Monday, 20 March 2017

A Saint by any other name


                                Confirmation: The one time children get to choose their own name.


WHAT'S in a name?

What about Ignatious or Gertrude, Scholastica or Hubert? Strange? Old-fashioned? Slightly religious sounding? Check.

All saints' names: none of them commonly used. Yet still chosen by Catholics for one of the defining days in their young lives: Confirmation. 

This is the season for it: a time when the majority of children aged 11 or 12, in their final year of primary school, receive the Catholic sacrament.

Earlier this month, a friend's 12 year old daughter chose the name Agnes.


It is - in this country at least - considered a very old-fashioned name. In the last 50 years, you won't find it in the top 10 baby names for girls.

But despite the fact that the average 12 year old has strong views about everything from outfits for the day, to how they'd like to celebrate this milestone, their chosen names are sweetly out of touch with modern times.

By May, lots of our boys will boast the name Francis

Popes' names tend to be popular for boys. A few years ago, there was a fair smattering of Benedicts. By May - the end of Confirmation season - lots of our young boys will boast the name Francis.


Traditionally, devotion to saints was as important in Ireland as devotion to God. Or Guinness. Our national saint, Patrick, is celebrated on March 17th, all around the world. Apparently he married a woman called Sheelagh. Another saint's name, as it happens. 

Most of the...schools are still under the influence of the religious orders

Of course, in past generations, everyone had their own special saint. If you were worried about anything, it was straight to the church to light a candle.

St Anthony: the patron saint of lost things. I have a feeling that he's a massively busy saint. St Jude: the patron saint of lost causes. Ditto, St Jude! St Gerard Majella: the patron saint of pregnant women. Far as I know, there's a patron saint for just about everything.

Devotions always seemed to matter more to women. Likely because in a society run by men, particularly by men in the Catholic Church, they probably figured they had a better chance of sorting their problems with a bit of divine intervention. 


And in 2017, the reason so many Irish children are confirmed, may have less to do with faith and devotion, and more to do with the fact that most of the secondary schools are still under the influence of the religious orders.

Whilst we have some of the most highly educated youngsters in the world, many of our schools require children to have been baptised and confirmed before admission. 


Part of the celebration is money

The right or wrong of this is a debate for another day. And don't get me wrong: we have choices. More multi-denominational and secular schools means increasing freedom for families.


Yet Confirmation continues to be hugely important in the lives of young Irish people. Not least because it's considered a day of celebration.

And there's money involved. Most children who make their Confirmation, also make a few hundred euros, thanks to godparents, grandparents and various generous well-wishers.

That saint's name is rarely used in ordinary life after that. A birth cert or a passport will have a first and middle name. Nobody will ever know the person's own chosen name, unless they are told.

The Dad delights in telling people his Confirmation name: Tarsisious. But he put a huge amount of thought into his choice.

As did the child who chose Agnes. The early Roman is the patron saint of amongst other things, chastity, girls, engaged couples and rape survivors. The 12 year old who took her name, is well read and highly articulate. She describes herself as a feminist.

Whatever your beliefs, in a world where pre-teens are under increasing social, economic and peer pressures, the act of choosing a saint's name is, if nothing else, a perfect excuse for self-reflection.


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