Pope Benedict on Baby Names: A global game of telephone

Jan 11th 2011

Headlines from around the world today:

Pope rails against rise of un-Christian names
The Pope has warned parents against giving children celebrity-inspired names and urged them to turn to the Bible for inspiration instead.
- The Daily Telegraph, U.K.

Look to Bible, not Hollywood: pope
- Montreal Gazette, Canada

Pope blasts star names
- The Age, Australia

From these, you might gather that Pope Benedict XVI made remarks critical of modern naming trends, and placed the blame on parents' imitation of Hollywood celebrities. Strangely, you would be completely wrong.

The headlines were prompted by a Papal homily following a cherished annual rite: the baptism of 21 infants at the Sistine Chapel to mark the close of the Christmas season. The theme of the Pope's address was the gift and responsibility of baptism, with the pontiff encouraging his flock to "rediscover the beauty of being baptized."

You can read the Catholic News Service report on the event. If you do, you'll notice that the word "name" is not even mentioned. Curious, eh? In fact, "name" appears only once in the homily itself, in a discussion of the transformational power of baptism:

"It is not by chance, in fact, that every baptized person acquires the character of the Son, starting from their Christian name, an indisputable sign that the Holy Spirit brings man to be born again from the womb of the Church. Blessed Antonio Rosmini says that 'the baptized person undergoes a secret but most powerful operation by which he is raised up to the supernatural order, he is placed in communication with God.'"

So how the heck do you get from that to "Pope blasts star names"?

As far as I can tell, one enterprising reporter, most likely at the Daily Telegraph, saw a hook to talk about wacky celebrity baby names. Ooh, a chance to bash Becks and Gwyneth! So the reporter took some liberties interpreting the homily. In the Telegraph, statements the Pope made about baptism (an "indelible seal") were said to have been made about names instead. A better story that way, no?

Not to be outdone, reporters at other outlets embellished the story, sometimes adding brand-new papal quotes about names. From Fox News: "The pope added that family life is 'being threatened' with the use of non-Christian names." 

Continuing our global game of telephone, more and more outlets picked up the fascinating story of the Pope's assault on baby names. Reading his actual homily, though, must have been too much work. Instead, they devoted their efforts to thinking up celebrity baby names that were sure to make the Pope's hit list. Amusingly, a number of the "wacky" examples cited, like Falco and Cruz, are actually classic saintly names.

In the end, I think this fake story had legs for the same reasons that urban legend names do. It's something that people want to believe. Bashing celebrity baby names has become a global bloodsport, and enlisting the Pope is a handy way to legitimize it.


By Sarada (not verified)
January 11, 2011 9:38 PM

As a Catholic who often reads papal homilies and documents, I can assure you that this is typical reporting. Usually the pope will give a very positive message, something like "the family is the basis of society" and headlines will run that he is crusading against gay marriage. Not saying he's a supporter, but what he says is never anything like the headlines. Take home message--read it the original and don't take the paper's summary of it.

By Kallie (not verified)
January 11, 2011 9:48 PM

"From these, you might gather that Pope Benedict XVI made remarks critical of modern naming trends, and placed the blame on parents' imitation of Hollywood celebrities. Strangely, you would be completely wrong."

Another Catholic here affirming that sadly, I'm never surprised anymore when the media coverage of the Vatican gets it "completely wrong." Thanks for setting the record straight, though - I confess I did assume the Pope had said something about using Christian names!

On a different note, every now and then the name "Benedict" comes up here in the comments, and I am always a little surprised that many people's first association continues to be Arnold. I think it's definitely enjoying a minor resurgence right now, but because of the Pope. Sometimes I think there are minor Catholic-influenced naming trends that could easily be missed if you weren't attuned to it -- the difference between Blaise and Blaze, which Laura has alluded to before, is certainly one example! The first is definitely not an alternate spelling of a saint, but a French saint's name.

By Kallie (not verified)
January 11, 2011 9:50 PM

*Not an alternate spelling of the second, I meant.

January 11, 2011 10:30 PM

Just another example of lazy and unskeptical journalism in the traditional spheres and a blogger actually getting it right. Pretty lame.

By Rachel Y (not verified)
January 11, 2011 10:39 PM

The Daily Telegraph reported on a news story that was 90% made up! I'm shocked, just shocked!

January 12, 2011 12:10 AM

I like the part about the "wacky" baby names that actually are saint names. Not hard to do a quick search to find out the derivation of a name, honestly.

Pretty shoddy journalism, but I do admit that "Pope Bashes Star Names" makes a way better headline than "Pope Affirms Baptism." Thanks for getting the real story online, Laura.

