Best Cool, Unusual Saints’ Names

Beyond Mary and Joseph

posted by: sanctanomina View all posts by this author
baby name Zelie

by Katherine Morna Towne

Naming your baby after a saint is no longer a requirement for Catholics, but many parents with a religious or historic bent want to do so anyway. Fortunately, there are a lot of saints to choose from, from every country and culture, so finding names that fit a more offbeat personal name style isn’t as hard as it might seem. Here are ten of my favorite cool and unusual saints’ names I like suggesting when I do name consultations:

girls

Faustina — St. Faustina Kowalska was a Polish nun and mystic who wrote about JesusDivine Mercy in her Diary. Her name has gotten a bump in usage in conjunction with the Jubilee Year of Mercy as declared by Pope Francis (Dec. 8, 2015–Nov. 20, 2016). It feels sort of like a mashup of Francis and Christina and could appeal to parents who love those names.

Lourdes Catholics love names honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary, and apparition place names are one way to do so. Lourdes is a small town in France where Mary appeared to a young girl (St. Bernadette) in the nineteenth century, and even those who aren’t practicing Catholics are drawn to it, as was Madonna, who named her daughter Lourdes (nicknamed Lola).

Magdalene Magdalene has long been used to honor St. Mary Magdalene, the repentant sinner in the bible who was the first to see the risen Christ. Madeline/Madeleine/Madelyn are perhaps more familiar variants, but Magdalen/Magdalene/Magdalena are all getting a lot of love by today’s parents (and those of old—actress Marlene Dietrich’s first name is a contraction of her given name Marie Magdalene).

Perpetua Perpetua honors the third century saint, who was martyred as a young nursing mother for her faith. It also might come across as somewhat British (as in a colleague of Bridget Jones), and the current nicknames I’m hearing include Pia, Pippa, Peppa, and Poppy, which are pretty on-trend at the moment.

Zelie Zelie is all the rage among the Catholic faithful right now and for good reason: It’s a cute, modern-sounding name with contemporary religious significance. In October 2015 Pope Francis canonized Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of the well-known and loved St. Therese of Lisieux. Generally said ZAY-lee or ZEL-lee, it might have even crept into the SSA’s top 1000 in 2015.

boys

Ambrose St. Ambrose of Milan is revered as a Doctor of the Church and was the teacher of the great St. Augustine. Ambrose is also the name of the Civil War Union general Ambrose Burnside, for whom the term “sideburns” was coined! I’ve heard from parents of Ambrose being misheard as Amber Rose, so a good nickname might be helpful—I’ve seen Abe and Brody used, and I’ve often thought Sam and Bram could work as well.

Athanasius  Like St. Ambrose, St. Athanasius is revered as a Doctor of the Church, and his name is definitely one of the weightiest and Churchiest of the saints’ names (i.e., there aren’t any secular Athanasiuses that can provide a familiar reference point). It can fit in easily with the playground set, however, through its nicknames—I’ve heard Ace, Ash, and Nash, which provide a nice modern hipster flare.

Joachim Catholic tradition holds that the names of the Blessed Virgin’s parents were Joachim and Anne, and Joachim is used with some regularity across Europe and is well represented among athletes. Pronunciation issues tend to scare English-speaking American parents away (JO-ah-kim is the predominant English pronunciation), but the nicknames Joe and Jake can soften the blow. The Spanish variant Joaquín (hwah-KEEN) is fairly well known and used (as in actor Joaquín Phoenix).

Kolbe Franciscan priest St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe offered himself in place of another who was sentenced to death in Auschwitz, and was canonized for his martyrdom. He’s a huge favorite among Catholic families, and while Maximilian gets a good deal of attention from parents (one of the more unusual Max– names), Kolbe holds its own as a regularly chosen first name. Its homonym Colby cracked the top 100 in 2001, and basketball player Kobe Bryant’s similar name adds a sense of familiarity.

Nicanor, Nicodemus — These Nic– names are the rarest of the rare—there were only six boys named Nicanor in 2015 and thirty named Nicodemus. But with the popularity of Nicholas and Dominic and a whole host of other names that can nickname to Nick or Nico, these two names should get more play. Nicodemus in the bible helped prepare Jesus’ body for burial; a recent St. Nicanor was a Franciscan priest martyred in 1860 in Syria.

Buy a St. Zelie doll (pictured here)…or Perpetua or even Athanasius from an Etsy shop called SaintAnneStudio. Perfect for your little saintly namesake.

What do you think of the names listed here? What are your favorite cool and unusual saints’ names?

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About the author

sanctanomina

Kate is a writer, lifelong lover of names, wife to a really good man, and mama to their six boys ages 2 to 11. She shares her thoughts on Catholic baby naming at Sancta Nomina.
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1 Response to “Best Cool, Unusual Saints’ Names”

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taylorp Says:

June 24th, 2016 at 1:39 am

Perpetua is one of my favorite guilty pleasure names. I think Pippa, Perry, and Petal would all make great nicknames.

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