Names, Christian

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A person's Christian name is usually the given name added to the family, tribal, or local designation to distinguish one from the other members of the family. The custom of distinguishing a person's first name from the family name is late in development, though many Romans had two or three names paralleling the family name. Ancient and early medieval man usually had one name, and was distinguished from others by reference to his father or to his town or place of origin. Among ancient peoples, generally, a name was considered the identification of the essence, nature, or function of an individual, rather than merely a distinguishing appellation. This is true of biblical names and of those found among non-Hebrew nations. It is exemplified in the name given to Christ by divine order: "You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Mt 1.21); and to Simon, son of Jonah, by Chris "You are Peter and upon this rock [petra ] I will build my Church" (Mt 20.18). This relation between a name and the function or significance of the bearer is illustrated by the use of the word "name" itself to signify the presence or the power of God, whose nature or inner being was unknowable (Ps 20.2; Jer 6.10; Mal 1.6, 11, 14; 2.5), as well as of Christ as the Son of God (Mc 9.3839; Mt 7.22).

Early Christian Names. There is no evidence that the primitive or early Christians changed their names on receiving baptism; in general they had the names of the people or nation among whom they were born, and in the New Testament there are many names of converts derived from those of the pagan gods or Greco-Roman cult. This fact is further borne out by the Christian names discovered on inscriptions found in the catacombs and cemeteries of Rome and elsewhere, down to the 4th and 5th centuries, and is true likewise of the martyrs, confessors, and bishops mentioned in early Church history.

The first certain evidence of a change of name inspired by Christian belief is supplied by Ignatius of Antioch (d. c. 110), who refers to himself as "also called Theophorus," or the God-bearer (Epistle ad Ephesus ). The claim of Pope Damasus I (366384) on an epigram (7) that the Apostle to the Gentiles had changed his name from Saul to Paul at baptism is not substantiated by Acts, where he is called Paul in 11.18; but the name Saul is still used in 13.9. cyprian of Carthage (d. 258) speaks of two bishops and a confessor who had changed their names respectively to Peter, Paul, and Moses; and dionysius of alexandria (d. 264) says that many Christians took the names of Peter and Paul, and particularly of John, the well-beloved disciple, out of veneration for the Apostles (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 7.25.14). Eusebius further witnesses to the fact that in Palestine five Egyptian martyrs rejected their pagan names out of hatred for idolatry and called themselves Elijah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Samuel, and Daniel (On the martyrs of Palestine 11.8). Cyprian of Carthage added Caecilianus to his name in honor of the priest who converted him; and Eusebius of Caesarea, that of the martyr pamphilus, who had been his friend and mentor. Inscriptional evidence shows that this custom was common.

Early Baptismal Names. It is not known when Christians generally began to give their infants Christian names at baptism. The people of Antioch are said to have called their children after Bp. Meletius of Antioch (360381); but ambrose of Milan (On Virgins 3) and john chrysostom at the close of the 4th century complained that Christians were giving their children names haphazardly, and suggested that they consider giving them names of illustrious men and women who had earned credit with God (Patrologia Graeca, 50:515). theodoret of cyr witnesses to the fact that people gave children the names of martyrs to provide them with protectors (Graecarum affectionum curatio 8.67). The Arabic canon 30 of the Council of Nicaea I (325), however, is a much later falsification; and evidence for a change of name such as that of the martyr St. Balsamus to the name Peter, as recorded in his vita, is questionable.

The name of Mary found in St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans (16.6) and in several early catacomb inscriptions is probably the feminine of the Roman Marius, and does not seem to have been in general usage among early Christians, probably out of special reverence. This seems true also of Joseph. John is found frequently in Italy after the 4th century, but is rare in Gaul and almost unknown during this period in Germany and Spain. Peter and Paul were used widely as Christian names after the 3d century. Gradually, with the recognition of Christianity as the religion of the empire, names connected with the doctrines of the faith, such as Anastasius (resurrection); Athanasius (immortality); Redempta, Reparatus, and Renatus (redemption, rebirth in baptism); and Salutia and Soteris (salvation) appear regularly in Christian inscriptions on tombs and monuments. Likewise, names connected with the Christian feasts are common, such as Epiphanius, Natalio, Pascasius, Pentecoste, Quadragesima, and Sabbatius (H. Leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, 12.2:1513). The name Martyrius appears in the 4th century and is widespread in both Greek and Latin.

