Category Archives: Saint Names

St. Digory?

Well…no. Not that you’d notice.

But actually this is probably a Breton name, had some English popularity, and became a popular Cornish first name for centuries. Today, it’s mostly known from C.S. Lewis’ character, Digory Kirke, and from Dowland’s tune, “Captain Digorie Piper His Galliard.” Cedric and Amos Diggory from the Harry Potter books were named after Lewis’ character, and Diggory Island is a real place in Cornwall on the sea coast. There’s also a Thomas Hardy character named Digory Venn, which makes sense because Hardy’s books are set in the south of England, close to Cornwall.

(Btw, Digorie Piper was from Launceston, Cornwall, and Dowland might just have met him at some point. But Piper became a pirate, and was executed in 1586. The galliard wasn’t published until 1604, and it’s a sad one.)

The name “Digory” comes from a medieval romance in the style of a Breton lai, called “Sir Degare,” “Syr Degore,” or “Degarre.” If the “teg/deg” particle were from Breton, it would mean something like “excellent one,” and would be a name in the same family as the Welsh “Tegau/Tegan.” But there’s also the Breton word “digor,” which means “open” or “opened.” That seems more likely. Some claim the name is “D’Esgare.” But the French version of the story says that his name is “D’Egarre,” and means “the lost one.”

Sir Digory was the son of a human princess and a fairy knight, who either raped her, abducted her, or seduced her while she was lost in the woods. Either way, he left her with only one-half of a broken fairy sword to know him by. Scared to keep the resulting baby, his mother dropped the kid off at a holy hermit’s doorstep, along with gold, a letter, and magic gloves that will only fit his mother’s hand.

The hermit got his sister to raise the baby, then educated the child when he got old enough. Then Digory set out to find his family, killed a dragon with a wooden club and saved an earl, was knighted by him and given a horse and armor, and then headed back to Brittany, to fight for the hand of the princess you couldn’t marry unless you beat the king of Brittany in combat. He won, he got married — and it turned out to be his mom.

Luckily his mom recognized the gloves, and Bad Stuff was averted. His mom decides that it’s probably time to ‘fess up to her dad about the teen pregnancy. Digory spares everyone embarrassment and heads out to find his fairy dad, and his mom gives him the broken sword to know his dad by. (Unless it’s a version where the mom left the sword for the baby, along with the gloves.)

So first Digory meets a mysterious lady in a hidden castle in the woods, falls in love with her, is put to sleep magically, and then gets rebuked for not waking up fast enough. The castle is under attack by a wicked knight who wants to marry the lady, and he has just slain all her dead father’s knights. So Digory fights the bad suitor, wins, and is offered the lady’s hand. He says he can’t stay but will be back within a year to collect.

Digory goes off. He runs into a fairy knight, who challenges him to a fight. (In many versions, they fight, equal each other, are both unhorsed, start to fight on foot, and then they pause and talk.) Digory shows the fairy knight the broken sword, and the knight acknowledges Digory as his son, producing the point of the sword as proof. They ride back to Digory’s mom, and the fairy knight marries her. Then they ride to the mysterious lady’s castle, and she marries Digory. Everybody lives happily ever after.

The puzzling part is that we don’t know why the rape, abduction, and/or seduction, and why the fairy knight didn’t just marry the girl in the first place. He doesn’t seem to be cursed, evil, or anything like that. He’s not portrayed as a bad guy. And why does Digory’s mom have magical gloves? Are these like the gloves or cloaks that only fit an honest woman, or what? This is one of those stories that seems to be missing a lot of context. (Not to mention the incest/misunderstood relationships, the Rustam/CuChulainn son as challenger thing, etc.) Clearly the idea is that things need fixing, but why did they go wrong?

