“My name is Kevin; that’s spelled Q-E-V-V-E-N

A month or so ago I was doing a book-signing — which, believe it or not, is actually a fun thing to do, even when you’re shy — and as people came up and we greeted each other, they would ask me to inscribe a copy of Strange Gods to “Mary” or “Anna” or “Joe”. About 60 books or so into it, I declared that I loved signing books for Catholics, because we tend to use rather conventional names of saints and also the conventional spellings.

So, naturally, the very next person in line asked me to inscribe the book to one of the most variable of Catholic names: Teresa-with-an-H-and-an-A-not-an-E, because Teresa is Theresa, not Therese.

Rather like Liza-with-a-Z.

Yes, after Theresa, I had Marc-with-a-C and Elizabeth-with-an-S (the very idea!)

Do you know what? It’s very hard to write E-l-i-S-a-b-e-t-h when you’ve been writing with a Z for 54 years.

I knew a girl in junior high school whose first name was completely unique and one-of-a-kind, created to honor four grandparents and a great-grandmother by using the first letter of each name. Her five-letter name was a constant sore point for her, particularly in a new school year when teachers would take attendance and dance around with the pronunciation until the poor kid finally had to pronounce it, and then explain it. Because back then, teachers were insensitive enough to ask, “what is that?”

Have you saddled your child with a name that needs constant spelling-out? Do your kids complain that their names are boring? One of my son’s friends rather defiantly took Athanasius as his Confirmation patron, solely to dress up his “plain” name. (Another, learning of Saint Blaise, wondered if he could get away with spelling it B-l-a-z-e and was very let-down to be refused. Because “Blaze” is a great name for a mixed martial artist, or something.)

Catholics, as a rule, do seem to be disinclined to Name their sons “Scatman” or their daughters “MaKallyn”, but Todd Aglialoro points out that we have other means of flying our freak flag:

A common tic of Catholic families that I have noticed (and have demonstrated myself) is to introduce or refer to their children by all their names. Instead of, “This is my oldest, Bill, his sister Sarah, and little Henry here just turned one,” we get, “Here’s Joan Clare Marie, her brother John Paul Aquinas de Sales, and I believe you’ve already met Michael Augustine Loyola Chesterton. We call him ‘Kolbe.’”

The middle name is a wonderful place to stash more obscure saint names or testaments to personal heroes (I’ve done it). And the temptation can be strong to keep the music going: One more heavenly patron can only be a good thing, right? Not to mention, you worked hard to make that baby and keep him alive; the least he can do is be a sort of walking billboard for your spiritual and historical interests.

But moderation, moderation. There’s a fine line between jolly plenty and wretched excess. Leave some names for the rest of us.

What do you think? Do you have any stories of strange names? By the way, the title of this piece is based on a real-name situation, but honestly…I can’t remember exactly how it was spelled. It might have had an F and two N’s. Poor kid.

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  • M K Elston

    I do school photography for a living. In just the last month I photographed a girl named “Heyvynn” (heaven) and her brother “Kyvyn” (K-eye-ven) – and a three year old named HeavenlyAngel Happy Hart. One of my co-workers actually keeps a log of unusual names. It’s hard to surprise a school photographer with a weird name. We’ve seen a lot of them.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    As a foreigner I can’t help having to spell my name always. So much so that I even say it in an Americanized-sounding way to people I meet that I suspect I won’t be seeing again.

  • Darrell Pursiful

    We named our daughter Rebecca, never expecting the number of times she’d appear in school programs and whatnot as Rebekah, Rebekkah, Rebeccah (yes, that happened), etc. She goes to school with a girl named Rebeccuh. :-/

  • Gradchica

    We came very close to naming our third son Augustin, but backed out bc we thought it was just too catholic nerdy. That + our general dislike of nicknames and my particular desire that he not be an Auggie made the decision for Dominic instead. Maybe semi weird here in the Bible Belt, but totally normal in my native NJ.

