumbria into more bishoprics. But it worked out, and they’re all saints together.)

Chad died in 672, after receiving a message from an angel that he would die in seven days. Chad warned his brother monks about his death, and referred to Death as “that friendly guest who often visits the brethren.” He died on March 2, and one man had a vision of angels and saints coming to fetch him, including Chad’s brother Cedd.

Of course, Chad is often used today in the US as a descriptive name for men who are strong and not too bright, although also for men who are strong and mean. This is not fair to its most famous bearer.

Funnily enough, the UK seems to have missed the Seventies and Eighties popularity of the name Chad. But it’s as UK a name as you can get. Chad was a Saxon, but his name is Welsh and means “battle.”

His brothers’ names mix Saxon and Welsh, much like Northumbria’s population did. You don’t find this situation often in world history, outside of the US!

Ss. Chad and Cedd, pray for us!

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St. Pascoe?

Pascoe, Pask, Paskey, Pascha, Pascal, and Pash were once popular English names. They all denoted a child born at Easter, aka the Pasch or Passover.

It was also common to name girls “Easter.”

Of course there was Tiffany (Theophany), Epiphania, and Epiphany, as well as Ephin and Effam.

Pentecost was also a name for both boys and girls, and Noel and Nowell lasted a good long time.

Yes, I am really enjoying Curiosities of Protestant Nomenclature. An excellent namebook that covers late medieval and early modern naming practices of all sorts of groups in England, as well as some notes on American names.

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Aphra Behn’s Name

One would assume that Aphra Behn’s name came from Latin or Greek, and from the martyr, St. Afra.

Actually, it’s a Puritan name. “Aphrah” is Hebrew for dust, and comes from the thing in Micah about the “house of dust.”

This and many other interesting tidbits can be found in Oddities of Puritan Nomenclature, which is also a very good book about medieval English names.

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St. Erin?

Or, Why Do Good Catholics Think This Is a Good Baptismal Name?

Yes, Irish-American Catholics tend to assume that anything they like is pre-approved by the Pope. But why did American Catholics start naming their girls Erin? Why is it such a thing? Why? Why? Why?

— First off, Erin is really “Eirinn.” It’s the Gaelic dative form of Eire, or its Old Irish form, Eriu. Eire is the name of Ireland, or the island upon which Ireland and Northern Ireland are found; and Eriu is the name of its personification, the goddess Eriu. (Which in Proto-Celtic meant something like “land, fat land, abundant land.”)

So are people naming their kids “for Ireland” or “to Ireland”? Or are they really using the genitive form “Eireann,” and thus naming them “of Ireland”?

Maybe, maybe not. There are actually two dialects of Irish where the dative form Eirinn can be used as a nominative form, instead of using Eire. Obviously, these dialects were influential, since they show up in sayings like “Erin go bragh.”

— Okay. So… what does it mean to name your kid after a country? Why does the Social Security Administration show all these “Erins” showing up in 1947? I don’t know. There may have been an influential movie or novel character, but that’s just a guess, or it may have just been a general consensus that “Erin go bragh” sounds pretty.

From a Catholic point of view, though, the name “Erin” is kind of weird. Yes, Ireland is the land of saints and scholars, but it is not itself holy. (As the vote for legalized abortion has abundantly proved.)

— So there are a couple of different options. It could be referring to Our Lady’s title “Queen of Ireland,” if it were actually using the genitive form Eireann. The title “Queen of Ireland” was connected with the 19th century apparitions at Knock, where Mary appeared to a good chunk of a village, and it appears in several popular prayers and songs praising Our Lady of Knock.

There’s also a wonderworking painting of Mary in Gyor, Hungary, called “Our Lady of Ireland,” because it had originally hung in Clonfert Cathedral, and had been rescued by the exiled Bishop Lynch (who left it to the Bishop of Gyor). Calvinists, Lutherans, and even a rabbi signed a deposition talking about how the painting shed real tears of blood on March 17, 1697. Here’s an article in Hungarian, with pictures of it in the cathedral.

There is a copy of this painting in St. Stephen’s Church in Toledo, Ohio, which was given in 1913 by Toledo’s bishop to his Hungarian parish; but unfortunately I’ve never seen it. The copy was touched to the actual painting, and is thus a relic itself.

Here’s an article with pictures of the Toledo copy and the original painting, by the amazing Jeffrey Smith! And here’s a closer view of the original. Was it by an Irish painter?

So yup, a shorter version of “Rian Eireann” or “Muire na hEireann” (“Mary of Ireland,” which is the translation used in Ireland for “Our Lady, Queen of Ireland”) is a real possibility. I think all of you Erins have a lovely patroness!

— However, there’s also a very famous title of St. Brigid that comes to mind. She was called “the Mary of the Gaels” (Muire na Gael).

— The other possibility is that it’s yet another version of the Greek “Irene,” peace, and the various St. Irenes. This name is sometimes written “Erina,” “Erena,” or “Herena.”

— “Erinna” is also an ancient Greek name, associated with a pagan Greek poetess of that name, Erinna of Telos.

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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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