QUAERITUR: Can girls choose male saints’ names at Confirmation?

From a reader:

My younger sister is going through Confirmation classes and, God-willing, will be confirmed next year. She seem to have her heart set on Maximilian Kolbe as her Confirmation Saint/name.
Interestingly enough, the Confirmation class teacher (of 25 years) says that the Church teaches that one MUST choose a saint of the same gender. I cannot find any such law, tradition etc. Can you help?

Sure I can help.

The teacher is wrong.

Your sister can choose whatever saint’s name she desires. If you need some analogy of names and opposite sex saints, mention the many male religious who have “Mary” as one of their names in religion. Mention the many women religious whose names in religion were often “Mary” and then a male saint’s name. Off the top of my head, I knew a Sr. Mary Peter Alcantara. In the TV comedy “Bless Me Father” there was the ominous Mother Stephen. Lot’s of women had male names in religion.

The teacher is wrong.

Your sister can choose St. Maximilian.  May he be a good patron for her.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. mamajen says:

    I think I’ve known of more nuns with male names than female.

  2. Monica A. says:

    I wish I had known this years ago! I was told I had to pick a new name b/c I had chosen a male saint name. Then I was told to change AGAIN b/c I had chosen St. Anne, which is also my middle name. I was told that was redundant and to try again. :(

  3. acricketchirps says:

    Brought back memories of Sr. Mary Paul from elementary school.


  4. dmwallace says:

    The Church is pretty well silent on the notion of taking a “Confirmation name” anyway. It is a longstanding custom to choose a name, but for a catechist to say “that the Church teaches that one MUST choose a saint of the same gender” indicates a lack of knowledge on the part of the catechist.

  5. jesusthroughmary says:

    The “confirmation name” is merely a matter of devotion anyway, having no basis in Church law.

  6. Patti Day says:

    A girl in my class chose to take Rosary as her confirmation name. Sister deemed it inappropriate and there was quite a fuss (never a thought that she should choose other than a female saint’s name), but the girl and her parents stood firm, and Monsignor finally approved.

  7. Nan says:

    St. Pius X. 4 years ago. I asked if I was limited to female saints names; the program director was very curious to find out which saint I had in mind after hearing the question. If St. Maximilian Kolbe has chosen your sister, he has chosen her.

  8. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    St. John Marie Vianney, anyone?

  9. Joseph-Mary says:

    Maximilian is part of my religious name as a Third Order Franciscan.

  10. Laura98 says:

    St. Maximilian Kolbe is a wonderful saint, I pray to him often. He led such an interesting and exemplary life, it really is amazing. I can’t get through reading about his death without shedding a few tears.

    My daughter hasn’t chosen a patron saint yet, but has always had a special love for St. Maria Goretti, so I have feeling she will choose her.

  11. An American Mother says:

    Me: St. Anthony of Padua
    Daughter: St. Martin of Tours

    Nobody said boo in either case. I came in sideways w/o going through OCIA, but daughter went through the regular parish confirmation program. And I am fairly certain that a good number of the girls in her class chose male saints as well.

  12. thefeds says:

    I have two aunts who are Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Ky. Before they went back to using their given names (Rachel and Clara) they were known as Sister Jerome and Sister William Marie!

  13. anilwang says:

    I know a male convert from Judaism that chose Benedicta as his confirmation name since he felt that
    the prayers of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (a.k.a. Edith Stein) were directly responsible for his conversion. I doubt this is an isolated case with Jewish converts.

  14. Supertradmum says:

    I know sisters and nuns by the names of John Vianney, Blessed John Paul II, Joseph, Mary Paul, Benedict, Simon, Augustine, Alexander, and the list goes on……….

  15. Phil_NL says:

    And it doesn’t stop at religious either.

    In many french and spanish speaking countries you see the combinations with Mary (Jean-marie, José-Maria). Here in the Netherlands, many have 2, 3, 4 or occasionally even 5 first names (we don’t have the ‘middle initial habit’); it was (and in some families still is) custom to make the last one Mary (Maria or Marie). Now if these are perfectily fine baptismal names for a boy, why on earth – or why in heaven for that matter – would there be any problem with a confirmation saint of the opposite gender?