  • Adam Frey

    I’m curious if it’s a distinctly English-speaking phenomenon to re-spell or uniquely spell names. I’ve become increasingly humbled at how badly the English language–written or spoken–butchers things that have their origins in other languages or cultures. Hence, a lot of the “Catholic” names that we use are actually modified and anglicized versions of other names. (I don’t think this makes those names *wrong* in any moral or cultural sense.)
    Example: we accept “Francis” as a traditional name, but it’s really derived from the Italian “Francisco” which–I assume–is the original spelling. Or the name “Mary,” after our Blessed Mother, is really derived from the Latin “Maria,” itself derived from the Hebrew “Miriyam” (closer to “Miriam”). The best example is the name “Jesus”–which for some reason is popular among Spanish-speaking Catholics but not English-speaking ones. They go by “Hey-zeus” in pronouncing it, but spell it the same. Either one is derived from the Latin “Iesu,” which is again derived from the Hebrew “Yashua” (“Joshua” in English is much purer).
    I guess my point is that if the Saints saw how English-speaking Catholics spelled or pronounced their names today, they’d be equally mortified by us. :)

  • Fred W.

    I’ve always and only known EliSabeth……..

  • Margaret

    Theresa is the more typical spelling of the name amongst the Irish, at least the ones I know…

  • Kelly Reineke

    My son is Augustine. We call him Gus.

  • Rebecca Rooney

    I used to be a high school teacher, and the mother of one of my students was named Yuneek.

  • Jen C M

    Heh. Our first born is named Dominic Stephen Serapio. No one on my side of the family — or, for all I know, my husband’s — has more than the conventional first, middle, and last names, and I had this funny feeling, filling out the social security form, that it somehow wasn’t *legal* to give two middle names. In his case, it wasn’t an excess of piety that was the cause of his many names, but an excess of people whom he needed to be named after. Happily, all three are saints (two rock-solid, and one…kind of obscure), and we’ll take all the extra grace that’s going!

  • Jen C M

    Also, I assume you’ve seen this! (The video’s not great; it’s the audio that counts!)


  • Signe

    My name is Signe (short i, hard g, long e) – Swedish for my grandmother (middle name Jeanette for my other grandmother). I got used to spelling my name early on.

  • NCMountainGirl

    i’ve always been fascinated by names, particularly the what were they thinking variety. They don’t always involve odd spellings. Consider that grand lady of Texas Ima Hogg. I was one of only a handful in my large Catholic elementary school who did not have a saint’s name, What I learned is that unusual names and odd spellings end up wasting time, a lot of time. I finally adopted the three letter nickname everyone wanted to use. I also have friends who bemoaned the cute feminine ni and ie ending their parents gave them when they became managers and lawyers. Susan is adult. Suzie is perpetually adolescent.


  • Iris Pius

    My first name is Iris. I don’t have a middle name (it’s a cultural thing). My confirmation name is Pio, after Padre Pio. I normally don’t include it a part of my name.

    Today I just read an article explaining why in the liturgy it is the feast of St. Pius not St. Pio. I realized, if I am going with the liturgy, my name would be Iris Pius. I think I’m going to use that more now.

  • MeanLizzie

    I love it.

  • KyPerson

    I teach a college class. One semester I had three women named Michelea in my class and none of them spelled it the same. I had one woman named Gyniphyer (pronounced Jennifer) and one poor dear named Latrina.

    My own children have plain ordinary names.

  • Louis Tully

    Our son is Jacek Stephen. “Jacek” is the actual, Polish name of St Hyacinth of Poland (“Jacinto” in Spanish). This one is confusing because we get to say, “Jacek, after St Hyacinth”. Wha? He’s only three months old and has been called “Jay-sick” more times than we can count.

  • Dave in NC

    My Wife’s nephew & his wife have named their four kids, in order:

    Fiery Soleil;
    Honor Jah;

    Zeal Manassah;
    Rhythm Noel(don’t know the spelling.)

    They will grow up to hate their parents, and no, they’re not Catholic, some kind of fundamentalists.

    Their grandfather is spinning in his grave(urn, really).