By joye (not verified)
January 12, 2011 1:10 AM

I hope we can let the religious debate go there. "christian" was wrong to bring it up in the first place, "Barbara C." provided a correction, end it there.

I only have a few areas in which I have specialized knowledge. Catholicism happens to be one of them. Another is the Mandarin Chinese language.

Journalists writing stories about either one tend to get easily-checkable details wrong ALL THE TIME. I was taught in fifth grade to check primary sources; apparently this is something that journalists unlearn in university.

I conclude that journalists too often just dash off any old crap that comes to mind if they think they won't get caught. And usually that crap is whatever their own prejudices and assumptions are, plus an unhealthy helping of "spice" to bring in the viewers. Ever notice that the Pope never just "says" something? He "slams", "rails against", etc...

This is why recent surveys are showing journalists right up there with politicians and lawyers when it comes to people disbelieving them and feeling contempt for them.

By Guest Robin (not verified)
January 12, 2011 8:25 AM

Can we hear more about saints' names? I can see how the two mentioned are, now that it's been pointed out, but I never would have picked up on it on my own.

January 12, 2011 8:47 AM

When we were in baptism "class" for our daughter, the priest said that we could bestow any name we wished on our children, although of course not names antithetical to Christian belief, like Lucifer. I have seen children baptized with names as diverse as John, Colton, Willow, and Jayden. No one in my Catholic church seems to bat an eye.

I admit to enjoying the journalistic hyperbole, however! Always good for a chuckle.

January 12, 2011 10:22 AM

I can actually imagine Pope Benedict encouraging a more "conservative" version of naming -- one that includes a Saint's name/Biblical name/virtue name in either the first or middle position, unless one is of a culture that bestows an additional Saint's name at baptism (much like a confirmation name/saint).

I can also see the mainstream media turning such a push into a total fiasco, since, as others have noted, the media likes to turn most of his comments into something they are not.

January 12, 2011 1:19 PM

I saw this story. I was like "What? The Pope never seemed so angry before."

By Guest2 (not verified)
January 12, 2011 2:07 PM

Hoping for some help... I heard you guys are gurus at names.... I need a boy name that goes with Naomi & Vada. We are wanting something not too popular & fairly traditional.

January 12, 2011 2:56 PM

Guest2, Expert NameMatcher suggests the following:
Henry (probably too popular for your tastes)

These names come from the first page. I'd also add Eli, Griffin, Gavin, and Peter.

I left out Abner, Joseph (too popular), and Hyman (yikes!).

Good luck!

By KRC (not verified)
January 12, 2011 3:14 PM

What is Expert NameMatcher?

January 12, 2011 4:31 PM

If you click the "Expert" button at the top of your page and sign up for Laura's expert tools, you will have access to all sorts of naming treats! There is a fee.

January 12, 2011 5:20 PM

Just for comparison to Elizabeth T's expert list, Nymbler lists the following on its first page:
and a few oddballs (which I excluded) that seem Japanese. Also would add, Isaac, Daniel, Noah, Saul, Ezra, Aaron, Ira, Hershel, Solomon.

I would consider the starred ones.

By Jane 6 (not verified)
January 12, 2011 10:51 PM

I'm Lutheran, not Catholic, so maybe I'm wrong, but isn't the Baptism of our Lord a part of Epiphany, rather than the "close of the Christmas season"? In our church, Christmas = 12 days and then you're in Epiphany. I'm reasonably sure this is the same for Catholics.

I would also be interested in hearing more about saints names... especially the less expected ones or saints names from earlier in church history.

By EmRo (not verified)
January 13, 2011 2:02 AM

@Jane6, nope a little different in Roman Catholicism. The Christmas season continues to Jan. 6, the feast of Epiphany. Then it's Ordinary Time until Ash Wednesday.

I think Moses is nice with Vada and Naomi.

January 13, 2011 10:26 AM

Kind of OT but I thought you all would get a kick out of this article. I thought is was a very funny commentary.


By MK (not verified)
January 13, 2011 11:04 AM

End of Christmas season used to be The Presentation - 40 days after Christmas. I'm inclined to keep my tree up until then at least. Also, I might be lazy.

My mother has a thing against not using "saint" names. She could have conceivably written an article like the telegraph, but from a different perspective. ha! I'll probably name a kid Freya or Cunegundes. Just for kicks.

January 13, 2011 12:20 PM

MK, I don't know if there is a St. Cunegundis, but there are Sts. Clotsindis and Radegunde, so go for it and please your mom :-).