In the longer versions, the problem is that the King of Brittany, Digory’s grandfather, is so protective of his teenage daughter that he himself duels all her suitors, and keeps defeating them. So I guess you’d have to be okay with killing your father-in-law in order to woo his daughter. The other problem is that the princess looks too much like her dead mother, and is only allowed to leave the castle to visit her mother’s grave in the woods. The princess’ maidens fall asleep under an enchanted chestnut tree near the grave, and the princess wanders into the woods to seek help or escape. And that’s when the fairy knight grabs her.

So yeah, some kind of curse or taboo, for sure. Very similar to other stories like “Tam Lin,” where the girl doesn’t seem willing or unwilling, and the knight prophesies that she’ll have a fated son, and so on. So whatever is wrong that’s binding the girl, there’s also something wrong with the guy that’s binding him. Why is the sword broken, for instance? And a sword is a Frankish marriage gift or betrothal gift, so what does a broken sword mean? And why is “Degore” sometimes included in lists of Arthur’s knights?

But anyway, this is not anything that most people would know about, so it doesn’t really affect the name of Digory today.

1 Comment

Filed under Saint Names

St. Talia?

Talia is an interesting name, because it’s never been a super-popular or super-obscure name. It’s just there.

There is a St. Talia, a female martyr celebrated in Ethiopia on November 11. It’s not clear whether or not this is a different version of a name like “Tatiana,” or not.

“Talia” or “Taliya” is a fairly popular Jewish name, meaning “dew of God.” It refers to various things, but mostly to Micah 5:7, which says that Israel’s remnant dispersed among the nations will be like dew from God, or like rainshowers on the grass, waiting for no man to get moving, and prowling among them like a lion. So it’s an interesting name, because it sounds sweet and peaceful but really isn’t!

There’s also the name “Thalia” or “Thaleia,” which is Greek for “blooming, growing green, flourishing,” and is the name of the Muse of comedy and of pastoral poetry. It was also the name of a Grace, a Nereid, and a Nymph. So yup, there are lots of Christian Thalias too. Thalie is currently a very popular Christian name in France, since the 1990’s, even though it used to be very rare.

In France, girls named Thalie celebrate their nameday on July 27, the day of St. Nathalie, better known as St. Natalia of Cordova. Natalia Sabigotho was half-Moor, half-Visigoth, back in the early days of Spain’s Islamic conquest. She and her husband Aurelius (who was half-Moor, half-Hispanic Roman) were secret apostates from Islam, who knew that they might someday have to become martyrs. After their two kids were old enough, they sent the kids to safety and began living like monks. After seeing a Christian trader flogged to death, they bravely proclaimed their faith too, and were martyred together on July 27, 852.

Leave a comment

Filed under Saint Names

St. Marisol?

This is a common Spanish name that doesn’t get much pop culture explanation. It’s really “Maria Soledad,” a name honoring the “Virgen de la Soledad,” the “Virgin of Solitude” or “of Loneliness.” This is a title for Mary as she was on Holy Saturday, mourning her Son. One of the interesting Spanish features is that they show Mary wearing a rosary with a prominent cross, so that the rosary draws attention to her long-empty belly. She is alone.

(Our Lady of Sorrows is the more common title in non-Hispanic countries. That’s where the name “Dolores” comes from.)

There’s a lot of devotion to Mary under the title of “Soledad,” especially in France and Spain, and in Mexico. It was associated closely with the women of the royal families, who often survived their sons and husbands. In Madrid, there’s also a miraculous painting on cloth of this version of Our Lady, “la Virgen de la Paloma.”

The Paloma Virgin is a neighborhood miracle. In 1787, some kids found the discarded painting (which is a little smaller than a paperback book) and started tossing it around. One of the neighbor ladies on Paloma St., Isabela Tintero, was scandalized and confiscated the little painting. She took it home, cleaned it, got it framed, and put it on her front door. Then she started using it as her prayer station for saying the Rosary, and other neighbors did too.

And then people’s prayers started getting granted.

Word of the miracles got around, and the little side street got flooded with people praying. Mrs. Tintero gave up her house to be an unofficial chapel for the painting, but they still couldn’t fit everyone into the house. The locals built a real chapel. They founded a big festival on August 15, along with the Feast of the Assumption. There was a famous operetta/zarzuela using the festival as a backdrop. And so on. She is the patron saint of Madrid’s firefighters as well.

