You’re not supposed to name your guardian angel

I learned this odd factoid from Fr. Mitch Pacwa while sitting in a little airport in Michigan once. It had never occurred to me to name my guardian angel, but for some reason it came up in the conversation with the little group we were seated with as we waited for the plane. Somebody mentioned it as the latest craze and Fr. Pacwa instantly had on the tip of his tongue the teaching of some mediaeval pope who had condemned the practice. I’m not clear on the reasoning, but the basic idea seems to be that angels are not our chums, but super-powerful spirit beings who should be treated with respect and not back-slapping bonhomie. Or so I gather. Since the thought had never occurred to me, it was not a burning issue. But it’s fun to realize I belong to a community that has given such matters thought.

  • Meggan

    I never thought to name my guardian angel either. I have heard of this trend and it irritated me. Its presumptuous. Your angel may already have a name. To me it’s not so much like making your Guardian Angel your chum as much as it is making it (him, her) your pet.

    • Ry

      This is, actually, I think why the practice is discouraged. Giving someone a name signifies authority over them. Parents give names to their children, children give names to their pets, but never the other way around. In the bible, Adam is commissioned to give names to all the animals, and that is supposed to signify man’s dominion over them. When God gives someone a new name (e.g., Abram to Abraham, or Simon to Peter), it is understood that God is showing authority over that person.

      We are not the boss of our Guardian Angels. Giving them names is far more inappropriate than going up to our earthly boss and telling them, “I’m gonna start calling you ‘Bingo’ from now on.”

      • Sigroli

        I think of our Guardian Angels as our protectors rather than our bosses.

  • Steve

    One of the practices I’m aware of is to pray that God will reveal your angel’s name to you before you go to sleep. Then, so it goes, the first name you think of when you wake up is the angel’s name. It seems to me that some of the practices involved in angel-naming border on superstition. It bares a resemblance to the private-revelation obsessions that people fall into.

    Further, I think Michael and Gabriel are just dumbed-down versions of those angel’s names for the sake human audiences. If we were to really know an angel’s name, our brains would likely melt out our ears.

  • JB

    In principle this makes sense to me, although I doubt that the Angels get bent out of shape about it.

    The point about not presuming to exert personal authority over ANY angels is very true, and includes having no personal authority over fallen angels either; only God has authority over them, and in this world He exerts it through His Church.

    However, something else recently occurred to me, regarding the oft cited truth that angels rank higher than humans in their natures: This is true only insofar as their natural powers go, but how does this square up with a human creature, Mary, ranking even higher than the angels, being Queen of Heaven? (And all other Human souls in Heaven sharing in God’s nature through Jesus Christ who is truly and perfectly Human, which seems to have been the main reason for the fallen angels’ prideful rebellion.)

    I think the answer is that power is not grace. A rough analogy might be the difference between an automobile driver and a pedestrian: No pedestrian can move as fast as a car, but driving a car only gives you more power, not more grace. And so, the intelligence of the angels is more powerful than ours, so they rank “higher” than us in that sense, but no rank of power is any good unless it serves God – as Mary does to perfection, ranking highest in grace because she ranks highest in humble service.

  • Jane

    My guardian angel asked me to give him a nickname. I’d been talking to him for about four years and gave all the reasons why it would be wrong for me to do that (ie, he has his own name, I have no authority over him, etc) and he wanted one anyhow. He finally forced the issue by getting me up early for daily Mass and making it clear on the walk.
    http://philangelus.wordpress.com/2008/10/02/how-my-guardian-got-his-nickname/

    The practice isn’t formally condemned, isn’t condemned in the catechism, and apparently isn’t anathema to the angels themselves.

    When you think about it, “Michael,” “Gabriel” and “Raphael” aren’t their “real” names either because angels don’t have a spoken language the way humans would (being pure spirits — why would they communicate with *sound*?) and whenever some new language comes along, we retranslate their names into that. That’s why we’re not saying Gavriel for Gabriel. Or Jibril.

    This is not something worth getting worked up over. If you decide to call your guardian angel Declan or if you just call the guardian “Angel,” speak to the angel about your prayers, your struggles, your desire to get to God. That’s what matters, not what you call him.

  • Susan Windley-Daoust

    To offense at all to you, Mark. It’s kinda sorta interesting. But this is the third time I’ve heard it in a week, and each time I’ve wondered–seriously, people are 1) doing this 2) talking about it 3) asking questions about it and 4) answering said question? It’s not at the bottom of the barrel of my list of spirituality questions. It’s outside the barrel. It never, ever would have occurred to me!

    On another note, enjoy your time in MN. I live two hours south of AOTM land. Hope it goes well on all kinds of levels.