January 13, 2011 4:18 PM

Jane 6 - Catholics now celebrate the Feast of the Ephiphany on 2nd Sunday after Christmas which isn't typically Jan 6 anymore - sort of messes up the whole 12 days of Christmas. The following Sunday is typically the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord and the First Sunday in Ordinary Time. If Christmas falls on a Sunday (as it does this year I think) everything gets messed up though =)

January 13, 2011 5:07 PM


The BBC are on the story now as well with the Christian names from the Bible you don't hear very often. Admittedly I've only heard of a Zipporah and none of the rest but I was more interested in the fact the BBC decided to tag this article with the Pope's comments.

January 13, 2011 5:46 PM

Name help, please ladies.

I wasn't thrilled with our previous middle name choice, so we came up with a list of some more. Neither of us are thrilled with the same names, so some of these are his and some are mine.


January 13, 2011 6:46 PM

I realise that reads like I've only ever heard of the name Zipporah. I meant it's the only one of those names I've come across in real life!

January 13, 2011 7:02 PM

NJ, I had my heart surgery in St. Radboud Hospital in Nijmegen, the Netherlands (happily they did a good job). The hospital is part of the medical school of what was then the Catholic University Nijmegen and is now Radboud University. And I did meet a Radboud in the Netherlands.

January 14, 2011 12:03 AM

sharalyns: can you remind us how you are pronouncing evangeline? is the ending like -lyn or -line?

January 14, 2011 11:56 AM

Wow, Laura, interesting just how much the press has veered off topic here. Thanks for bringing our attention to it.

And now, drum roll please! One of my husband's friends from university just had his first child, a boy named (and I will certainly have to do some substitutions here as this name will be very googlable):

Lys@nder Y@nnick Seb@stian A$h N3reus D@niel End3r R_________. Note the initials also.

The surname is German, they're taking the wife's name.

Y@nnick is from Y@nn, a Breton variation on John. I think many people will have heard of the tennis player of that name.

According to Behind the Name, N3reus is "derived from Greek νηρος (neros) meaning "water". In Greek myth this was the name of a god of the sea, the father of the Nereids."

And End3r is Turkish, meaning 'very rare'. Also famous from a science fiction series.

My first reaction was incredulity, but now that I'm getting used to it, I like most of the names used, and that they all have a pedigree. I'm very fond of Lys@nder, and think that the first three names have a nice flow to them. Very artsy.

What do you think?

January 14, 2011 1:26 PM

Lys@nder Y@nnick Seb@stian A$h N3reus D@niel End3r R_________ is impressive! It's quite a lot though and I usually prefer family (or friend) names as middles.

January 14, 2011 2:20 PM

Wow, Valerie! Those parents certainly aren't concerned about their son's internet anonymity, are they? Although I don't object to any of the names individually, it does seem like a lot to put them all together. Do birth certificates even allow for that many names? I think it would be easier just to have two or three names on the birth certificate and save the others for a "secret" name the child can use with family.

January 21, 2011 11:30 AM

Hey everyone - I've been a reader/user of this site forever, and am now coming here for advice. :)

We're expecting our second son and have chosen the name Jud3 (his older brother is Br3ck3n), but I need some help with the middle names. Our kids have 2 middle names (it's a family thing). So far one middle name is Will.iam (familial tie).

We're stuck on the second middle name though. For our first son, his middle names are comprised of 1 name we loved (J@ce) and 1 family middle name also).

So! We need some ideas, if you please.
A few we like to get a sense of our naming style:

Ju.de Will.iam Grayson
Ju.de Will.iam Archer
Ju.de Emm.ett William
Ju.de Will.iam Sawyer

Thanks in advance! :)

By guestina (not verified)
January 14, 2011 3:16 PM

I'm sort of sad it wasn't true. There are some really sucktastic names being given to babies, and if the pope were to say something about it then maybe that would influence a few parents to opt for "real" names instead of something chosen at random from the white pages of their phone book.

By Barbara C. (not verified)
January 14, 2011 3:48 PM

I think Jimmy Akin has a post up now about how some of this misrepresentation of what the Pope says is also due to bad/late translations of his homilies into English.

Only one of our four daughters has the name of a saint, and that's her middle name. We've had no problems with Baptism. In our diocese if you get Confirmed as an adult, they don't even require you to pick a saint's name; it's optional.

Of course, names can vary so much culturally. For instance, St. Francis was really called Francesco in his native Italian. In a multicultural and multilingual parish it's much harder to pin down what "real" names are.

January 14, 2011 4:03 PM

Pronouncing it Eh-van-ge-leen.

And I think I finally figured out what was bugging me!