But it’s not all funsies, being a shrine. The parish suffered five martyrdoms during the Spanish Civil War, which are currently part of a new sainthood cause. All the martyrs were killed for being part of Catholic Action, a club for supporting Catholic identity and teaching, or the Asociacion Catolica de Propagandistas, an apologetics and teaching club. There were two priests: the Servants of God Fr. Jose Bermudez Tome and Fr. Andres Rodriguez Perdiguero; and three lay members of Catholic Action: Marcelino Panizo Celorio, Marcelino Panizo Rodriguez, and Fernando Estevanez Teran.

Yesterday, tragically, there was some kind of explosion at an adjoining Caritas home for elderly people and for visiting priests, on ground owned by the parish. Four people were killed: two still-unidentified passersby in the street, a 35 year old parishioner named David Santos who leaves behind a wife and four kids, and a 36 year old priest, Fr. Ruben Perez Ayala, the parochial vicar, who had only been ordained for a year. Debris hit the roof of the church and the back courtyard, but it’s otherwise okay. None of the old people were killed. They think it was a gas explosion. Please pray for all the dead and for their families.

Leave a comment

Filed under Saint Names, Saint Stories

St. Taylor?

For all you young men, young ladies, Taylor Swift, and Taylor Marshall — there’s Blessed Hugh Taylor, martyr.

In fact, he was the first person martyred by Bad Queen Bess under the law naming all priests as traitors, as opposed to claiming that specific priests had done specific non-priest traitorous things. We don’t know much about him, but we know he came from Durham, snuck out of England, studied at Rheims, and became a missionary priest. He was caught or betrayed soon after re-entering England. Then he was hung, drawn, and quartered on November 26, 1585, in the city of York. (Blessed Marmaduke Bowes died on the same day.)

But there’s another Hugh Taylor, who is probably a saint, but who doesn’t seem to have had any cause. This Hugh Taylor was a Carthusian monk who entered the London Charterhouse in 1518. He was a “Conversus” lay brother who did the work to help the other monks live their life of strict prayer and silence, as hermits within a monastery. But he was known to be not only charitable, but also a man whose prayers were answered favorably by the Lord, who had visions and dreams, who made true prophecies, and who was consulted by everyone in need, including people who didn’t like him.

One day Brother Hugh was in his room when Jesus came to talk to him, in a full apparition. They talked and talked, and then Hugh remembered that he was supposed to meet one of the other monks in the workroom, and help him with a project. So Hugh begged Our Lord to excuse him until he could come back, and went and kept his promise.

And when he came back to his room, Jesus was there, and told him how pleased He was that Hugh had gone to help his brother — more pleased than He had been with anything Hugh had done before.

Brother Hugh Taylor died on September 30, 1575. Many of his Carthusian brothers would go on to martyrdom, including the Prior, St. John Houghton.

2 Comments

Filed under Saint Names, Saint Stories

St. Marmaduke?

Obviously I am still in turmoil about the revelations on the last post, so I’m going to write about something funny that came up.

One of the more puzzling English names is “Marmaduke.” It starts showing up in Northumberland in the 1400’s, and then we get several at once. It didn’t die out during the Protestant Reformation (although one Royalist family, with Marmadukes already in it, changed it to the baptismal name of “Duke,” as part of the fashion trend of naming Royalist kids things like Squire and Admiral). It sounds like it could be German, but it’s not German. Nope.

Give up? It’s Welsh. Specifically, it’s Mawr Madog, aka Big Madoc. There are a whole bunch of similar Welsh names (Cadoc, Gorbadoc, etc.), and the last syllable gets all different vowels at different times and places. So it’s not surprising that the English mangled it to their liking! “Madoc” means something like “lucky” or “having good fortune and being charitable.” (I don’t have good sources on this.)

