QUAERITUR: Latin forms of confirmation names, genders

A question came in from a priest friend preparing confirmands for confirmation in the older traditional, form.

The question posed was about the Latin form of the name which the confirmands chooses.

The confirmand is called by name in Latin, in the vocative.

However, girls will at times chose the name of a male saint.  

My first reaction simply that the male form of the vocative should be used even when its little Cindy who has chosen the name, for example, Francis of Assisi.  

Furthermore, in calling the confirmand just "Francisce" should be used, and not some longer form or, in the case of, say, St. John Fisher also by the last name.  Sure there are lots of saints who are called "John", but I think you would still just use the saint’s baptismal name, according to the gender of the saint, not the confirmand.

It has been decades since we have done these things with any regularity and we have to feel our way sometimes.

So, does anyone have any concrete information about this?   Experience?  

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. lacrossecath says:

    In the ordinary form, I have heard a priest tell a girl she can’t use St. Michael the Archangel as a saint because “he” was a different gender and made her change her saint the day of Confirmation.

  2. Cantuale says:

    No, I don’t think the use of the male form of names for girls is neither traditional, nor sensible. In latin, as well in the neo-latin languages such spanish and italian, most names have both forms, for males and females. So even if your chosen patron saint will be St. Francis or st. Anthony, you are going to be baptized or confirmed (if female): Francisca or Antonia, with the proper ending for females. In particular in the vocative form, which is adressed directly to the confirmand, it seems to me quite incoherent to call her (or him) with the other gender’s name.
    Think of what you would do if a boy wish to take a name of a saint woman.
    There is, infact, one exception always practised in Italy and Europe: it is the name of Mary when you add this to your male first name. This custom is often retained today by religious men when they take their vows.

  3. Cantuale says:

    For St. Michael, in latin you have MICHAELA and Michela in Italian (a beautiful name for girls). So, if you can call yourself after st Michael archangel (who, by the way, is obviously not a male or a female!) in the latin ordinary form, why should be not licit to do the same in the translated ordinary form?

  4. Theodorus says:

    I used three names (Mary Joseph Dominic) as my confirmation name, in honor of Blessed Mother, St Joseph and St Dominic Savio. I remember when I handed the name card to the bishop, he was quite amused.

  5. JillOfTheAmazingWolverineTribe says:

    Lacrossecath: I guess that bishop never heard of the Actress Michael Learned!

    As a rule of thumb, I think fine to use a female variant of a male name. Just because “we always did something “X” way” doesn’t always mean it’s the best way. I say consider the person who will be USING the name. A boy taking the name “Mary” is a shade more problematic, though in Latin countries it’s so common, no one would particularly blink an eye.

    In my own case, I received my confirmation name after the time when infants were made to get SS Cards, and shortly after confirmation at age 9 I did, in fact get a SS card, and subsequently have used my confirmation name as part of my signature (along with middle name) and have had it put on all important things like diplomas, passports, etc.

  6. FranzJosf says:

    What is done in the case of religious sisters? I knew a wonderful Little Sister of the Poor called Sr. John Mary. In English, at least, we never called her Sr. Joanne; it was always Sr. John. Did any of those recently professed Benedictines in Kansas City have a male name? Would that have any relevance for what to do for a Confirmation name?

  7. edwardo3 says:

    I sponsored a good friend (male) many years ago who is a musician of some reputation throughout the world. He took, quite logically St. Cecilia as his Confirmation name, we didn’t try to make it masculine, or even know how to make it masculine.

  8. Ellen says:

    I never thought of that. Back when I was confirmed (1959), Most of the girls picked Theresa or Mary and Joseph was the hands down favorite of the boys.

    My sainted great aunt was named Sister Joseph Leo and we never thought of calling her by the feminine form.

  9. aeneas says:

    An amusing point: According to “The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described” by Adrian Fortescue (8th ed. 1953), page 375, footnote 3 reads: “In what case? The bishop uses the vocative. Usually the priest says the name in the nominative and leaves the Bishop to decline it.” LOL

  10. Jill,

    Are you saying that “Of the Amazing Wolverine” is your confirmation name?

    That is awesome!