I think it needs a one, maybe two syllable middle name that starts with a "hard" consonant followed by a long vowel (not a long "e"). Which is why Kate and Mae are showing so strongly (Mae is my favorite, DH hates it), with the softer consonant with long vowels taking second place (Joy, Faye).

Can anyone think of any more that would fit this? I love Grace which fits, but I have two nieces with that as a middle name and would love to have something different.

January 14, 2011 4:22 PM


My middle name is Rhae (like Rae, but a family spelling) - I've always loved it, it might work for your girl?

January 14, 2011 4:36 PM

Thanks, Alison--Rae is on my short list. I gotta get my DH off the 3-4 syllable middle names with Evangeline!

January 14, 2011 5:22 PM

Valerie and others-Its not totally my style but its cool that ALL the names together have the initials of the first. I suppose that was very planned.

Alison1l-Jude William Grayson is my first choice of those you've mentioned. How about these for consideration though:
Jude William Rhys
Jude Vaughn William
Jude William Bridger
Jude Henry William

sharalyn-I agree the A sound goes well in the mn spot. Some other ideas:
Tracy/Stacey; Theresa (tah-ray-sah)
Sadie; Hazel; Renee
Vivienne; Olive; Pearl
Payton; Amy

By alr as guest (not verified)
January 14, 2011 7:10 PM

I second Pearl! And another thought I had was Colette. (FWIW, I love Mae!)

By ClareHelen (not verified)
January 14, 2011 7:43 PM

Have you considered Clare/Claire?

January 14, 2011 7:50 PM

LOVE Rhys! Thanks so much!

By Beth the original (not verified)
January 14, 2011 11:52 PM

Oh dear. Since the namers are not actually on this board (hopefully), can I say that I think that long-winded name is a bit pretentious? But you know me; I'm hopelessly conservative about names. I think they should be consistent with the ethnicity/ies of the parents, traditionally spelled, first-middle-last only unless you're from a culture that bestows large numbers of names for a reason, and at least one of the first/middle names should be a family name. Initials should not spell a word, nicknames should come from a formal name on the birth certificate, and they can't be in the top 10 for the year of the child's birth. Can you get less adventurous?

So sharalyns, I would say: Evangeline Claire is gorgeous (and imagistically consistent). Evangeline Grace is nice, too, though a bit more predictable. From your list, I like Evangeline Ruth, though the New/Old Testament contrast is a bit clashy for my tastes, and I do think you are right about beginning with a hard consonant. I don't love Mae or Kate, the other two I liked best, because they feel too casual with a name like Evangeline. Evangeline Joy is too many "jh" sounds. Evangeline Pearl is OK but a bit stuffy. What about Evangeline Maud (also a bit stuffy, but I am fond of Maud)? Evangeline Brooke (not my style, but it sounds good)? Evangeline Tate (kind of an androgynous middle name for such a flowery first name)?

January 15, 2011 11:24 AM

alison1l-Glad to hear it! Best wishes!

January 15, 2011 4:29 PM

Man, I had a long post on the Lys@nd3r combo written out but it's "in moderation". I'll summarize: I love it. It's a bit zany but not something the kid ever actually has to use unless he enjoys it... and he also has lots of other names to choose from if he ever feels like the first name isn't quite right for him. I do love Lys@nd3r, which spent a long time kicking around our list, and meets my criterion of "weird names that have not-weird nicknames" (Sandy, Anders).

And, for the record, I think I would have ended up with a far more pretentious combo if I were doing the same, because my favorite Y name for boys is Yorick. :)

January 15, 2011 7:03 PM

pope story is still circulating. heard it on npr's wait wait don't tell me today.

January 16, 2011 1:22 AM

I never thought I'd be posting here! I usually just like to read your guys' comments.

I had to say, though, sharalyns: Evangeline Ramona keeps coming to mind.

As for the kid with the long name: I normally hate combinations like these, but that one is actually very nice! Hey if anything, he got a great first name. :)

January 16, 2011 9:18 AM

Here's a quick game that (slightly) relates to the post: you may re-name any celebrity baby (or babies) as you like. The only condition is that you have to keep the spirit the same. So Jamie Oliver's children couldn't become Margaret, Katharine, Elizabeth and John, they'd be a bit floral and whimsical.

I'd change Florence Rose Endellion Cameron to Betsy Florence Endellion Cameron because I think Betsy and Nancy are better as sisters and Florence is a more unexpected middle name.