  • zai

    I have a strange first (zaire) and first middle name followed by a more “african american” middle name and a last name that I share with a couple of our presidents (Adams).
    It was only mildly a pain…you know, when substitute teachers came in and butchered my name (Zayree? Zirr? Zay-ear? ad infinitum) and every first day of school in the history of ever. But, once the name has been gotten down, it works fine. I wouldn’t want any other name. It happens to work for me, and helped me make an awesome stage name while providing me with options for pen names. *nods* This pleases me.
    I”m a catholic convert, so I didn’t get my confirmation saint name until later. But, I figure, if done correctly, original names can be wonderful. Just don’t get too crazy. Personally, I am fond of a few Japanese names (such as Sora (which means Sky) for a girl) and would love to name one of my boys Soren (after one of my favorite philosophers). I figure they are okay because they look easy enough in English. Also, they aren’t made up from random letters and names.
    Of course, my future wife will have a say, but I’m pretty adamant on those two names. We’re catholic, we have time…

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    Aren’t these examples of latinization of several names? So, why would anglicization of names be wrong? For sure, the “unique” spellings are ridiculous, but once a name is anglicized, even allowing for regional preferences, any reasonable person would be glad to use them.

    Alas, methinks that the “unique” spellings are a result of missing the point about what a name is about. Even in pre-Christian cultures, a name was given to hope for the same charisma or blessings of a forefather or foremother. In Christian cultures, the forefathers and foremothers are those who preceded us in the faith heroically. Somehow connecting a new member of a community with the rest of the community, past and present, pointing to its future. Apparently nowadays, in our post-Christian culture, there is no charisma or blessing to bestow, except that of the individual for the individual’s sake, cutting him off from the community, past, present and future.

  • http://rosarynovice.stblogs.com/ Augustine

    I couldn’t approve your son’s name more gladly. However, Augustine is my confirmation name, after you know who, not my christening name.

  • MeanLizzie

    I had a doctor named Zanaida. I would love to get to make a be beautiful Z when signing my name.

  • Jenny

    My mother is a teacher. She has seen some names! My very favorite was the little girl named Dnomyar, pronounced “Dee-no-mee-are.” She was named after her father, Raymond.

  • Adam Frey

    Hmmm, good point. I’ve always worried if wacky spellings were more to boost the parent’s ego than the child–”Look how unique I made my kid by adding several Ks and Ys!”

    Back to my original point, though–I don’t see anything “wrong” in the moral sense of going with an anglicized version of a Biblical name. It’s just more an observation on the comedy of language and the occasional anglo- or Latin-centrism I sometimes see. It’s like when people point out to me the grave necessity of the Latin Mass (and let me stop you right there–the Latin Mass is just fine, thanks), I like to point out that Jesus more than likely held the first Eucharistic liturgy in Aramaic.

  • JaneEire

    My pet peeve is people who insist on trying to pronounce “Therese” in what they think is the correct French way (which, according to my sister with a Master’s in French lit, they are not doing properly). This seems affected and snobby to me – like if I am talking with someone about St. Therese of Lisieux and I pronounce it the typical American way and they pause and then say, “Oh, you mean St. Tur-ez (or however you would write phonetically)?” like they didn’t understand me at first!

  • Beth

    We’ve named our kids after saints and yes, they will need to spell them out later in life. I’m okay with that, because they are named after super awesome heroes/heroines of our faith!

  • http://connecticutcatholiccorner.blogspot.com/ CT Catholic Corner

    Knew a pregnant woman briefly who was naming her child either “Star”(girl) or “Storm”(boy) because it sounded like something in a romance novel. Poor kid.
    When I was a teen I babysat for a “Justin Case”, whose parents would leave me every family members phone number JUST IN CASE I needed it. :)

  • Rebecca Fuentes

    When I taught middle school, I once had a student named Cuitlahuac–it’s a Nhuatl name, Nhuatl being a tribal language in Mexico (which I likely misspelled). Our kids’ names are a little unusual for English-speakers, but pretty common in Spanish-speaking families: Lillian, Salvador, Philomena, & Reuben. Except for our oldest, we tried for saints names we liked.

  • no good deed

    One family I know named their little girl Liberty Ann, and just for fun, their boy’s name is Justice Forall.

  • baileywalker

    Please forgive me… two groaners:

    1) Lance Boyle

    and 2) the poor girl Crystal Shanda whose last name was… wait for it…