Category: Catholic names
While the roots of Linda‘s name nerdism are different from mine — you can read her story here– and I’m sure you all have your own stories to tell, which we’d love to hear! — I trace a large part of my fascination with names to my Catholic girlhood.
Most kids back at Immaculate Conception School were dying to know whether the nuns had hair under those veils or what they wore to bed at night, but to me those mysteries paled in comparison to the nuns’ names.
Nuns got to pick new names for themselves when they entered the convent. That itself was appealing enough, but what was really amazing was that their choices were not confined by ethnic background, historical period, or even gender.
The principal of Immaculate Conception, for instance, was named Sister Miriam Gervase, an appellation that had it all going on. Miriam may have been a Mary relative, but it was one used mostly by Jews. unfamiliar in our Irish and Italian Catholic enclave. And Gervase! That may have been a hot name in 6th century Gaul….for guys. But in mid-20th century New Jersey, it really stood out in the world of Gerrys and Jeans.
May, as any Catholic schoolchild can tell you, is the official month of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God. Which might make Mary an appropriate name for a girl born this month, except after a 400 year run, Mary is more than ready for semi-retirement.
The good news is that you can hold onto Mary’s symbolic value by choosing one of her fresh, appealing variations. And there are literally dozens of them, formal and breezily nicknameish, ultrafemme and down-to-earth. Some of the options:
MADONNA – There’s only one Madonna – and it’s not the plaster one in the blue alcove at church. The pop star has all but taken over this formerly holy name and rebranded it with a modern in-your-face sexuality. Do you dare use it for your child? Do you want to? Maybe not yet, but with names like Elvis and Scarlett gaining widespread popularity a generation or two after the fame of their original bearers, we all might end up having grandchildren named Madonna.
MAE and MAY – A mere handful of years ago, Mae was a quintessential old-lady name, barely baby-appropriate, but today it feels as sweetly simple as a warm day in the sun. Can be a short form for any of the Mary variations and also makes a good middle name.
MAMIE – Mamie is sassier than either Mae or Maisie, though definitely in the same family. An old-fashioned nickname that’s enjoying another day in the sun, Mamie was the name of President Eisenhower’s wife and is also the nickname of Meryl Streep’s actress daughter – both mother and daughter are properly named Mary Louise.
MANON – This French diminutive of Marie is very popular in its own right there and would make a distinctive and unusual choice here, but one with some genuine underpinnings. Parents considering Manon should see the French film, Manon of the Spring.