Pope Benedict on Baby Names: A global game of telephone
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.