I really thought that I would wrap up this little series of reflections on Confirmation in the last Morceau, but a few days ago someone else asked me about one more thing which deserves mention. I was asked about the practice of selecting a different name for one’s Confirmation. In some parishes this is done, and in others not.
Before dealing with this, it’s good to remember that the more important name is the baptismal name: this is also known as one’s “Christian” name! It’s not necessary to choose a saint’s name – although lots of people think it is! The law of the Church merely requires that parents avoid giving names that are “foreign to Christian sentiment.” After all, when a name with secular origins belongs to a baptized person, it automatically turns into a Christian name!
In fact, I wish parents would spend more time considering the importance, meaning, and effects of the names given to their children. Most names have root meanings from other languages – “Paul,” would you believe it, means “little!” – but can also be used for instructing children in the faith. Certainly I’ve been proud to have been named after St. Paul, the great apostle to the world; perhaps this even had some teensy effect in promoting my vocation to priesthood!
In the Bible, the specific name given to or chosen by someone often had a deeper meaning. “Abraham,” for instance, means “Father of many”; “Jesus” means “God saves.” Throughout history, religious leaders have frequently taken a new name when beginning a new phase or role in life. The Pope took the name “Benedict” when he was elected Bishop of Rome: the Latin word “Benedictus” means “blessing.” He hardly ever uses his original name, “Joseph,” anymore.
It is in this vein that the custom has arisen in some places of choosing a new name or a new patron at the time of Confirmation. It’s not required by Church law – in fact it’s not even mentioned in any of the liturgical books! – but it can be done. Some parishes focus on this in a group setting, such as at a pre-Confirmation retreat, helping the candidates prepare spiritually for the special reception of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament. Others leave it up to the private devotion and preparation of the individual. Either approach is fine: whatever enriches the reception of the sacrament is best.