Choosing Saintly Baby Names: Weird or Witness?


About a month ago in Ottawa before we moved, my husband was preparing for his second year exams. It was the weekend, and he had to study. The kids and I headed for our neighborhood playground. It wasn’t long before my three-and-a-half year old son spotted a youngish dad like his dad and made a beeline for him.

“Oh yeah, I like your shirt,” my little guy said to the dad.

The dad, taken off-guard, responded, “Oh, thanks,” looking a little amused. He continues pushing his small child in the swing.

My little guy continued, “Yeah, I have a blue shirt, too. It’s a Brewers shirt,” he says enthusiastically to the bewilderment of the Canadian dad.

“Cool,” he said, starting to look for this little person’s parent.

The baby was in the middle of a difficult maneuver on the equipment, making it impossible for me to claim—and redirect—the boy, who continued happily in his guy chat.

“My name’s Thor,” said my little guy, deep in a super hero phase.

The dad started to smile, then caught himself, unsure of the veracity of his little friend’s statement. Just then, my four-and-a-half year old daughter arrived on the scene to set things straight.

“Nuh-uh,” she said, “his name’s Augustine.”

The dad was completely confused at this point, as both choices seemed unlikely. He was really searching for their parent, and by then I didn’t want to identify myself. Fearing more family disclosure, though, I scooped the baby off the equipment when she wasn’t looking and ran over to the group. As she fussed, I tried to smile and shoo everyone away while trying to appear completely normal. The dad smiled faintly in return, and I tried to hide behind the playground steps.

Later, I wished that I hadn’t felt so strange, that I didn’t mind if someone may have mistaken my Catholicism for insanity or worse. But when it came to my son, I did. I wanted to explain it all to that poor dad who had simply wanted to be left alone with his child at the park. I wanted to explain how my husband and I had chosen someone who had dearly loved God to be a close and constant intercessor for our son, how we hoped that he would emulate his patron in some way and that some day, he, too, might love Our Lord as much as St. Augustine did. I wanted him to understand and affirm us in our faith and parenting. But he didn’t. And I had to rely on God and not the dad in the playground that we were approaching parenthood in the right way. And some days, that feels so impossibly hard.

To be fair, though, I never caught the name of his son. It might have been Polycarp.

Copyright 2012 Meg Matenaer


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  1. Thank you for sharing this story – children can be quite an embarrassment 🙂
    We also try to have saintly names, that is we look for great Saints when choosing a name – but even though I love St. Augustine, the name for my first child was out of the question. My husband was all for John (so many great Johns…) Ambrose Augustine (well in German it’s a bit different: Johannes Ambrosius Augustinus), but I thought of my poor child – so we went for St. Thomas of Aquinas instead…

  2. I suspect the guy did not have a clue that your lovely name you have chosen for your son had anything to do with Christianity let alone Catholicism. Children have so may weird and wonderful names. I suspect his name will get shortened to August or Oggy soon enough !
    or gus ! Maybe the best tactic is to chose which one of those you prefer and get in there first before his friends do !
    Good luck with it all !
    And I suspect he just wanted to be left alone – it takes some parents a while to realise they need to mix with other children too whether they like it or not ! And please dont feel the need to explain yourself. If people are interested they will ask and you can judge how much information they are willing to hear !

  3. I find your story highly amusing. Since I have not been blessed with children, I deeply enjoy every time one of them approaches me with their cheeky spontaneity.So, moms, do not automatically get embarrassed when one of your kids engages a stranger. in conversation, probably he or she will enjoy it as well. As for names, here in Spain it’s non-catholic names that are frowned upon,and usually the day of one’s Saint Patron is a family celebration. Funny,isn’t it?

    • Thanks for your message–that’s so wonderful that Catholic names and patrons are still celebrated there in Spain–that brings me so much hope! I hope for the same in our Catholic communities here in the States. God bless!

  4. I completely understand! We named our son Maximilian after St. Maximilian Kolbe. I unfortunately just tell people his name is Max because every time I said Maximilian, I would get a strange look. One man even laughed! Another man wondered if we spelled it Max-a-million… Your post was encouraging!

  5. Thanks for the laugh this morning, Katie! What an awesome patron your son has–he’s truly blessed. And, yes, here where I am in Wisconsin, I know of lots of little people with pretty big names and patrons, so he’s not the only one! God bless!

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