Names are taken from Christian ideas, such as Quodvultdeus (God's will); Theodulus (God's servant); Deusdona, Deusdedit, and Adeodatus (God's gift); as well as from virtues, such as Agape (love); Pistis and Fides (faith); and Elpis and Spes (hope); many imitate the names of the martyrs and confessors indicating Christian attitudes as well, such as Irene (peace), Victor and Victoria, Vincentius, Gaudentius and Hilarius, Caelestinus and Felicissimus. Nevertheless, in the lists of bishops attending the early councils and synods, along with specifically Christian names, there are still many pagan names, even those of the gods, indicating that there was no uniformity of practice or tradition in the adoption of Christian names. The continuance of the use of pagan names in late antiquity was based on local usage that included dignified names such as Aequitas, Probitas, Pietas, Melite, Hedone, Jucundus, and Elegans, as well as such inelegant names as Alogius, Fugitivus, Importunus, Calumniosus, Malus, Foedula, Stercus, and Stercoriusin the past opprobrious names given to Christians by pagans in the period of persecution.

Evidence of the changing of names on conversion is clear in the 5th century. For example, Acacius, bishop of Constantinople, changed the name of Athenaïs to Eudocia on her baptism before she married the young emperor Theodosius II (421). St. Euthymius, the 6th-century Palestine monk, changed the name of barbarian chieftain Aspebet to Peter, and Bp. Innocent of Tortona had changed his name from Quintus on becoming bishop. Also, Bede speaks of King Cedwalla being baptized as Peter (Ecclesiastical History 5.7).

Christian Gaul. In Gaul to the end of the 4th century, Christian inscriptions record only Greek and Latin names, but between the 5th and 7th century there is a gradual ascendancy of Germanic names. The historian Gregory of Tours (538594) illustrates the intermixture of Greco-Latin and barbarian names: his grandparents were George and Leocadia; his parents, Florentius and Armentaria; his brother was Peter, and his sister was married to a Justinus; his uncle was Gondolfus; and his nieces, Eustenia and Justina. The clergy in general seem to have been recruited from Gallo-Roman families and had Roman names, as did many of the officials and administrators under the merovingians, since they were allowed to live under Roman law by a constitution of Clothaire (tit. 58. lex 1) attested by the Council of Tours (567). Germanic names prevailed even though at baptism such barbarian princes as Hermegild and Caedual were given the names of Peter and John. Waldo took the name of Berchtramnus, and Favo became Allowinus (Gregory of Tours, Historia Francorum, 5.39; 8.32).

With the conquest of the various parts of Europe and North Africa, the barbarian names gradually took preponderance, although among princes and the educated, some Roman and many hybrid names persisted. In the royal families of the Visigoths, Burgundians, Ostrogoths and Franks, Saxons, and Celts similar-sounding names were handed down from one generation to another. Thus in the family of King clovis and the Burgundian princess Clothilde, the first syllable Gund was repeated in the names Guntharius, Gundovaldus, and Guntchramnus; and Chlodo was echoed in Chlodebaudus, Chlotharius, Chlodomerus, and Chlodovaldus; while feminine names ran to Chlodobergis and Chlodesinda, Theodovaldus, and Theodechildis.

Saxons, Celts, and Slavs. In Anglo-Saxon England the prefix "Aethel" in names such as Aethelstane, Aethelbald, Aethelfrith, and Aethelheard is common among bishops and princes, as are the names Aelfred, Aelfhere, and Aelfric; princes and abbesses are Aelfled and Aethelflaed. Aldfrith and Aldgisil vie with Ceolfrith, Ceolnoth, Ceolred, and Ceowulf. Similar combinations are evidenced by Eadbald, Eadbert, Eadburga, and Osgar, Osmund, Oswald, and Wulfhelm, Wulfric, and Wulstan. Saxon names are reflected also among freedmen and serfs, and the changeover to Norman names (11th12th century) was a political issue.

Although the pagan names were retained among the Celts in Ireland, an attempt was made to reconcile them with similar-sounding Latin names. Thus the pagan Diarmaid became the Latin Jeremias; Seanachan was biblicized into Jonathan; but names such as Brigid, Ita, and Deirdre were soon Christianized by belonging to native saints. Mary was originally brought into Gaelic as Muirē; but when the Normans came in the 11th century, there was a transfer from Marie to Moira or Maureen. A similar metamorphosis overtook John, which had become Eoin or Owen in Gaelic, but became Sean when the Norman form Jean was introduced, while Sheila was the Irish equivalent Julie.

Among the Slavs similar developments are met after the 7th century when the king of Bosnia, Rudoslav, married a Roman princess and called their son Petroslav, who in turn had a son Paulimir. Byzantine names continued the Greco-Roman tradition and affected contiguous nations as they became Christian. Other Eastern peoples reflect in their first names the Christian names current in the ambience of the apostles who converted them.

Saints' Names at Baptism. Insistence on the giving of a Christian name at baptism was not regularized before the councils and rituals of the 14th century, when the names in the martyrologies, legends of the saints, translations of relics, pilgrimages, romances and histories of the Crusades, and the morality plays popularized Old and New Testament names as well as those of the martyrs and saints of the early Church. In northern Europe in the 15th century, the names of Joseph and Mary came into common use; in Spain and Greece people had not hesitated to employ the names Jesus and Christ.

