The other day I told two of our cooks that the saint whose feast day landed on their birthday could be considered their patron saint. One man’s birthday was the feast of St. Basil, which was appropriate for a cook. When I told the other man that his saint was St. Josaphat, he commented, “It figures…fat!” My “birthday saint” is St. Martha, known for Jesus chiding her for being a workaholic: “Martha, Martha, you are worried about many things. Mary [who sat at his feet listening] has chosen the better part.” Do you know who which saint is celebrated on your birthday? Some of my Italian students were named in honor of our Blessed Mother like Assumpta and Concepta. My neighbor from Nigeria was named Eucharia after the Eucharist.
Usually a patron saint is the one who has the same name as a person. Patrick, for example, can look to St. Patrick to intercede for him. As Kathleen, I could have chosen any of the St. Catherine’s, but I opted for St. Catherine of Siena, the strong woman and Doctor of the Church who counseled a pope. As religious we were able to choose a different name. (Just like kings and popes.) Originally I was called Kirene in honor of Christ the King. I coined this name based on the chi-rho, a symbol for Jesus composed of the Greek letters chi (P) and rho (R), the first letters in the name Christ (which means “anointed.”) Names have meaning. In the Bible God changed Abram to Abraham, meaning the father of many nations. The parents of John the Baptist were Zachariah (God’s remembrance) and Elizabeth (God’s promise). Both names are linked to the fact that their son would be the herald of the long-awaited, promised Messiah.
The name Jesus itself is significant, for it means “God saves.” An angel told Joseph to name Mary’s Son this. Jesus is the name above all names. St. Paul wrote, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10).
By the way, here are the meanings of the Archangels’ names: Michael (who is like God), Gabriel (God is my strength), and Raphael (God heals). (“El” means God in Hebrew.)
Some novelty stores sell cards that tell the meaning of modern names. Andrew means “manly,” Helen means “torch of light,” and so forth. What does your name mean?
A person’s name stands for him or her. That is why a whole commandment requires showing respect for God’s name. It is hurtful to make fun of someone’s name. On the other hand, dubbing someone with a nickname is a sign of familiarity and affection. Jesus called people by names. He called James and John Sons of Thunder. He called the daughter of Jairus “young lady.” He once called Peter Satan. He addressed his mother as “Woman.” What do you think Jesus would call you?
On Easter morning, Mary Magdalen encounters the risen Lord but doesn’t recognize him until he says her name, Mary. Imagine him saying your name when you first encounter him in the next life.
Zoos hold contests to name a newborn animal. Your family might have enjoyed coming up with a name for a new pet. Strangely, some people’s names match their occupation: a podiatrist is named Tozzi, a dentist is named Smile, and so on.
When has your name meant something special to you?