  16. Cantor says:

    Look on the bright side. Our diocese discourages, just one step short of flat-out-forbids, taking a Confirmation name. According to the chancery, confirmation names confuse the records, so confirmands must use their given first or middle name.

    This causes no end of trouble for us during Holy Week. By our parish tradition, we incorporate the names of our newly Baptized/Confirmed into the Litany of Saints. But when victims of modern-day “Creative Parent Syndrome” enter the Church, it’s tough to find St. Boomchukalaka on any list! So we take the time to identify some appropriate name out there. The people – especially the kids – seem to enjoy knowing that there is somebody special watching over them. And for the unusual names, we remind them that their name just isn’t on the list… yet!

  17. Legisperitus says:

    Cantor: That was the situation in my diocese when I was confirmed (fortunately I don’t think it’s that way anymore). I was the only one in my Confirmation class who took a new name, little rebel that I was.

  18. Rich says:

    St. Louis Marie de Montfort

  19. amymev says:

    I think St. Maximilian MARY Kolbe is an excellent choice. But then again, he is my favorite Saint, so I may be a bit biased.

  20. Imrahil says:

    Well, in a name, it is strange. Males called Mary with second name always excepted.

    However, Maximiliana (“Maxy” in abbreviation) is a valid female name.

    And then I’ve been told, in America it’s possible to call one’s boy Sue.

  21. amymev says:

    Oops, I meant MARIA not MARY…same woman. :-)

  22. Clinton says:

    Every Trappist monk takes two names in religion– that of Mary and the name of another saint.

    Sadly, when I was confirmed the parish liturgist had decreed that we don’t ‘do’ saint’s names
    anymore. I’m still not sure just where in the documents of Vatican II she read that…

  23. Will D. says:

    My sister fought this battle in the early ’80’s. She chose St. Michael, and the school tried to force her to feminize it to “Michelle.” Eventually, they relented.
    I took Maximilian as my confirmation name to honor St. Maximilian Kolbe. I think he’s a great patron for both men and women in these worrisome times.

  24. guatadopt says:

    Example #1,209,102 of how most “catechists” really know very little about their faith and why kids lack any kind of Catholic identity whatsoever. Don’t get me started.

  25. dnicoll says:

    Top choice from your sister! Bit I’m biased – I chose him too when I was welcomed into the Church this past Easter. One of the many hugely inspirational people in the Church.

  26. Kypapist says:

    I was born in 1949; was given 2 names on my birth certificate and 2 different names on my baptismal certificate, one of which was Joseph although I am female. For confimation in 1960 I chose Catherine of Alexandria so I could have a martyr saint. Now I wish I had chosen St. Geronimo or even St. Gaspar Del Bufalo. Those are pretty irresistible.

  27. Gretchen says:

    I chose Benedict when I was confirmed in 2008. My favorite saint and Papa!

  28. wmeyer says:

    Clinton, I think a parish needs a liturgist as a fish needs a bicycle.

  29. Jeff says:

    Ugh…I feel bad now. I was a religious ed teacher last year for confirmation and told the class they *SHOULD* pick a same-gender saint. I thought that it was shady to do it the opposite way. I hope I didn’t cause scarring or anything. I wonder if I should do penance…

  30. VexillaRegis says:

    For my confirmation in the 80’s I chose St Margaret of Antioch

  31. wmeyer,

    I’m afraid your analogy stumbles. After all, when was the last time you saw a fish run over by a bicycle?

  32. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    True story:

    When Pope John Paul died, and Pope Benedict was elected Supreme Pontiff, my son, then 6, beamed from ear to ear: “Two popes named after me”! As he was confirmed this year, he chose St. John Vianney.

    Sadly, I wasn’t invited to chose such a patron when I was received into the Church — but I have since adopted St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More. (My middle name is John.)

    May St. Maximillian enlighten the soul of the poor adult who can’t see the child’s heart or the simplicity of the faith.

  33. acardnal says:

    I agree with wmeyer, “parish liturgists” are superfluous. The Church has an official missal and a lectionary; that’s all that is needed.

