The preparation rites on Holy Saturday include an optional ritual for choosing a baptismal name (turn to paragraph 200 in your RCIA text to follow along). In the United States, we do not ask the elect to do this. (Keep a finger in the book to mark your place and flip back to paragraph 33.4.) The United States bishops have said that there is to be no giving of a new name. This is the norm for every diocese. However an individual bishop can make an exception if one of the elect comes from a culture in which it is the practice of non-Christian religions to give a new name.
Now flip back to paragraph 200. Note the final sentence in that paragraph.
Where it seems better suited to the circumstances and the elect are not too numerous, the naming may consist simply in an explanation of the given name of each of the elect.
So while you would not ask your Britneys, Tiffanys, and Jamals to choose a new name, you could easily celebrate and bless their given names as an expression of God’s delight in them. Miriam Malone, SNJM, has provided a very simple and doable example of this in her Holy Saturday Retreat and Preparation Rites outline (click here).
While we’re on the subject, let’s discuss confirmation names. There are three groups of people who are involved here, and let’s look at each one.
The elect would never choose a confirmation name. Those of us who were raised Catholic are used to thinking of baptism and confirmation as two very distinct sacraments, usually separated by many years. The RCIA is challenging that understanding by restoring the original unity of these sacraments. Turn a few pages to paragraph 215 and read what the text says about baptism and confirmation:
The conjunction of the two celebrations signifies the unity of the paschal mystery, the close link between the mission of the Son and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the connection between the two sacraments through which the Son and the Holy Spirit come with the Father to those who are baptized.
Obviously, if the elect are baptized with one name and confirmed with another, the symbolism of the “close link” the rite emphasizes is diminished.
The next group to consider is baptized Catholics who are completing their initiation. If we were looking only at the ritual text, there is no choosing of a confirmation name. The choosing of a new name for confirmation cannot be found in the RCIA, the Rite of Confirmation, or the Code of Canon Law. So where does it come from? It is simply a custom that developed over the centuries after confirmation had been separated from baptism. Now, custom is no small thing and should not be trifled with. However, it is important to know that it is custom and not part of liturgical or canon law. While there is no requirement for Catholics to choose a confirmation name, there may be appropriate pastoral reasons for allowing individual candidates to do so. (For a longer discussion about choosing a confirmation name, see Dennis Smolarski’s article, “Choosing a Confirmation Name.”
While it is a centuries old custom for Catholics to choose a confirmation name, that is not the case for those who were baptized in other ecclesial traditions. It seems less appropriate to introduce a new custom to these candidates, especially if the primary emphasis of their confirmation is less about completing their initiation and more about being received into the Catholic Church. Try to avoid giving these folks the impression that choosing a name for confirmation is the Catholic norm. The norm is to emphasize the name with which they were baptized.
10 thoughts on “Should the elect choose a baptismal name?”
I get a question as to why I don’t mention choosing a Confirmation name in our adult preparation process almost every year. Thanks for your article, and its clear explanation.
Thanks for the clear and concise info! I, too, get this question every year and almost every year one guest speaker or another will tell the RCIA participants that they will be choosing a confirmation name – then I have to correct them. This will help immensely!
Hi Karen. I’m glad it was helpful! Advent is a great season to talk about names, btw. We hear lots of stories about Jesus’ name in the readings.
I just got the question again: “Do RCIA candidates choose a confirmation name?” I was so glad that I had read this article and could have a reference for the answer that I have given every year before.
Hi Pat. Sounds like you’re doing a great job catechizing your parish about the value of naming. I’m glad TeamRCIA could offer a bit of support to you.
When I went through RCIA in college I did choose a confirmation name. Coming from no previous religious tradition, I chose a confirmation name to provide me with an extra connection to the rich Tradition of the Catholic Church. I always thought that choosing a confirmation name was more about finding a specific person within the Catholic heritage and Tradition that you seek out an extra special bond.
I see it as the confirmation name usually being linked to a Saint whom the candidate can call upon as a type of second confirmation sponsor. Taking on that name as a confirmation name helps to strengthen that bond.
I’m with sullibe. Choosing a confirmation name isn’t so much about the name, but invoking a new and different patron saint. The pastoral practice here in the US isn’t about new identity/new name, but is, as you’ve pointed out, something the Rite doesn’t address, but which tradition dictates.
I also agree with sullibe and J Cummings. We tell our RCIA participants they are welcome to choose a new name *if* they wish. We remind them that God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, and Sarai’s name to Sarah, and Simon’s name to Peter as signs of beginning a closer relationship with God and following His will. We ask them to choose a saint who has overcome some of the obstacles that they face or has some attributes they feel they need help with.
Hi all. I do think if choosing a new name is important to the individual, that is something important to consider. But, as catechists, I believe we have to be careful not to introduce the practice as a Catholic “tradition.” There is a difference between a practice that I grew up with and a Tradition of the church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is our guide to traditional Catholic teaching, does not tell us to instruct candidates for initiation to choose a new name. In fact, the Catechism says every name is sacred:
In our Diocese, all being Confirmed (children, youth, Adults) are asked to provide a Saint’s name for Confirmation. They are also asked to know something about this Saint that they have chosen … and in the case of our youth, write a short paper on the Saint to be presented to the Bishop prior to Confirmation