  11. Remember folks: Just because you don’t like the idea of male names for girls, doesn’t mean that a) this is not done all the time, and b) this isn’t perfectly okay. Many women religious have male names in religion. Many male religious have also the name “Mary”.

    In the case of the religions, the names remain in the gender of the saint. They are not adjusted.

  12. lacrossecath says:

    Jill: Actually it was not a bishop but a diocesan priest(whom I had taught the Confirmation class for that year). Needless to say I was dumbfounded.

    Cantuale: Yes the most amazing part of the equation is that an archangel has no gender, so to speak. He is a good priest overall but it’s a bit too much to worry about gender confusion or what have you in that situation(especially since students spent alot of time researching the saint and how they would like to emulate them).

    I never did get a chance to clarify with the priest(not my home parish and far away). I would have asked him what about St. Josemaria Escriva? Can neither boy or girl use him since he clearly was given a name riddled with gender issues? :)

  13. Mariana says:

    “….she can’t use St. Michael the Archangel as a saint because….”

    Is St. Michael the Archangel OK as a confirmation name and saint? I thought it had to be a human saint? This is would be great news for my son who would like St. Michael as his confirmation saint!

    Please enlighten this stupid convert!

  14. Of course people getting Confirmed can pick angelic saints’ names, especially since they count as saints of the OT and NT both.

    However, you probably don’t want to let kids take only the last names of the English martyrs. Father could very easily get the wrong idea about Snowe and Tempest… make ’em take their given names, too!

  15. Alice says:

    My husband’s confirmation name is Michael after St. Michael the Archangel. The confirmation name does not have to be that of a human saint. An archangel or a virtue will do as well.

  16. Rob Cartusciello says:

    Josemaria Escriva is but one example. There is a longstanding tradition among the Jesuits of Maryland Province to take “Mary” as a vow name.

  17. Thomas S says:

    “I sponsored a good friend (male) many years ago who is a musician of some reputation throughout the world. He took, quite logically St. Cecilia as his Confirmation name, we didn’t try to make it masculine, or even know how to make it masculine.”


    “st Michael archangel (who, by the way, is obviously not a male or a female!)”

    Is that so obvious? Obviously he has no bodily form, but surely gender is something that transcends matter. Does the soul of the late Auntie Mildred cease to be female at the moment of death? Does Cousin Joey only return to being a male with the resurrection of the body?

    I’m not (merely) being a wise-ass. I wouldn’t mind an answer.

  18. mpm says:

    Thomas S,

    God created Auntie Mildred as a human being, a composite of body and soul. Angels are not composites, but pure spirits. Thus, sex makes no sense in the case of angels.

  19. Jacob says:

    On the issue of angels being one gender or the other, I will merely refer to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien: his angelic beings, the creation of God, were male and female despite being noncorporeal at their creation.

    I am not familiar with the Catholic doctrine on this, but I cannot believe that Tolkien, whose fundamentals in creating his cosmology sprung from his Catholic faith, would go so far as to ‘genderize’ his literary angels just because he felt like it.

  20. Rachel Pineda says:

    I think if it’s a male saint the name should remain masculine and female feminine. Since my baptism in 2005 I have heard of lots of religous who took the names of saints of a different gender. In RCIA I had asked to have St. Dominic as I was born on his feastday and he is a great saint. I was told I could only choose a saint that was female as I am female. I chose St. Clare, my husband’s is St. Francis, I suppose that works out quite nicely.

  21. Londiniensis says:

    It is not only male religious who take Mary as a name. I took Mary, or rather Maria, as my confirmation name, to the consternation of the bishop – an amazed double-take, then a direct question to me. (Remember this was 1960s Yorkshire.)

    Mary is not uncommon as a name for men on the Continent, e.g Carlo Maria Giulini, Jose Maria Olazabal, or even St Anthony Mary Claret!

  22. Thomas S says:


    Sex may not make sense with angelic beings, but how does that rule out differences in gender?

    Jacob mentions Tolkien, I was thinking along the lines of Lewis’ PERELANDRA. Christ called the First Person of the Trinity “Father.” Surely, there’s some deeper meaning revealed in that title beyond analogy to the human species.

  23. Reginald Pole says:

    Feminine names, in masculine form are quite common in Spanish: Mario, Margarito, Cecilio, Victorio, Catalino, Doroteo (the last being the baptismal name of Pancho Villa).

  24. Agnes of Prague says:

    As for religious names, in English perhaps since so many names end in consonants we don’t *always* alter them by gender. But I know of both Italian and American Sisters “___ Pia” after Padre Pio, and I’ve heard of more than one Carmelite in the U.S. being “Sister ___ Juana” or “Juanita” after St. John of the Cross. And of course “Francesca” is given to Italian sisters and not Francesco.

  25. Mariana says:

    Thank you, Suburbanbanshee and Alice!!

  26. Finally figured out why anybody would object to different gender Confirmation names, etc.

    People nowadays often talk of Confirmation saints’ names as “role models”, whereas we’re really taking “holy patrons” when we take patron saints. It doesn’t matter whether your patron is the same sex (or even species, in the case of angels) as you; it just matters whether you want their intercession and fellowship. Of course, having their lives and deeds as an example before your eyes can be part of patronage; but it’s not the most important part.

  27. Jacob —

    Catholic teaching is that angels are pure spirits, with minds and wills, but without bodies, sex, or gender. This is drawn from what Jesus says about there being no marriage or being given in marriage in Heaven, because humans will be like the angels there (Matthew 22:30).

    When angels appear in disguise on Earth, they do appear to have one gender or another, just as they appear to have hands and feet and eyes and hair. But that’s not how they really are.

    Fr. Hardon had a lot of stuff about angelology in a retreat he ran, which is online. One of the segments is a whole catechism of doctrines about angels, which you may find interesting.


    Re: Tolkien —

    When it came to the Valar and Maiar, Tolkien was creating fantasy angels in a fantasy version of Earth, who were not exactly the same as normal angels and were much more like angels crossed with pagan gods. (Lewis also had pagan gods who were something like angels and something like nature spirits, in his fantasy worlds.) The advantage of being a fantasy writer is that you don’t have to stick to theology. Later on in life, Tolkien’s liking for nice neat categories did bleed into the stuff he’d just made up, and he tried to make the Valar more like conventional angels, just as he tried to square various other circles of his imagination. He never did quite make it, because he was a fantasy mythographer and epic poet, not a theologian. And frankly, he probably wouldn’t have bothered except for all the hippies taking LOTR for Holy Writ.

    A lot of people have become truly obsessed with creating one to one analogies between LOTR and Catholic dogma; it doesn’t work. Tolkien himself said that he hated allegory; so this is exactly what you’d expect.

    There are no elves in Catholic doctrine, no dwarves, no mallorn trees. There is nothing that really goes against Catholicism in these fantasy creations; but they are imaginary things. So are the Valar. Elbereth and Galadriel may _remind_ you of the Virgin Mary, but they ain’t her.

  28. Re: virtues

    All the virtues come from God’s grace or are characteristics (?) of God, so taking a virtue name is asking for divine help in attaining that virtue. So it’s still a patron thing. _The_ Patron. :)

  29. Jacob says:


    I’m familiar with the concept of angels as Catholics typically think of them. As to the discussion in this thread, I haven’t seen anyone point out anything substantive as to if angels have ‘gender’.

    As to the explanation of all things Tolkien, I know all about that. My only purpose in pointing that out was to draw an inference given Tolkien’s faith and the theological underpinnings of his cosmology. I would not describe it as allegory. What you might dismiss as efforts later in his life to ‘square the circle’, I rather view as a life long consideration of his efforts. Tolkien in his writings on sub-creation often wrestled with how to put together being a faithful Catholic and a writer of fantasy. In “Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth”, a text published as a part of Morgoth’s Ring and dated to 1959 and possibly earlier, Tolkien put into the heads of his elves and heathen men such things as the possible coming of Christ to defeat the Enemy.

  30. MAJ Tony says:

    Hmmm…my late great aunt who was a Benedictine nun was Sr. Mary Rupert (Rupert was the parish patron and her father’s given name.) One of her (and my) cousins and fellow Benedictine was Sr. Mary Kenneth*. Erich Maria Remarque (born Erich Paul Remark) was the author of All is quiet on the Western Front (Im Westen nicht neues). Maria was his mohter’s middle name as well.

    *Mary Kenneth Scheessele, O.S.B. and Annemarie Springer, “German-American Religious Art in Southern Indiana,” Studies in Indiana German-Americana: German Influence on Religion in Indiana, vol. 2, Indianapolis, IN: Indiana German Heritage Society (1995). [BTW, “Scheesele” is a derivative of the original “Schuessele” made to look “Dutch” in the early 20th century. It’s of Swabian origin.]

    Another “by the way” the co-writer has a webpage on the IUPUI website about 19th Century German-American church artists that covers not only the Ohio Valley but also WI and MN. I’m sure Fr. Z et al might find it interesting. http://www.ulib.iupui.edu/kade/springer/

  31. Nathan says:

    MAJ Tony, interesting stuff! I think you should know to be careful about using Rupert as a Confirmation name. I had an old boss, a USAF F-16 pilot, who was telling us benighted Army types about fighter pilot call signs. Apparently, a fellow named Rupert showed up to the squadron, and the guys asked him if he went by Rupert. He answered, “No, Rupe ‘ll do.” From then on, his call sign was “Rupledoo.”

    In Christ,

  32. Angels have no bodies. They aren’t male or female. You can’t be male or female unless you have a body oriented toward reproduction. Angels don’t have bodies. They don’t reproduce. They are nothing but spirit, intelligence, and will, and those aren’t gendered things.

    But it doesn’t just apply to angels. God, as God, is pure spirit and doesn’t have a sex. The Son’s human body and soul are male; and it’s appropriate to use “He” for all Three Persons, because God has revealed Himself using such pronouns; but God as such doesn’t have a sex as such.

    Since all this is supposed to be thoroughly taught about God, you’re not supposed to explain much about it when it comes to angels — because you’ve already learned that spirits don’t have bodies or sexes. I realize everybody in this day and age is apt to have gaps in their religious education, so don’t feel bad if you didn’t learn it.

  33. AnAmericanMother says:

    When we were confirmed, my daughter chose St. Martin of Tours as her patron, and I chose St. Anthony of Padua.

    Nobody said anything, although the Archbishop gave the children a viva-voce exam and he asked my daughter a lot of questions about St. Martin — but not why she chose a male saint.

  34. Now that it occurs to me, it’s fairly clear that the Valar only have gender because they have assumed bodies, in the traditional angelic way. What’s unusual is that the Valar and some Maiar wed (though they never produce any children, because they’re not really embodied creature), and that the Maiar not only wed but actually manage to have kids (though only with one mortal, and there seems to be something weird going on with that particular Maiar and her kid). You sure don’t see the Istari doing any wedding or bedding.

    But like I say, he’s not trying to be theological. He’s trying to reconcile fantasy legends he’s previously created, but only to the extent that nobody can say he’s created a polytheistic fantasy world. If you read carefully, you’ll see plenty of indications that what the elves and humans of Middle-Earth know, may not quite be so. They only have partial knowledge of all this stuff from what earthly languages can express; what’s really going on is whooshing way over their heads.

  35. MAJ Tony says:


    Funny you should mention “Rupe.” I worked for another farmer one college summer who had a stray mutt named “Rupe.” It was so-named as it was found on one of his farms that was down the road from my home parish (and most of my family of my Grandparents’ generation, including the two nuns) St. Rupert, which is nestle in the rolling hills of Warrick Co, Indiana. It was a bustling farm community before the strip mines came in the 60s. I think that by the end of the year it will be the only historic church in the county remaining, having been built in 1902 in typical-for-period Victorian Gothic style.

  36. jaykay says:

    Up to at least the 60s it was very common for boys here in Ireland to have Mary as a (second) baptismal name eg “Joseph Mary” etc. Many of the kids I went to school had it… but they all hated it :) Endless cause of sniggers when the roll was read out (not of course if the kid was a good fighter!) However it was never chosen as a confirmation name, when we had free choice (up to a very circumscribed point). My confirmation name was Leo, after the Pope – the 5th century one – so that wouldn’t have posed any vocative problems, but it didn’t arise anyway as it was 1970 and… well, you know what had just been instituted.

  37. pelerin says:

    Londoniensis mentions a few Continental male celebrities bearing the name Marie or Maria. I would like to add General de Gaulle whose full Christian names were Charles Andre Joseph Marie.

  38. JuliB says:

    I chose Pius as my confirmation name (after Pope St. Pius X). The current ‘word’ at my parish is that the kids are told to give their baptismal names since they already have a saint’s name. Ugh…. our encounters with God frequently lead to name changes – not sure why anyone else would dispute that.

  39. bookworm says:

    My daughter, whose baptismal name is Celia, wanted St. Michael as her confirmation patron, and I encountered no objection from the DRE, the pastor or anyone else.

    In addition to Michael Learned (who played the mother on “The Waltons”) another well-known woman named Michael is Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed. (I believe that is her real name and not a pen name.) Also don’t forget the famous female authors George Sand and George Eliot — granted, those were pen names adopted precisely so that readers would think their books were written by men and take them more seriously, but I digress.

    “The current ‘word’ at my parish is that the kids are told to give their baptismal names since they already have a saint’s name.”

    Ugh… that was the “line” being peddled back in the 1970s when I was confirmed — confirmation is just a completion of your baptism so you should stick with your baptismal name and not bother with a confirmation name. As a result I don’t have a confirmation name, but if I had been allowed to choose one it probably would have been Therese.

  40. As far as people using names of the opposite gender, well if it was good enough for John Wayne* it’s good enough for me!

    *Marion Robert Morrison

  41. irishgirl says:

    Speaking of famous European men who have [or had] Our Lady’s name-the heir to the throne of Belgium, Crown Prine Philippe, has ‘Marie’ in his string of Christian names. And his three young sons do, too! And I think Crown Prince Felipe of Spain has ‘Maria’ somewhere in his given names as well.

    Brian Sullivan-ah yes, ‘Marion Morrison’, the ‘real name’ of John Wayne! And he was one of the most masculine of men!

  42. Thomas S says:

    People may not be reading this anymore, but I’ll type it all the same.

    I wasn’t satisfied with my previous posts on angels. I know they aren’t male and female because they are pure spirit. I got stuck in my vocabulary and wasn’t clear enough.

    Angels are unique individuals and as such there are differences among them. My point was couldn’t those differences include MASCULINITY and FEMININITY apart from SEX and MATTER? That was my CS Lewis’s PERELANDRA reference.

  43. IsabellaofSpain says:

    I was confirmed Sat. at St. Francis De Sales Oratory in St. Louis. One of the other confirmadi took the name Agustine. When the bishop gave her the name I noticed that the Latin was feminine, Agustina.

  44. nola catholic says:

    “Angels have no bodies. They aren’t male or female. You can’t be male or female unless you have a body oriented toward reproduction. Angels don’t have bodies. They don’t reproduce. They are nothing but spirit, intelligence, and will, and those aren’t gendered things.”

    I completely get all of this and what everyone has said before, and this may be slightly hijacking the discussion (for which I apologize), but I always thought the Nephilim were angels (or demons, or maybe became demons). I guess they could have just been a mid-east mythos incorporated into Genesis, but I guess I just assumed that they were angels (the whole sons of God thing) and since they mated with human women I thought it possible for them to have a sex (theirs being male).

  45. MichaelJ says:

    “You can’t be male or female unless you have a body oriented toward reproduction”

    Interesting. So there is no meta-physical definition of “male” and “female”, only biological? That is not my understanding, but I’ll have to think about it for a while

  46. MAJ Tony says:

    Brian Sullivan/Irish Girl: Marion was actually a rather more common name for men in that generation. General Francis Marion was the “Swamp Fox” of Revolutionary War fame, one of the fathers of modern guerrilla warfare, whose person was portrayed in “The Patriot” by Mel Gibson, under a different name, Benjamin Martin (another French surname). Marion is a French surname, and is also considered to be the male equivalent of “Marian” when used as a given name, although it’s also being used as a female name these days.

  47. irishgirl says:

    MAJ Tony-very interesting!

    Ah yes-Francis Marion, the ol’ ‘Swamp Fox’ himself!

    Didn’t know that Marion was a French surname…Martin, yes, for St. Martin of Tours, I understand that…

    Semper Fi, sir….and this from the daughter of a Navy veteran of WW II!

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