    • Rosemarie

      +J.M.J+

      Well the feast of the Guardian Angels was just last week so it’s sort of timely. Also, some Catholics do name their Guardian Angels, so they need to know that the Church discourages the practice. I’m glad I eventually found out.

  • Rosemarie

    +J.M.J+

    It was Pope St. Zachary who discouraged the naming of angels (other than the three Archangels whose names occur in Scripture) in the 8th century. The reason was that alleged angel names from apocryphal books were becoming part of private devotions, and there was some concern that people might be inadvertently invoking fallen angels by using these questionable names.

    Even the name of the Archangel Uriel (whom the Church Fathers mention) was supposed to be banned since he is only mentioned in the apocryphal II Esdras, not Sacred Scripture. Though this ban wasn’t absolutely followed; one can still find Catholic churches here and there in honor of the Seven Archangels, which contain images of all seven along with their names. I’m not sure why this is the case. I also have an old Irish Catholic prayerbook – with a Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, no less – which contains a prayer to the Seven Archangels that calls each one by name (FWIW, the names of the other four are given as: Saint Uriel, Saint Sealiel, Saint Gehudiel, and Saint Barachiel). So occasionally one finds breaches of this rule.

    (BTW, Eastern Orthodox Christians don’t seem to have this prohibition. They pray to and write icons of the Seven Archangels plus an eighth one, Jeremiel, who is also mentioned in II Esdras.)

    More recently, the Vatican again discouraged the naming of angels in relation to a Catholic group called Opus Angelorum, which had assigned many angels names based on the alleged private revelations of Gabriele Bitterlich. The CDF put a stop to that and now accepts Opus Angelorum as a faithful Catholic organization because they have complied with the changes the Church called for.

    As for naming ones own Guardian Angel, when I was in Catholic school my Religion teacher (a former nun and very devout lady) told us a story about a girl who asked to learn her Guardian Angel’s name. Shortly afterward, someone started calling the girl “Maria,” though that was not her name. The girl then “realized” that that must be her angel’s name; this was supposedly the angel’s way of letting her know. The teacher then told us that we could do the same with our Guardian Angels – just ask them to reveal their names and they will do it by having someone call you by that name.

    I liked the idea at the time, so I asked my angel to reveal his name. Shortly afterward, the principal (also a nun) started calling me Kathleen, even though that was not my name. So for a while there I thought my Guardian Angel’s name was Kathleen! I eventually did come to doubt this whole method of finding out an angel’s name, so I no longer call my angel “Kathleen.” For a while I used another name, derived from Hebrew, and though it was a more “proper” angelic-type name (ending in -el) I don’t use that anymore either. I guess I don’t really have to call him by name; “Angel of God my guardian dear” will do.

  • catholicchristian

    It’s very obvious here that the “discouragement” is actually discouraging public appeals to private revelation, and the inadvertent reference to the name of a demon. Personally, I think that my guardian angel has let me know his name, or at least the name by which I can refer to him as my guardian and steadfast friend, but I’m not going to insist upon that publicly. Much ado about not a whole lot here.

    • Rosemarie

      +J.M.J+

      I do agree that the Church’s caution has more to do with the potential dangers involved in using angelic names from apocryphal or even occultic sources than with any possible disrespect implied in naming ones angel. Padre Pio reportedly called his Guardian Angel “Angelino,” which means “little angel” in Italian. He meant no disrespect in doing so.

      I also can’t totally discount the possibility that someone’s Guardian Angel might reveal his name in a private revelation. As Christopher Sarsfield points out above, there may be a problem in trying to “divine” the name, but if it is revealed apart from such attempts that would be different.

  • Rebecca Fuentes

    When I was teaching the guardian angel prayer to my oldest, her first question was what her guardian angel’s name was. From her perspective, if her angel was someone, that someone has a name, and she wants to call her by that name.

  • Christopher Sarsfield

    I believe that what the Church actually discourages is trying to “divine” the name of your guardian angel. There was a group saying you could figure out the actual name of your guardian angel. They are also discouraging the attempt to spread devotion to angels that are not named in Scripture. However, I read (I believe in Fr. Sullivan’s book on Guardian Angels), that it was a pious tradition in some places to give a name to guardian angel to help develop devotion to him. Giving a name to your guardian angel is not the same has an attempt to divine his name. And the link provided gives no reference to anything regarding authority on this matter. But I am of course open to correction if you could site a reference to a legit authority, and not some private theologian given his opinion.

  • melianthus

    It’s traditional theology that naming something gives you dominion over it. We can’t have dominion over angels, thus we cannot name them. But, your angel could tell you its name!