  34. wmeyer says:

    Henry, I agree, you got me with that one.

    acardnal: If we need more, there are many good books. Quite a few by a Cardinal Ratzinger…

  35. Cafea Fruor says:

    If this the catechist were correct that one needs to take a same-gender name, then no one, not even boys, should take an angel name (Michael, Raphael, etc.) because gender is not something the angels have…

  36. Ironically enough, didn’t St. Maximilian Kolbe call himself “Maximilian *Maria* Kolbe”?

  37. Jack Hughes says:

    I chose Cardinal Newman for my confirmation name as he is our first post revolution beati here in England

  38. SKAY says:

    My first grade teachers name was Sister Anthony. I will always remember her.

  39. Simon_GNR says:

    When I was confirmed and received into full communion in the RCIA (25 years ago) no-one told me about taking a saint’s name as a confirmation name, such was the absence of traditional practices in that parish under that priest, but I adopted a name for myself without anyone asking me what it was: Athanasius, the supreme champion of Catholic orthodoxy of his day, a time when the Arian heretics outnumbered the Catholic faithful in some places.

    BTW back in those days I knew a lovely old nun named Sister Gerard, but I never knew which St. Gerard after whom she took her name. For female Catholics to adopt male confirmation names seems absolutely fine to me, if they feel a particular devotion to a certain male saint. What sex the saint was shouldn’t come in to it.

    I had a similar thought as Phil_NL, earlier in this thread – there are lots of Spanish men named Jose-Maria, not least Jose-Maria Olazabal, who three times played in a winning European Ryder Cup team as well as captaining Europe’s great victory a couple of months ago! I’ve never heard anybody say his Christian name has anything wrong with it because it includes a girl’s name.

  40. Imrahil says:

    Basically all examples here are the name “Mary” as a second name for men. That is indeed usual for Catholics.

    Sometimes, it was likewise possible for a girl to be called Joseph. I think of a certain Marie-Josephe de Beauharnais… who would go on to be called Joséphine.

    That sisters take male names seems to be normal in the anglophone sphere, according to things I have read here and elsewhere… but still I can but think it odd. Must be a cultural thing. But then, as I mentioned, the whole A Boy Named Sue thing would be completely impossible in Europe. The registrar would simply refuse to register female names for a man, and vice versa. Around here, that includes religious.

    Of course, that is not to say the least thing against a male patron saint. Just feminize the name. (What is the wrong thing about a Sister Antonia having St. Anthony of Padua for patron saint?)

  41. Elizium23 says:

    I chose a one-two punch in St. Katherine of Alexandria, who is of the opposite sex, and at the time of my Confirmation (2000) had been removed from the calendar and cult suppressed in 1969! I firmly believe that my prayers are partly responsible for her restoration to the General Roman Calendar in 2002. I chose Katherine for myriad reasons. It was my paternal grandmother’s name. She is the patroness of libraries, and at the time, I found myself spending hours on hours in the library surrounded by knowledge. I thought her tale of converting pagans and brave martyrdom was extremely inspiring. And I liked her for not-so-saintly reasons: in a previous life, I had been a fan of the Sisters of Mercy, who had a song called “Amphetamine Logic” which made a reference to Katherine Wheels. Finally, my all-time favorite actor, Melissa Joan Hart, took the confirmation name of Catherine. Well, that sealed the deal for me.

    I must say that I shocked a few people with my choice. Primarily because it was a female name. My pastor, a Dominican, was very interested to hear my story and I gladly told him. I don’t know if the bishop was familiar with her status, but he did a profound double-take when he came to me in the short line at the liturgy, and read my name tag. I was extremely pleased with myself for shocking the bishop in such a way.

    When I attended a Byzantine-Ruthenian Catholic church, I found Katherine’s icon painted on the wall and sat in “her” pew. To this day I have a fervent devotion to Katherine. I have a little wooden icon from Mt. Sinai in my apartment’s little prayer corner. Her feast day is incidentally the anniversary of my Confirmation, and Christ the King falls close to it, along with Thanksgiving, so it’s always an extra-extra special day in my year. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

  42. mwa says:

    1979–chose Athanasius, but absolutely forbidden to use a male name by powers that be. Took Thecla instead. Have blocked out the memory of the whole circus of a ceremony, except for the Cardinal looking down at my stole (made of burlap, of course! with the confirmation name down the front) as I stood before him, and saying, “Who’s Thecla?”