St. Madoc was a son of the combative King Sawyl Penuchel (aka Samuel the Arrogant, who lost his kingdom to the Saxons, and who got his warband drowned in a marsh after attacking St. Cadoc’s monastery). He’s called Madog Ailither, meaning Madoc the Pilgrim, because he traveled to Ireland to visit all the famous monasteries, came back to Wales, and was eventually buried in Ireland.

St. Madoc’s brother was St. Santan, who also founded lots of churches and monasteries, and who wound up a bishop in Ireland.

The most famous Madoc is Prince Madoc, son of King Owain Gwynedd, who allegedly ran off to America with a bunch of settlers. There’s also the legendary Madoc ap Uthyr, brother of King Arthur, whose son Eliwlod could turn into an eagle and was one of the Three Goldentongued Knights of Britain.

But it’s possible that all these Northern English kids were being named for a specific historical Madog Mawr — Madog of Cilsant, who married Sioned/Jonet verch Gruffyd. (Cilsant/St. Clears doesn’t seem to have had a lot of Northumberland connections, though.) I also notice that a lot of early Marmadukes have Percy connections, and they had Welsh connections in their family.

But the earliest Marmaduke seems to be Marmaduke Darell of Sessay, Thirsk, whose son and grandson were named Marmaduke too. His wife’s name was Aseria, which could be some Welsh name, and her dad could have been the Madoc in question.

The surname Maddox, Maddocks, Maddock means something like “descended from Madoc.” You see a lot of Welsh surnames using this format: Evans, Reynolds, Jones, Philips, etc.

So Marmaduke the Great Dane is actually showing his allegiance to a Welsh saint.

UPDATE: But wait, there’s more! Blessed Marmaduke Bowes was a married layman who was martyred at York on November 26, 1585. (Blessed Fr. Hugh Taylor was martyred on the same day.) His crime was sheltering priests, and both he and his wife were arrested for it, on the testimony of a man whom they had brought into their home as a tutor for their children. He was the first person executed under the new law that made helping priests a felony. His wife was released from prison. We don’t know what happened to her and the kids.

Blessed Marmaduke had Catholic beliefs, but he had “conformed” to the established state church, meekly attending rather than being a bold recusant. He raised his kids to be Catholic, which was how the tutor found out something of what was going on. Bowes lived a double life. But after his arrest, he proclaimed his Catholic faith boldly, and managed to confess his sketchy actions and to get fully reconciled to the Church.

So that’s Blessed Marmaduke for you.

If you like this name, you could always name your boy Madoc and then call him Marmaduke as a nickname. “Badi” was also a medieval nickname for Madoc.

Early Breton and Welsh names are similar, since a lot of Celtic Britons fled the island and settled in Brittany, “Little Britain.” So Madoc is a Breton boy’s name, and there’s also a Breton girl’s name, Madouc.

There’s also an Irish/Scottish group of names that sound similar. St. Aodh/Aedan/Aidan of Ferns was one of the many Irish saints who picked up possessives and diminutives from their friends, teachers, or devotees. So he could have been Mo-Aodh or Mo-Aidan, Maidan/Moidan, but they went further and spun out his name with -og (young, or just a noun diminutive). So he’s St. Maedog or Maedoc, which (depending on Gaelic dialect) is pronounced “Mogue.”

And a lot of the time, the functional equivalent name for Sassenach or baptismal fonts was Moses. So if you see a Moses in Ireland, he’s probably a Maedoc/Maedog. (But not a Madoc/Madog/Marmaduke.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Saint Names, Saint Stories

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.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Saint Names

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!

3 Comments

Filed under Saint Names, Saint Stories

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Saint Names

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).

Leave a comment

Filed under Saint Names

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Saint Names

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.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Saint Names, Saint Stories

St. Anastasia the “Deliverer from Potions,” Widow, Martyr

If you’re Latin/Roman Catholic, you probably know that Eucharistic Canon I, the traditional Roman Canon, includes prayers for the intercession of a ton of apostles and saints. If you go to a parish that mostly does the modern post-Vatican II Canons II or IV, you might not realize that some of these Eucharistic saints in the second part of the prayer are female.