I'd also change the Olivers' children to:
Poppy Honey Juliette (after her mother)
Daisy Boo Pamela
Lily Coco Sally (did some searching, it's Jamie Oliver's mother's name)
Philip Trevor Maurice "Pip" (his grandfathers' names)

January 16, 2011 4:05 PM

Random aside here: my birth board on babycenter started posting names of their babies, due in April. I thought the list would be fun to go through. Mine is Lucy C0nstanc3.

@dria Pip3r EDD April 9
@ustin Jo3l EDD 4/10/11
@maya "Mia" M@ryAnne EDD 4.6.11
@very @melia EDD 4.1.11
@yla Ril3e EDD 4.2.11
C@bell J@mes EDD 4/25/11
C@dence LaR3e DD 4-22-11
C@mden Scott EDD 4.5.11
C@meron Br@dley EDD 4.2.11
C@meron M@ck EDD 4.15.11
Ch@rlotte M@e EDD 4.1.11
Ch@se Alan EDD 4.30.11
Christ0pher Anth0ny 4.19.11
C0lton R0dway EDD 4.07.11
D@nte Fr@ncesco 4.5.11
De@n Virgil, EDD 4.5.11
Decl@n Edward 4.4.11--RCS 3.29.11
Deli@ (middle name to-be-determined) EDD 4.4.11
Elis3 Cl@ire, EDD 4/14
Elliott Delil@h, EDD 4.1.11
Emily P@ige, EDD 4.8.11
Ev3lyn Sue, EDD 4.12.11
F@ith Eliz@beth, EDD 4.10.11
Fion@ Jun3lyn, EDD 4/28/11
H@dley Mae, 4/7/11
Hunter Mich@el, 4/11/11
Gw3ndolyn Isolde, induction 4/6/11
J@ckson Robert, EDD 4/4/11
J@coby Wayne, EDD 4/23/11
J@deyn Ley@nne, EDD 4/5/11
J@xon Daniel, EDD 4/3/11
Joseph Alex@nder EDD 4.22.11
Juli@ Lilli@n EDD 4.28.11
Juli@ Marie EDD 3.31.11
JULIE@NN Marie EDD 4-7-11
Kad3nce Dany3lle, EDD 041711, but likley will induce 041211
K@ylyn Louise EDD 4/6/11
Keir@ R3ese EDD 4/25/11
L@ndry Gr3y EDD 04/11/11
Le@ Elis3 EDD 4/10/11
Le0 Warr3n, EDD 04-10-11
Li@m Eli@s, EDD 04-25-11
Lily Ann@belle EDD: 4/28/11
Liy@h P@ige EDD 4.1.11
Log@n Ryl3e EDD 4.17,11
Lucy C0nst@nc3, EDD 4.25.11
M@cy Jo@n EDD 4.8.11
Ma@rcus N@thaniel DD 4-22-11
M@lik Gr@nt EDD 4/14
Mi@ J0sephine EDD 4/1/11
Na0mi Lyn 4-5-11
Nathan@el G. 4/10/11
Nehemi@h J@keem
N0r@h J@ne, EDD 4/19/11
P@ige Moir@, EDD: April 6th (80 more days!) :)
Philipp@ "Pippa" J3anne, EDD 4-15-11
Ros@lie C3celia EDD 4/16
S@mara EDD 4/3/11
Skyl@r (middle name undetermined) EDD 4/9
Zach@ry D@niel, EDD April 3
Zo3y M@rie, EDD April 8

By Jane 6 (not verified)
January 16, 2011 4:13 PM

Ohhh, I really like Evangeline Romona. A lot.

Quick question: Which is better, Marian or Marion?

Follow-up question: what are some good names honoring Mary that end in consonants? There is Marian/Marion obviously, and Marigold. Others? If we ever had another girl (after 5 boys in a row!) I could really see going with a Mary name... but I don't really love the sound of Mary or Maria, and I like girls' names to end in consonant sounds. I do like May... but I'm not sure dh likes it enough to use it.

January 16, 2011 5:09 PM

Quick question for my NE buddies:

Does Xanthe go OK with a surname like Worth?

I usually avoid names with a /th/ in them as I don't like the effect but I was discussing this with a friend the other day and she thinks it sounds fine in the case of Xanthe. I'm trying to decide whether to kick it off the girls list or not :)

We should find out the sex later this week and the naming can really begin!

January 16, 2011 5:29 PM

Jane6: I prefer Marian just as the female version I guess. I think it looks prettier; not sure exactly why. Maren is another possibility. I guess it may not be the same root, but close enough if you ask me! Or Maris.

Chimu: I think Xanthe Worth sounds fine. i see what you mean about the "th" though. I think I would keep it on the list but see if I couldn't find something that worked better.

interesting names from my local listings: