Starting Point
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Issue Date:  February 10, 2006

Starting Point


I volunteer in my parish with parents who are preparing for the baptism of their children. One of my favorite conversations with them is what name they have chosen for their child.

Some parents have their child’s name picked out long before they are even expecting. Other children claim their name upon arrival; “Before she was even fully born you could see her bright red hair,” one father explained, “and I turned to my wife and said, ‘She’s got to be named after my grandmother.’ ”

Some parents stick to family names; others want something unique, while others have a letter of the alphabet that they prefer. As a church we are no longer so hung up on the thought that they have to have the name of a saint. But it is interesting to see how that expectation still creeps in: Even if parents have chosen a first name that is trendy like Madison, the middle name ends up being Marie and everyone in every generation seems happy.

Even God took great care in choosing a name for Jesus. “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us’ ” (Matthew 1:23).

I heard a quote once that said, “Parents rise to the level of prophets when they name their child.” It is interesting to think that somehow in naming our children we are not simply picking a name we like, but we are calling them to be something. Parents are often intrigued by this notion. If they have named a child after a saint or someone they know, I encourage them to list the characteristics of that person that they would like to see their child emulate. And even if they may know the meaning of the names, I ask them to reflect on what that meaning could be calling their child to become.

I believe children live up to the stories we tell about them; like self-fulfilling prophecies. Their names are filled with the anticipation of who they are called to be. Jesus’ name meant “God is with us” and he certainly lived up to that expectation.

Christina Zaker lives with her husband and four children in Chicago.

National Catholic Reporter, February 10, 2006

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