Your baby’s name ‘almost like a prayer for their life’

Godparents Blanca (left) and Samuel Ramirez hold infant Jozef Padgett during the rite of his baptism Oct. 22, 2019, while his parents, Susan and Austin Padgett (holding candle), pray and Father John Marconi gives a blessing at Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock.
Godparents Blanca (left) and Samuel Ramirez hold infant Jozef Padgett during the rite of his baptism Oct. 22, 2019, while his parents, Susan and Austin Padgett (holding candle), pray and Father John Marconi gives a blessing at Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock.

CONWAY — When Susan Padgett was watching a Spanish soap opera, she fell in love with the main character’s name, Maximiliano. It took on greater meaning when she shared the name with her husband, Austin.

As a Catholic “revert,” he drifted during college only to find his way back to the faith by soaking in all things theology and the saints. This included reading about St. Maximilian Kolbe, who offered his life in place of another’s in the death camp Auschwitz during World War II. The saint’s example of forgiveness helped heal some of Austin’s past wounds as a child of divorce and encouraged him to be more forgiving.

It’s why they named their first child Maximiliano, born May 31, 2018. He was baptized on St. Maximilian’s feast day, Aug. 14.

Since then, they’ve named all three of their children after saints.

While there’s no Church requirement to give a child a saint or biblical name, there are good reasons for Catholic parents to consider the significance a name carries.

“It’s beautiful to see the couples praying about what they want to name a child because that name is sacred,” said Father Rubén Quinteros, pastor of St. Mary Church and Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in North Little Rock. “It’s connected to our identity and connected to our faith, and it demands respect. It’s a sign of this person, the dignity we carry as human beings as part of creation.”


Church traditions

In this part of the world, the baptismal name is typically the child's legal name.

The first question the parents and godparents are asked during the rite of baptism is, “What name do you give to your child?”

Father Quinteros said this is the Church “asking that name to be given before God, so establishing that relationship between this person and God.”

In the 1917 Code of Canon Law, it instructed that pastors see to it that the person being baptized had a Christian name. If the person’s name wasn’t, they were given a saint’s name in addition to their legal name. In 1983, this rule changed: “Parents, sponsors and the pastor are to take care that a name foreign to Christian sensibility is not given.” (Canon, no. 855)

For example, naming a child “Lucifer” would be contrary to that rule. A Christian name can be a saint, biblical figure or simply a child’s given name as long as it’s not offensive to Christianity. While Liam and Olivia, the most popular U.S. baby names of 2021, according to the U.S. Social Security Administration, are not in the Bible, they are not contradictory to the faith. (See sidebar)

A few passages in the Catechism of the Catholic Church are linked to names, including “God calls each one by name. Everyone’s name is sacred. The name is the icon of the person. It demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it.” (Catechism, no. 2158)

There are also plenty of Scriptural examples of the weight names carry: the angel Gabriel telling Mary the Son of God was to be named Jesus (Luke 1:31); Zechariah’s instruction to name his son John (Luke 1:13); and Jesus renaming Simon to Peter (Matthew 16:18).

“Most of the names in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, are linked to the mission received from God. So every time you see God or Jesus naming someone or renaming someone, it’s giving a new mission in life,” Father Quinteros said. “So that’s the significance of the names in the Bible. I think it’s a beautiful way of seeing my relationship with God. It’s connected to my own identity.”

A priest can object to a name in preparation for baptism. But Father Quinteros said he wouldn’t object unless it was blatantly contrary to the Church.

“I believe the parents have the right to name the child as they want to. If you just choose a name that doesn’t have significance for the family and is not connected to the faith, as long as it’s a good name and the child can carry it for the rest of their lives,” there is dignity in it, he explained.

He will, however, suggest names related to St. Joseph, St. Francis of Assisi, Mary or Guadalupe when the opportunity comes up.

“When couples tell me they’re pregnant or ask for a blessing in the womb, I’ll say, ‘Have you thought about a name? Have you considered a Christian name for the baby?’ I think that’s the best way to do it,” he said.


Emulating the saints

When Austin and Susan Padgett, parishioners of St. Joseph Church in Conway, wed in 2015, they didn’t have the idea to name their future children after saints. But it became a combination of liking certain names and connecting them to their faith that led them to that decision.

“On our honeymoon, we went to Washington, D.C., and the St. John Paul II National Shrine. It was a really moving experience. Susan was moved to tears,” Austin, 32, said.

Susan, 31, added it was the first time the couple learned St. John Paul’s middle name, “Jozef.”

“If we had more than one boy, we’d like to use this name,” Susan said, naming their second child Jozef Valentín, born Sept. 17, 2019, after both St. John Paul and St. Valentine. He was baptized on one of St. John Paul’s feast days, Oct. 22, the anniversary of his pontifical inauguration.

Their daughter, Lucía, was born Jan. 4, named after St. Lucy, a young Italian virgin martyr. Though her feast day is Dec. 14, too long for the family to hold off their newest addition’s baptism, she will be baptized March 25, the feast day for St. Lucy Filippini and the feast of the Annunciation.

The Padgetts said they will share the saint’s stories with them as the children grow. But even now, they each are taking on some traits of their saints.

Both agreed they hope the saints are praying for their children and suggest parents consider what they want to name their child amid all the trendy options.

“We recognized there are people who came before us who did an excellent job at life,” Austin said, with Susan adding, “They were normal people … that honored God with their life.”


Jesus backward

Not every Christian-inspired name has to be conventional. For Susej Thompson, 46, the faith formation and music director at Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock, the joke has always been that her father was a “religious dyslexic.” He named her after Jesus, only backward — pronounced “sue-sah.”

“I got called sausage, sewage, sushi,” Thompson said.

While it wasn’t always the easiest name growing up, it’s something she’s embraced. Her blog is

“They started calling me the ‘Jesus backwards lady.’ That’s my blog and ministry name, Jesus Backwards. As someone told me, ‘They marked you early,’” she said. She’s even found meaning in the pronunciation, like the biblical Book of Esther set in Susa, inspiring her to fast and pray.

“If you ever need me to fast and save our people, I’ll do it,” she laughed.

“Susej” has been more than just a name, but a conversation starter and an opportunity to dig deeper into what it means for her life.

“It’s part of my life and part of my story. I love Jesus more than anybody. If I can try to be a reflection of him and let him be my identity, it’s all worth it. It was a gift. When you’re young, you may not always see that. I can see my dad’s love in that. It’s been a little door-opener in my ministry,” Thompson said. “I think what we name our children has a lot of power. All of my kids are named after the Bible or saints. I planned the meaning of their first and middle names. I think it has a lot to do with how you view yourself and your purpose.”

Her children are Jared Timothy, 24, Ana Mercía, 22, Stephen Hunt, 19, Titus Nathan, 18, and Jacob Andrew, 16. They each know their namesakes and meanings behind why they were named. Thompson said while her name is unique, the idea is not completely uncommon — she’s heard the name Nevaeh, heaven backward, has become popular.

Whether it’s spiritual, cultural or familial, names matter.

“A name for a child is almost like a prayer for their life. And knowing the meaning of that and telling that child the meaning for that for their life is part of their identity,” Thompson said.

Aprille Hanson Spivey

Aprille Hanson Spivey has contributed to Arkansas Catholic as a freelancer and associate editor since 2010. She leads the Beacon of Hope grief ministry at St. Joseph Church in Conway.

Latest from News