Category: saints’ 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.
Any minute now, June will be busting out all over—the summer solstice month of long days, of bridal parties and Father’s Day tributes. If you’re anticipating a June baby, why not consider one of the names that relate directly or slightly indirectly to the month of its birth? Here are some June names to ponder.
June—Too obvious for a June baby? Perhaps. Until recently, June was considered the quintessential fifties goody-goody girl name, as in June Cleaver– apronned mom of Beaver– and twinkly actress June Allyson (born Ella). But as those images have faded to sepia, June is sounding less saccharine and more modern. Balthazar Getty used it for his daughter in 2008, and Amanda Peet realized its middle-name potential when she named her daughter Molly June.
Junia –Junia is the name of a Roman woman who was an early convert to Christianity and in all probability the only female apostle in the New Testament, praised and complimented by the apostle Paul. A common name in ancient Rome, it also belonged to the first wife of the Emperor Caligula, Junia Claudilla, but is rarely heard today.
How would you like a little extra special protection added to the other assets of your baby’s name? Patron saints are guardians over particular aspects of life—they can defend against an illness, or look out for people practicing a certain occupation or other interest. Sometimes these assignments were set centuries ago, others have been made more recently, as in the cases of ecology, advertising, computer technicians and television. Here are some of the most usable and interesting patron saint names, with their special areas of protection.
Adelaide—can be invoked against in-law problems; protects parents of large families, stepparents, widows, abuse victims
Agnes—is a protector of young girls, Girl Scouts
Apollonia—protects against toothaches, and is the patron saint of dentists
AUGUSTUS, the pater familias of the group, actually started out as an honorific rather than a name. It was first applied to Octavius, the adopted son—actually a great-nephew– of Julius Caesar when he became the undisputed ruler of the Roman world. The Senate decreed him the title Augustus, corresponding to Majesty and meaning great, magnificent, venerable. It was after him that the month was named.
Augustus then became the official designation of every Roman Emperor who followed, but was never used as a personal name until 1526, when it was given to Augustus of Saxony, at a time when German royalty was imitating everything Roman, from palaces to sculpture, dress and wigs—and impressive Roman names.
Seen now as somewhat fusty (but really no fustier than Atticus or Maximus), Augustus is now #797 on the Social Security list, having peaked in the early 1900s, but it could find favor with parents looking for a path to Gus, and/or who like venerable Latin names. It has several literary namesakes, in books ranging from The Pickwick Papers and Martin Chuzzlewit to Lonesome Dove to How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Harry Potter.
It also dates back to that ancient time when those Roman emperors were assuming the title Augustus upon their accession; Augusta became the honorific bestowed on their wives, daughters and other female relatives. It was introduced to England in the 18th century by the German Princess Augusta, the future mother of King George III. Well used in the US in the 1920s, it’s rarely heard today—except in the guise of yet another Harry Potter character and the formidible Aunt Augusta in the P. G. Wodehouse Jeeves stories.
AGUSTINA, the Spanish version, is very popular in South America—ranking #5 in Uruguay. It’s also spelled AGOSTINA.
With the possible exception of Jay, no first name has been in more headlines in the past few weeks than Conan. Which got me to thinking about all the image reversals this name has gone through over the years. In our first book, Beyond Jennifer & Jason, for example, it was listed between Clarabell the Clown and Ebenezer Scrooge as a definite no-no, because of its barbaric associations.
But that in itself was a turnaround from its one-time saintly aura. The original St. Conan— then pronounced kun-awn– was a zealous 7th century Irish missionary—also known as Mochonna—one of the earliest bishops of the Isle of Man,. He was followed by a few other minor Irish saints by that name, including St. Conan of Assaroe and St. Conan of Ballinamore. And in Irish legend, Conán mac Mórna was a member of Finn MacCool’s warrior band.
For centuries the name remained within the confines of Ireland, except for gaining some middle-name recognition via Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle, who, though born in Scotland, was of Irish heritage and who, as a struggling young doctor, had so few patients that he took to writing stories to make ends meet
Then, in the 1930s, a pulp magazine writer named Robert E. Howard created a wandering barbarian hero who eventually became a Marvel comic book character in 1970. At first a sword and sorcery hero in a magical world, within a few years he had morphed into the more familiar muscle man materialized by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1982 movie Conan the Barbarian.
That remained Conan’s seemingly immutable image until the lanky red-haired O’Brien came on the scene as a writer for Saturday Night Live in 1988, occasionally appearing in sketches. When he got his own late night show in 1993, suddenly the witty Conan O’Brien became CONAN—a single name celeb—overshadowing his hulkier fictional predecessor.
Despite or because of all this, Conan, unlike such Irish mates as Connor and Colin, has never appeared on the US top thousand. Is it because of the lingering barbarian association? I’m curious to know if it’s a name you would ever consider using, and if not why. Do you see it as just another Gaelic possibility or forever tied to one of those two personas?
And what about the other names on that old J&J taboo list? Some of them have managed to escape their stereotypes: Felix is no longer only a cat or fussbudget, little Lulu a comic strip character, Olive Popeye’s girlfriend, or Oscar still just a grouch. And there are signs of hope for Kermit, Casper, Linus and Grover.