In fact, they correspond exactly to the names of ancient Roman martyrs in prominent Roman churches. Most of the female saints are still popular today: Felicity, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, and Cecilia. But who is Anastasia?

She is kinda shadowy. Apparently she was the daughter of a Roman senator and vir illustris named Praetextatus, who moved his family to Sirmium in Pannonia. (Today it’s called Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia.) Sirmium was named one of the four capitols of the Empire under Diocletian’s tetrarchy system, and they were the lucky winner of Emperor Galerius.

(Boo! Hiss! Boo!)

So imagine how delightful it was to be a prominent senatorial Christian woman in Galerius’ homebase. (Her mom Fausta was a Christian, but died young. She also seems to have gotten some religious education from St. Chrysogonus of Aquileia, also big in the Canon.)

Anastasia was wealthy, young… and her dad was pagan and a politician. Yeah, she didn’t get the chance to become a vowed virgin, though maybe that wasn’t her vocation. She got married off to another patrician guy, Publius Patricius, who unfortunately seems to have been abusive, and who unusually would not let her leave the house.

Publius was named an ambassador to Persia and drowned in a shipwreck on the way, leaving behind no children. Anastasia decided to become a vowed widow, which wasn’t easy work as a young widow whom your dad could marry off legally. (But maybe Dad felt guilty about his first pick.) She devoted herself to charity, visiting the poor and those in prison. She knew first aid and simple nursing, but accounts differ as to her medical knowledge. They agree that she would clean and bind wounds with her own hands and pray for the sick.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Anastasia became known for her wonderworking, because when she prayed for someone who had taken pharmakoia, that person would get better. This continued even after her death, so she is still known today as the Pharmakolytria or Deliverer from Potions.

Pharmakoia is often translated as “harmful drugs” or “potions.” But what we are talking about in Greek is abortifacient chemicals.

So yeah, this is the lady who intercedes particularly for women who have accidentally poisoned themselves from their desperation to abort, or who have changed their minds and want to save their babies, as well as for victims of other kinds of poisonings and overdoses.

(Her prayers also freed people suffering from evil spirits and magic, according to accounts from Milan and Palermo; and she often cured the mentally ill at her shrines, although ouch, don’t be mentally ill in Constantinople.)

Anastasia’s miracleworking brought her to the attention of the Imperial government. After arrest, torture, and refusal to convert, she was burned to death in AD 290 or AD 304, depending on the source. She may have been killed on Christmas, on purpose, because that day seems to have started to be celebrated by Christians around that time. (Epiphany had been a great Christian feast from almost the beginning, as it has ties to some Jewish festivals that tie into Jesus’ sanctification of baptismal waters, and to the adoration of him by the Magi.

In better times, her relics were brought to Constantinople (at Christmas!) and installed at a new church. Relics were also brought to Rome and installed at their Church of the Resurrection (Anastasis – “standing up again, rising again”). Both churches became known as dedicated to St. Anastasia, and attracted healing pilgrimages. The relics of her head and one of her hands were removed from Constantinople and currently reside in Halidiki, Greece, near Mt. Athos, at a monastery named for her. She also has relics on the island of Palmaria, near Aquileia.

On the Western side of things, her feast is December 25 (because of the translation of her relics to Constantinople for sure, and maybe because of her martyrdom date), and it’s December 22 on the Byzantine side (January 4 on the Gregorian calendar). Icons usually show her carrying a medicine jug.

Leave a comment

Filed under Physician Saints, Saint Names, Saint Stories

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.

3 Comments

Filed under Physician Saints, Saint Names, Saint Stories

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 why St. Maria 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, started out as 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 (“woman from Mount Kynthos”), which is a title of both Artemis and Aphrodite. Again, nobody thinks of it as a pagan name anymore.

1 Comment

Filed under Saint Names, Saint Stories