I wrote about religious name changes for women a couple of months ago, which is a somewhat familiar concept to most of us I think, but today I’m going to write about a perhaps less familiar practice: religious name changes for men.
I went to a Franciscan college where Fr. Callistus and Fr. Capistran lived in community with their more familiarly named brethren Fr. Kevin, Fr. Francis, and Br. Michael, among others, and though I never asked the former two if their names were ones they took or received upon ordination, I assumed they were, because Callistus. And Capistran. So unusual! (I was later able to discover from his obituary that Fr. Capistran’s birth name was William; Fr. Callistus’ obituary didn’t include that information. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace.)
Changing one’s name upon becoming a priest or a brother used to be a more common practice. Many of the saints and blesseds are known by their religious names — Ven. Solanus Casey (who will become Bl. Solanus Casey this Saturday!) was born Bernard, for example. My parish is a Redemptorist parish, and there’s a section of a local cemetery where the priests and brothers were buried until recently. The headstones have names like Br. Joachim, Br. Liguori, and Br. Anselm, and when I asked my pastor about it, he said he thought that it used to be the practice for the Brothers only. But then there’s also Fr. Joseph Ignatius and Fr. Clement Cyril—maybe those were indeed their given names?
The Dominicans still continue this practice, and I’ve read about or met friars with religious names Thomas More, John Baptist, Dominic Mary, Michael Mary, Patrick Mary, Louis Bertrand Mary, Gregory Maria, Athanasius, Bede, Innocent, and Philip Neri. Any of those would be fine for a baby boy—and indeed, I see these kinds of names being bestowed on Catholic babies with some frequency—but these names include the characteristics I usually use to determine whether I think a priest or brother’s name is a religious name rather than a birth name:
(1) Heaviness (Athanasius, Bede)
(2) Double name (Thomas More, John Baptist)
(3) Including Mary (Dominic Mary, Gregory Maria)
Speaking of including Mary, I love when men include Mary in their names! I delighted in reading the names of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word (MFVA), all of whom include Mary or Marie: Frs. Mark Mary, Anthony Mary, Miguel Marie, Dominic Mary, Joseph Mary, Leonard Mary, Patrick Mary, John Paul Mary, and Paschal Mary, and Brs. Leo Mary, Bernard Mary, Matthew Mary, and John Therese Marie (Therese too!).
The little I was able to find when I researched this topic suggested that, traditionally, diocesan priests do not take new names, while those in Orders either do or are able to if they’d like. Additionally, like with the religious name changes for women, it seems that the new name is given rather than chosen—I enjoyed reading about a young religious who recalled that “there’s a moment of terror when they lift back the cowl [hood]and say ‘before you were known as X but from now you will be known as …’ as you find out what name you’re going to be tagged with!”
One man who is able to choose his name is, of course, the Pope! Much was made of Pope Francis’ choice, and I loved reading about why St. John Paul the Great and Pope Emeritus Benedict chose their papal names.
I’d love to know more about which Orders currently still require or allow a new name, and why the practice is less common than it used to be—if you have any information or insights about this, please comment below! Also, if you know little boys with names that would pass my “is it a religious name” rule, I’d love to hear their names!
Copyright 2017 Katherine Morna Towne