Fr. Peter Daly
Nov. 1, 2005
What’s in a name?
The first thing we do in the baptismal rite for babies is to give them a name. We say to the parents, “What name do you give to your child?”
This makes sense. You cannot have a relationship with someone unless you at least know their name. The name is a sort of “handle” as the “c-b” radio enthusiasts say. A way to get a hold of someone spirit.
In the Bible, the first thing that God asked Adam to do after creation was finished was to give a name to all the birds and animals. God called it whatever Adam named it, at least in Hebrew. (Gen.2:19-20). It was the beginning of a relationship between man and all the creatures of the earth.
In my parish we always explain the importance of naming to parents. We tell them it expresses our hope for the person. That is why Christians often take a name from our Christian heritage like Mary, or the name of a virtue, like Faith. We want our children to have names of the great saints who are heroes of the faith or great virtues we aspire to.
This message seems to be lost on parents today. Often they name them for movie stars or celebrities. Sports figures get a pretty fair number of names. These things go in fads. There were a lot of girls called “Morgan” and boys called “Jordan” for a while. I don’t think anybody will be naming their girls “Katrina” or “Wilma” for a while after this hurricane season.
I pretty much go along with anything, but I draw the line when they start naming children after luxury automobiles. Lexus and Infinity are not entirely unknown.
When we had the touring company of “Late Night Catechism” come to our parish, sister asked each person, “What’s your name dear?” If they answered, “Wendy”, Sister asked, “Is there a saint Wendy?” Sister did not approve.
If they had been thinking, they should have answered, “Not yet, but I’m working on it.”
Remembering names is a key pastoral skill. I’m pretty lousy at it.
I learned all the techniques for remembering a name. Repeat it as soon as you hear it. Write it down if you can. (Make out a name badge or something.) Use the name at least once in a sentence as soon as you meet the person. “So Howard, how did you find our parish?”
These techniques don’t work with me. I often find myself “handleless” with people, even after they have been in the parish a long time.
Our Archbishop, Cardinal McCarrick, is a genius with names. Somehow he can meet someone once and remember their name.
I was stunned the first year that he came to our archdiocese when he called out each priest’s name as we came forward to meet him. Later on I discovered that his secretaries were whispering our names to him as we came up. That’s what I need, a prompter.
My secretary is much better with names than I am. In general I think women are better at names because they are better with relationships.
When people call or come by, I often have to ask her, “Are they one of ours.” She not only knows their names, but she knows the names of all their kids, in-laws and maiden names.
People have any easy time with me. They just call me “Father”, except in Mexico where I am “Padresito”, little father. That’s the beauty of a uniform.
In heaven I plan on asking God for a better memory for names. That way I will be able to call everybody’s name. It would be embarassing to forget Moses or somebody important. But if I can’t remember, I guess I will just call them “Saint.” I figure nobody will object to that name.