Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I don't know why some names last and some don't.

Every morning, I get an email from the nice people at Catholic.org called "Saint of the Day." I subscribed to this; I like to read about saints, who were often rather odd people. Today's featured saint, for example, is St. Catherine Laboure, whose visions of the Virgin Mary led to the creation of the Miraculous Medal.

But the email lists more obscure saints as well, and today's patrons include St. Alnoth, a cowherd and hermit who was martyred around 700; St. Jucunda, a virgin and hermit who lived in the mid-5th century; and St. Mesrop, a fifth-century hermit who helped create the Armenian alphabet. (Apparently, it is easier to become a saint if you are a hermit. This does not surprise me.)

Anyway, I grew up in a tradition that says children need to be named after saints. My own names are variants of Helena and Clare (who, among other things, is the patron saint of television, so that's good). And what I want to know is, why isn't anyone naming their children Alnoth or Jucunda any more? Or Mercurius, whose feast day is also today?

The same ten names show up on the most-popular lists every year, although fashions come and go. You almost never meet a Carol or a Barbara younger than 40; today, you won't meet a Tiffany or a Brittany older than 35, and I'm curious to see how those names age. And sometimes names come back. How many Sarahs and Emmas do you know now, compared to 20 years ago?

Men's names tend to be less changeable. The generation of Jasons and Justins is now moving through the years, but you can find Michaels, Johns, Stephens and Roberts at any age. But no Crummine, no Wiltrudis, no Ethelburga or Maelrubius. What happened to these names? They sound funny to us, but only because we no longer know anyone named Polycarp.

Of course, some names get retired forever, for obvious reasons. You notice that no one gets named "Adolf" any more. "Genghis" isn't too popular, although you do occasionally find Eastern Europeans named Attila.

But in the case of names like Plegmund and Vulgis, I'm guessing it has something to do with the fact that most of these saints died without children, and therefore had no one to name after themselves.

Being a hermit probably didn't help, either. If Peter and Paul had been hermits instead of missionaries, those names might have disappeared, too.


Tom Ehrenfeld said...

Okay, forgive me for posting pre-sufficient caffeine, but while you are on the topic of last names lasting, how is it that some folks have no last names? Chad Michael Murray for example. Do any of these folks with no last names last? And what is life like for them? Do they give their names to folks and then have to wait as the other person waits for them to finish with a "last" name?

Anonymous said...

Papa, and my Dad, both have Aloysius as middle names. I've always liked that one but Dad wasn't keen to pass it down.

Which mutual friend of ours had a grandfather named Melchior? Was it Hugh? Another great name. Very wizard-like.


AnswerGirl said...

Ooh, Melchior! I don't remember, but "Hugh" is also a good name that doesn't get used enough any more.

And I always wanted to name a son Aloysius, and call him "Wish." Peggy decided to skip it when she named Matthew, who's named after Papa -- but Henry's middle name is Augustus, after our great-grandfather Molony. Before he was born, there was some discussion of calling him Gus, but it wouldn't have suited him; he's a Henry.