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  44. bookworm says:

    My daughter wanted Michael for her confirmation name and she got it without any objection. If anyone had questioned it I would have pointed out that Michael can be used as a female name as evidenced by Michael Learned (the mother on “The Waltons”) and Michael Sneed (a Chicago gossip columnist; that is her actual name and not a nom de plume, I believe).

  45. frjim4321 says:

    Although there is something deeply troubling about a man taking a woman’s name as his middle name, as a general rule I never say “no” when the church clearly says “yes.” Of course the girls request should be honored. X

    [You are a sexist pig. o{]:¬) ]

  46. frjim4321 says:

    Whoa LOL first time I ever got that.

    Think it is way different for an individual girl to want “Max” as opposed to a religious order requiring every man to have Mary as a middle name ala the ewtn oddity.

  47. prairiecatholic88 says:

    Sometimes a man has no choice as to what his middle name is, in this case Mary and its variants. Off the top of my head, I can think of three men (all priests, conincidently, or not) that had as their given middle name “Mary”: St. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney, Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini, and Msgr. Wendelin Maria Stulz. The first two are well known, and the third is the revered pastor of my parish that built our magnificent parish church at the turn of the 20th Century. What thing do these three men have in common? They were all priests of the Catholic church. Don’t you think that there is a possibility that being given the name of Our Lady, that she guided them in their vocations as priests? I’m just sayin’. I don’t know about the two well known figures, but our Msgr. Stulz had an intense devotion to the Mother of God, under the title “Help of Christians”. This resulted in our parish using that title, and as his tribute to her, there is a beautiful statue rendering of Our Lady, Help of Christians, along with Don Juan of Austria and Pope St. Pius V that dominates the niche at the top of the high altar in our parish church. What’s wrong with a male having a female patron?

  48. Nan says:

    Opus dei! Josemaria Escriva!

  49. frjim4321 says:

    pc88, I hear you but something creeps me out when an guy has a girl’s middle name…particularly when this tends to be a proclivity of traditionals who are so squeamish about girls in slacks. With the religious orders who impose an opposite sex name on a monk or nun to me it seems to be very very much about control and depersonalizing the individual, further about neutering the individual. Again I find it creepy and can’t see anything attractive about it.

  50. robtbrown says:

    The Romance languages tend to have feminine forms of masculine names. An exception is that Spanish and Italian both have a masculine form of Maria (Mario), but France has none.

  51. Jerry says:

    FrJim – I think one common aspect of the lives of the saints, regardless of the gender of their names, is depersonalization. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

  52. Emilio III says:

    I understand my grandfather was named after a St Emily (Emilia) since he was born on her feast day (April 5) and there was another Vincent in the family. I suppose that if they had had a copy of Butler’s Lives I might now be called Gerald, Tigernach (!) or Becan, so I’m glad they picked her. Unfortunately I have never been able to find anything about this alleged St Emilia, so she must have been a local holy woman informally “canonized”.

  53. AnAmericanMother says:

    The one instance of naming a boy Sue didn’t work out very well . . . :-) My middle dog was almost named Sue, because her father is FC/AFC The Man In Black, call name “Cash”, so she obviously had to be given a Johnny Cash song for a name. But (1) her breeder pointed out that in the song “Sue” was a boy; and (2) more importantly, a good friend who is a professional trainer had just lost an amazing dog named Super Sue (2 years SRS Champion) much too early and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Naming dogs is at least as worrisome as picking a confirmation name . . . .
    Almost none of Johnny Cash’s song titles are suitable for a high-bred young female Lab. She wound up being named “Rock ‘n’ Roll Ruby”, and it fits. She is a loon! (one of the hunt test judges nicknamed her Psycho Ruby, and it stuck).

  54. Hope this isn’t considered a rabbit hole …

    Elizium23, St. Catherine of Alexandria (one of the patrons of the Dominican Order) was indeed removed from the Roman General Calendar (now back on), but her cult was NOT suppressed. She, like St. Christopher et. al., remained in the old Roman Martyrology and she (like he) appears in the new Martyrology of 2004, p. 641. There were only two cults formally suppressed in the 1960s, and neither had been beatified or canonized, Simon of Trent and Philomena.

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