On this All Saints Day, I have a proposal. Let’s not rename the catechumens with saint names. Many of them come to us with saint names already, but not all of them do. As I said in The Way of Faith, I once had a child catechumen named “Pebbles.” Let’s just say the topic of renaming came up.
The reason the giving of a baptismal name is even an issue stems from the 1917 Code of Canon Law. Well, it probably goes back farther than that, but most of us don’t date back that far ourselves, so it will do for an arcane reference. The old code says:
Pastors should see to it that the person to be baptized is given a Christian name; but if they are unable to fulfill this, they should add to the name given by the parents the name of some saint, and they should inscribe each name in the baptismal register.
Names have a history
Long before the 20th century, the practice of the pastor insuring the child had a saint name morphed into the giving of a new name even if the child was already named after a saint. So, in fact, many of us have two saint names. And it goes on. When confirmation was split off from baptism as a separate sacrament, the tradition of adding a saint name went with it. The end result: Most baby boomer Catholics have three saint names.
The 1983 Code of Canon Law changed the rules. Now the only requirement is that pastors make sure the child’s name is not “foreign to a Christian mentality.” In other words, if you don’t name your child something like “Son-of-Satan,” you’re good to go. So we baptized Pebbles as “Pebbles.”
The post-Vatican II sensibility of the 1983 code is reflected in both the Rite of Baptism for Children and the Rite of Confirmation, neither of which include an option for giving an additional name. And the United States bishops specifically reject the notion of giving the catechumens a new name (see RCIA 33.4).
When confirmation was split off from baptism as a separate sacrament, the tradition of adding a saint name went with it. The end result: Most baby boomer Catholics have three saint names.
Names are sacred
Even so, I have to tell you, I was having a little trouble with “Pebbles” when I first realized this could possibly be the name of a future saint. Then I read this paragraph in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
God calls each one by name. Everyone’s name is sacred. The name is the icon of the person. It demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it. (2158)
Pebbles loved her name, and she loved Jesus. In the end, it was a great joy to see her become one with the Lord, named for Christ with the name she had known all her life. That’s when I resolved to never rename a catechumen.
Here are some previous posts from TeamRCIA that have to do with naming: