Popular Series on the Law of the Church.
What shall the baby's name be?
The Church upholds the pious custom of using a Christian name at Baptism; more than that, she has allowed this custom to pass into law. It is not in accord, then, with the sentiments of the Church to seek out, after manner of movie actresses, some new-made titles that sparkle. A pretty name for a pretty baby is indeed proper; but it is one thing to adopt a pretty name that is rich with a past and quite another thing to select one that is just pretty but nothing otherwise.
Or this matter Canon 761 reads: " The pastors shall strive that the person baptized receive a Christian name; if they cannot accomplish this they shall add to the name selected by the the parents the name of some saint; and both names shall be entered in to the Baptismal record."
The code in its practical wisdom gives way without sacrificing its principle. There are some who will persist in having the non-Christian name that they decided upon.
To those the canon allows their choice, but at the same time it enjoins upon the minister to insert a Christian name himself when baptizing the child. This Christian name will go down in the record together with the other.
This action of the Church is not an undue exercise of authority, but rather an example of benevolent guidance. It needs only be understood to be commended.
In Baptism the infant becomes a child of God. It becomes sanctified, and a holy name for a holy thing is surely in place. When an infant receives a saint's name it is placed under the protection and intercession of that saint, and what mother would deny her child from its earliest years the help that comes from above?
Then, too, it is fitting that when a child becomes a wayfarer in Christian life, as it does at Baptism, it receives the name of one who has gone before in the odor of sanctity. But some will insist that Christian names are too common, that they lack poetical tint, or t h a t they have not that fine suggestion of gentility that they labour to impart to their child's title.
It may be true that some Christian names are used so lavishly that their charm is lost. Still those who are seeking unusual names would just have to look up the calendar of saints as found in the Roman Martyrology, and the number and rich variety of undiscovered names would surely refresh them.
But it is a mistake to think that Christian names are lacking in poetry. The name of every saint and martyr is a lyric in itself. No living poet could, for example, fashion a name and adorn it with the poetry that graces the name of St. Agnes; and that is a poetry that was lived and written in blood. As for the note of gentility, it is sufficient to say that the great personages of the past, kings and nobles of every degree, have 'considered it an honour to have their children named after the bold, matchless heroes of Christian warfare. However, these mere matters of taste are trivial. In this case it is the supernatural value that counts; the help and inspiration that comes from a patron saint weights most. The Christian name is like a badge that marks one as a saint's protege. It is a bright light that leads and warms the heart of the pilgrim.
To forego this just for the sound of a sweeter name would be a slight to heaven and a rebuke to the Church. It would betray a weak understanding of the meaning of Baptism, and suggest a hankering after worldly display.
- Malaya Catholic Leader, February 2nd, 1935 (1935.pdf pp48)