  • Rosemarie

    +J.M.J+

    Okay, a little more background here. The original prohibition against naming angels was the result of the condemnation of a popular, alleged “mystic” of the time named Adalbert. One of the prayers he composed invoked the names of seven angels who are not mentioned in Scripture. The pope called a synod at Rome in AD 745 to decide how to deal with him. When this prayer to the angels was read before the synod, the bishops opined that those angels could be demons, since their names are not found in the Bible. This led to the prohibition of naming angels other than Sts. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. (Adalbert’s use of questionable angelic names was only part of his wrongdoing; he was condemned for more than just that.)

    So it wasn’t so much a matter of disrespect to the angels by naming them, as one would ones pets. The Church’s concern was that these alleged “angelic” names could actually be the names of demons. And there are lots and lots of purported names of angels out there, drawn from apocryphal writings, Jewish or Islamic folklore, alleged private revelations, even old grimoires. These we should definitely avoid.

    Assigning ones Guardian Angel a name is a bit different, as long as the name does not come from one of these sources. Still, I don’t think it’s advisable. Maybe a nickname like Padre Pio’s “Angelino” would be fine, since that means “little Angel” or “dear Angel.” And if you think your Guardian Angel revealed his name to you, I guess that’s between you, him and your spiritual confessor.

  • Sherry

    It came up last week in daily mass at EWTN, as the priest giving the homily mentioned that he had named his guardian angel and went about telling the story of how he did it. At the time, I thought it strange. It sounded too much like magic. Go to a certain place, open a certain book, look for the first…you know the drill. The next day, the same priest came to give the daily mass on EWTN and added a P.S. to his homily of the day before, explaining he’d been corrected and informed that he should not encourage people to discover the names of their guardian angels.

  • Chesire11

    I remember hearing about this a year or two ago…at the time it just struck me as kind of squirrelly. Maybe it comes from being a New Englander, but the whole thing seems kind of patronizing to me, like when a stranger calls you “Chief”, or “Skipper.” Angles already have names, and just as I wouldn’t take it upon myself to “name” somebody I meet on a bus, I wouldn’t presume to “name” and angel.

  • Brian Sullivan

    And he answered him: Why askest thou my name, which is wonderful? Judges 13:18

  • JB

    Oh come on, it isn’t important one way or the other. We don’t get bent out of shape if our dogs lick our faces or try to shag our legs, so why would the Angels get bent out of shape about us playing with naming them?

    • enness

      Oh I dunno, for similar reasons that a person might get annoyed by someone calling her the wrong name or acting overly familiar with her…minus the added indignity because of being, you know, a pure spirit from the heavenly realm.

  • DeirdreMundy

    There’s actually a document on the Vatican website about this… It falls under ‘popular pius practices that are really bad theology.” Part of the logic is that you can’t really know your angel’s name, or that the name you’re inspired to call on belongs to your angel, or even to someone on the right team, if you know what I mean……

    • Rosemarie

      +J.M.J+

      It’s in the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy. Specifically, section 217:

      “217. Popular devotion to the Holy Angels, which is legitimate and good, can, however, also give rise to possible deviations:

      “when, as sometimes can happen, the faithful are taken by the idea that the world is subject to demiurgical struggles, or an incessant battle between good and evil spirits, or Angels and daemons, in which man is left at the mercy of superior forces and over which he is helpless; such cosmologies bear little relation to the true Gospel vision of the struggle to overcome the Devil, which requires moral commitment, a fundamental option for the Gospel, humility and prayer;

      “when the daily events of life, which have nothing or little to do with our progressive maturing on the journey towards Christ are read schematically or simplistically, indeed childishly, so as to ascribe all setbacks to the Devil and all success to the Guardian Angels. The practice of assigning names to the Holy Angels should be discouraged, except in the cases of Gabriel, Raphael and Michael whose names are contained in Holy Scripture.”

      This section was probably written with the former abuses of Opus Angelorum in mind, since this is essentially what they did.

  • PalaceGuard

    I would suspect that a major reason for not doing so is that an angel and the angel’s name are, in a spiritual sense, one and the same. To give an angel a “new” name is to try and change the very nature of the angelic being. (Parallels in the OT and NT, when someone’s name is changed by God, the person is, in some ineffable way, a new being: Simon to Peter, Saul to Paul, Abram to Abraham, etc.) Words are so debased and devalued as media of truth these days, being seen as mere deformations of noise, that it is difficult for a modern person to grasp this, a great deal of the time.

  • Pray all day!!!

    It has been pointed out that at least one of the Popes condemned the practice of naming your guardian angel and that the Vatican website also makes it clear; then we need to remember that Jesus left us The Church along with it’s papal authority both to teach and to guard against false teachings and practices.

    Even the minutest and unintended chance that we could be opening the door to the demonic world makes this a very serious and potentially dangerous practice.

    We need to listen and be obedient to papal authority, when we decide we know better then our God given authority we essentially turn our backs on God and place ourselves outside of His Church and the Heavenly protection it contains.