With the Renaissance in Europe there was a return to pagan names, and a similar phenomenon is noticeable in the Byzantine world among scholars. The emphasis on Christian names received impetus from the Council of Trent (sess. 25) which insisted on the orthodoxy of the veneration of saints against Protestant denial. The Roman catechism of the council and the Roman Ritual of 1614 strongly urged priests not to allow parents to give their children strange, laughable, obscene, or idolatrous names. The 1917 Code of Canon Law instructed the parish priest to persuade people to give children a saint's name, and if they refused, to enter both the given name and that of a saint in the baptismal register (c. 761). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) notes the significance of a person receiving a name in Church at the time of baptism. According to the CCC it can be the name of a saint who "provides a model of Christian charity," or the baptismal name can "express a Christian mystery or Christian virtue" (CCC, 2156). The CCC quotes the 1983 Code of Canon Law that states, "parents, sponsors, and the pastor are to see that a name is not given which is foreign to Christian sentiment" (c. 855).

Title Churches and Guilds. Roman title churches took their names originally from the donors or the locations; in the late 4th and 5th centuries these names were canonized as those of saints. Nevertheless, churches that preserved the relics of a saint or in which there was a special connection with a martyr or Christian truth were named after that subject, though the church itself was dedicated to God. Thus churches of the Anastasia or Resurrection, of the Savior, and of the Cross were erected in Jerusalem; and, with some confusion, churches in other cities were given similar names.

Later Christian antiquity and the early Middle Ages saw churches dedicated in honor of the great figures of the Old Testament, of the Apostles, or of other holy persons of the New Testament, usually with a legendary connection such as those of SS. Lazarus, Mary Magdalen, Dionysius (French, Denis). The translation of relics, pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, and the legends of the saints also influenced the selection of patrons for guilds and brotherhoods, as well as the cultivation of special saints by religious orders, such as Mary Magdalen and Peter among the Cluniacs; the Blessed Virgin among the Premonstratensians and Cistercians; John the Baptist by the Templars and Hospitallers; and among the knightly orders appeared the names Lawrence, Ulrich, Vitus, Aegidius, Michael, George, Nicholas, Catherine of Alexandria, Barbara, and Margaret of Antioch. With the regularized process for the canonization of saints, countries, cities, and dioceses, as well as princes, bishops, and republics selected their particular patron saints. Since 1630 most of these patrons have been acknowledged with rescripts by the Congregation of Rites.

In the second half of the 19th century a systematic collection and historical evaluation of patron saints was begun, but in the selection of patrons for particular activities or assistance, both historical fact and legend still played a part. In contemporary times the popes have appointed certain saints as universal patrons; thus St. Joseph, as the Patron of the Universal Church and of the Laborer; Aloysius Gonzaga, for students; Camillus of Lellis and John of God, for the sick, doctors, and nurses; Paschal Baylon, for Eucharistic societies and sacramental brotherhoods; the Curé d'Ars, for pastors; John Chrysostom, for preachers; Alphonsus Liguori, for confessors and moral theologians; Vincent de Paul, for charitable works; Francis of Assisi, for Catholic Action; Francis de Sales, for the press; Theresa of Lisieux, for world missions; Frances of Rome, for fliers; and Christopher, for automobile drivers. Popular selection still honors St. Barbara for vocations; the Three Kings, for travelers; Margaret of Antioch and Gerard Majella, for the pregnant; Gallus and Sigismund of Burgundy, against fevers; and Lucy of Syracuse and Clare of Assisi, for eye diseases. The universal recourse, however, to patron saints in every aspect of life that pervaded the Middle Ages was destroyed with the Protestant Reformation.

Papal Names. There is no evidence for the change of name on the part of a new pope before john ii (533535), whose original name was Mercurius. Both Roman and Greek names appear almost indiscriminately in the early list of popes. John XII (955963) changed from Octavian; Gregory V (996999), from Bruno; Sylvester II (9991003), from Gerbert; Peter of Pavia took the name John XIV (983984); and Peter of Albano, Sergius IV (10091012). After that, it became the custom for the pope to take a new name, although Adrian VI (152223) and Marcellus II (1555), retained their original names.

Religious Names. There is evidence that, from at least the 6th century, aspirants for the monastic way of life changed their names on entrance into religious life. In the Eastern Church, the custom grew of taking the name of a saint whose first initial was the same as one's given name; thus Basil would take the name of St. bessarion. During his probationary period or novitiate, the candidate would write the life of his patron saint for his menologion, in order to be able to imitate the saint more perfectly. Behind the change of name was the determination to cut oneself off from one's worldly identification and one's former way of life, as well as a complete dedication of the new man to the service of Christ. This custom seems to have influenced the papal change of name, which became the rule in the 11th century.

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[f. x. murphy/eds.]