What’s in a name?

For God allows parents to choose the name by which he himself will call their child for all eternity”

Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia (166)

One of the first things people always ask when you announce you’re pregnant, well after they ask the due date and gender, is what you’re going to name your baby.  Some people know what the name will be from the moment a pregnancy test confirms that there is a little occupant in mommy’s womb, others have no clue until baby makes his or her appearance and mom and dad meet the baby.  JP and I fall into the latter camp.

Also, when  you have a baby lots of people seem to have input one way or the other.  My due date groups with both boys were full of people who had HUGE anxiety over IF their name was right, or over some relative who *hated* the name.  I know we received input from lots of people when we were thinking about names for both boys.- input we’d normally thank people for and then go on with our ideas, and continue to pray about it.

With both boys we walked into the hospital with two or three names, likely knowing their middle names, and it took laying our eyes on and holding both of our sons to know what they’d be called.


John Paul and I have a few “rules” that we follow when coming up with lists of names:

  1. Germanic — JP studies German, and we both have German heritage.  For us it’s become important that the first name has Germanic origins OR it’s something that is used by German speakers.  An example of a name that we both actually really really love is Jude, buuuut in the German language the word “Jude” means Jew as in someone who is Jewish, soooo it doesn’t really work.  We also take into consideration using Germanic cognates that work in English, which is what we did with our oldest, but decided against that with our youngest since the English form is common enough in Germany.
  2. Patron Saint – picking a name with a strong patron saint.  In the case of our oldest his is a Doctor of the Church and our youngest was a Holy Roman Emperor.  You read about either of these two saints, and they were both pretty badass.
  3. Family — If possible we like to honor a family member with the middle name.
  4. Medieval — This is really just a bonus category, and not something we pay super close attention to.  That said, both boys not only have the names of strong medieval saints who were at either end of the 11th century.  Also, JP IS a medievalist so… geekery abounds!

Our “rules” are similar to the pirate code — they’re more guidelines!

For Bernhard Joseph, we were thinking about naming him Bernhard or another name beginning with B, and walked into the hospital with both in mind – either way his middle name was going to be Joseph.  As soon as John Paul laid eyes on him he knew he was a Bernhard, and when I woke up from the general I greeted him with that name without any discussion.  It just fit.  His patron saint is Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church, founder of the Cistercian order,

With Henry Alexander, we had a list of a dozen first/middle combos until his due date.  Then we sat down and got that list down to three names. When we first laid eyes on him in the OR we knocked one off right away, which meant that Alexander was definitely going to be the middle name.  We rolled back to my room before settling on Henry.  His patron saint is St. Henry II, a Holy Roman Emperor. The funny thing is that Henry was the late edition to the list of names and it wasn’t added to the already long list until July, about 6 weeks before he arrived.  John Paul attended a lecture at our parish on the feast of St. Henry last year and our pastor gave a bit of an aside on the feast day.  When JP came home the name was added, and it’s what we ended up using.  It suits him so well.

Now a note on their middle names, Joseph and Alexander.  Both boys are named after my great grandfather Joseph Alexander, who was the father of my grandmother who passed away at the beginning of this year.  My mom said that my great grandfather was an extremely devout Catholic himself, and when he and my great grandmother were expecting their children he would spend hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament praying about the name for the upcoming baby.  I asked my mom about the entire list for my grandmother’s 8 siblings so I could share:

Thomas Joseph
Robert David
Helen Agnes (Grandma!)
Judith Marie
Katherine Therese
Elizabeth Ann (I’m named after her – my mom’s favorite girl name growing up was Elizabeth, but my great aunt when by Libby)
James Raymond
Margaret Rose
Vincent Patrick

When Grandma passed away I was still very very early in my pregnancy with Henry, so we didn’t know if he was going to be a he or a she at that point.  With her death I really wanted to find a way to honor her with our upcoming little bundle of joy because Grandma was one of my biggest fans — she would check on me when I hadn’t blogged in a while.

So, after we found out that Henry was in fact a boy most of the dozen first/middle names on our list had Alexander for the middle name.  We of course had exceptions, but I’d say 9/12 were the first + Alexander combo. With Bernhard we unintentionally named him after my great grandfather using Joseph, but now it just seemed to fit.  And I love that we were able to not only honor my grandmother, but that both boys were named for a very devout Catholic man.

We’re not the only ones who named our newest edition to honor my grandmother.  My cousin Marriah and her husband Tyler (who are actually Henry’s godparents – and their other five have awesome names too) conceived and lost their sixth child – they gave her the name Helen to honor Grandma.  And then most recently my younger sister Meghan  had her first and named my niece Rosalie Helen, after the baby’s great grandmother on Aaron’s side and again after our grandmother.

Can you tell our Grandma was a very special person to all of us?

John Paul and I are hopeful that we’ll have more children in the future, and I look forward to the fun of prayerfully naming the next one, be it another brother or a sister for our boys.  And while it may seem kind of one sided that the middle names for both boys are only from my side right now, the funny thing is that our list of girl names have always had named from JP’s side.  So far just sons though…. 😀

The quote from Pope Francis at the top really struck a cord with me when I first read it, and of all things it made me stop and think that even the more unusual names out there really are important.  And even on the off chance we decide on a name that isn’t listed in the cannon of saints, that doesn’t mean that our child won’t grow up to be one. which is our aim as Catholic parents 🙂


3 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. I love reading how other couples choose their children’s names! We share some of the same rules as you. Both our children have saint middle names that also honor our grandparents. We don’t find out gender before birth and both times we’ve been almost certain on a girl’s name and completely unsure on a boy name. Our son was almost 12hrs old before we finalized a name. So hard and so much pressure!

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