The Curious Origin of My Name: A Tale of Baby Names, Catholic Saints, and Familial Bonds

The Curious Origin of My Name: A Tale of Baby Names, Catholic Saints, and Familial Bonds September 29, 2023


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My name is Tracey Maria. The origins of my name have always been a point of interest for many, mostly because it wasn’t inspired by a Catholic saint as was common in my hometown. Instead, its origin is endearing, if not a tad comical.

The story goes like this: my elder brother, during his third-grade days, had taken a fancy to a young girl named Tracey. Smitten and hopeful, he pleaded with my parents to let him have the honor of naming the newest member of the family. My parents, perhaps amused by his sincere persistence, eventually agreed, but not before considering the traditional name of Maria. A nod to my mother, my aunts, and the revered Santa Maria in our Portuguese culture.

But promises are promises. When my brother discovered that my official name wasn’t the exact spelling of his crush’s, my parents went through the paperwork again, ensuring it read ‘Tracey Maria’. The Maria was more a soft echo, a reminder. I rarely used it, and few knew of its existence.

From Tracey to Teresa: A Name’s Journey

Years went by, and the complexities of my name only seemed to increase. On one occasion, as my mother and I were at the steps of our local church, we encountered the priest, an elderly man from the Azores. When introduced to me, he mistakenly called me “Teresa”. It wasn’t just him; many from his generation seemed to replace ‘Tracey’ with ‘Teresa’, perhaps because the latter was familiar and the former was unheard of in their homeland.

When I moved to a private Catholic school, the challenge of my name presented itself yet again. One of the first assignments was to research the saint after whom we were named. As I scanned the room and saw my classmates engrossed in their research, a pang of anxiety hit me. With a heavy heart, I approached my teacher, unsure of what to do given the uniqueness of my name. Predictably, she suggested, “Write your report on St. Teresa.” That recurring name, ‘Teresa’, made its way back into my life.

St. Teresa’s Influence and My Identity

However, instead of feeling left out, I took it upon myself to deeply research St. Teresa. While I couldn’t relate to her in terms of my name, her life and teachings deeply resonated with me. Her wisdom, courage, and love for humanity became lessons I cherished.

Years later, at a family gathering, the story of my name was being recounted for what felt like the hundredth time. Laughter echoed as everyone remembered my brother’s third-grade crush. And my brother, then a man with children of his own, leaned over and whispered, “You know, Tracey, the real blessing wasn’t in naming you. It was having you as my sister.”

Tears welled up in my eyes. It dawned on me that baby names, while important, are just labels. What truly matters are the bonds we form, the memories we create, and the love we share. And in that moment, whether it was Maria, Tracey, or Teresa, the name didn’t matter. What mattered was the family I was surrounded by and the love that overflowed in that room.

In our culture, naming children after saints is not just a tradition but a bridge to a past rich in faith and values. St. Teresa, for instance, was a beacon of devotion and service, her legacy echoing across generations. Every time someone confused my name with hers, I was reminded of the depth and significance behind such naming practices.

While my story might deviate from this tradition, it intertwines with its essence. In honoring St. Teresa through the mistaken identity of my name, I’ve come to realize that baby names, inspired by saints, are a timeless testament to their influence and the virtues they embody.

St. Teresa of Ávila: Legacy and Influence

St. Teresa of Ávila, also known as St. Teresa of Jesus, is the patron saint of headache sufferers and Spanish Catholic writers. Her deep spirituality and commitment to reforming the Carmelite Order, combined with her extensive writings on the mystical experiences she encountered, have left a lasting legacy in the Catholic Church. Her intercession is often sought by those who suffer from headaches, likely because she herself experienced frequent illnesses and ailments, including severe migraines, throughout her life by some accounts.

I was not named after her.

About Tracey Folly
I was born and raised Catholic, attended a Catholic high school, dabbled in born-again Christianity, became an ordained minister (Universal Life Church), converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and then resigned from the LDS, in that order. My search for religion may have taken me in different directions, but my belief in God never wavered. You can read more about the author here.

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