ASK FATHER: Boys choosing female saints for confirmation names

12_04_27_confirmationFrom a reader…

Today at our new parish, we had the Bishop administer the Sacrament of Confirmation. Among the girls, 2 took the name Sebastian, 3 took Luke, 1 took John, 2 took Raphael, 2 took Francis, with one Michael. The other 2 girls chose Cecilia and Katherine. Is this acceptable? Notably, none of the boys chose Felicity or any other female names. As a homeschooler, I’m very hesitant to let these catechists form my son (he wants to be a priest). My husband and I were rocked by this and the bishop never batted an eye. It just felt dark and weird. Are we being too “rigid”?

“Dark and wierd…”

Hmmm. St. Jean Marie Vianney, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini…

The custom of taking a name at the time of Confirmation is not ancient, but is nonetheless laudable. Those to be confirmed take the name of a saint as a personal patron. The custom perhaps arose in imitation of vowed religious, who often take, or are given, another name to signify that their old life is over and their new life has begun. There is also the element of personal choice. While one’s baptismal name and patron saint was given by parents usually during infancy, at the time of confirmation, being a little older (in the Latin Church at least) one could choose a patron.

Names are important, more important perhaps than we think. Patron saints are also important. Choosing a personal patron could be a moment in a young person’s life when he or she truly makes the Faith a personal commitment.

Patrons provide us with examples to follow, and also powerful intercession. If they were only to provide us with good examples to follow, it might make sense for one’s patron to be of the same sex. Since they also are chosen to provide intercession, the grounds for choice shift somewhat.

Within our tradition, particularly within religious life, there are many examples of women either receiving from their superior (once very common) or choosing male patrons and male names.  Visit the cemetery of a religious order and read the tombstones of Sr. Urban, Sr. Michael, Sr. George, Sr. Hyacinth.  You might remember the funny British sitcom Bless me, Father with the ominous Mother Stephen (US HERE – UK HERE).  Male religious often receive or choose women’s names, almost always that of the Blessed Virgin, and often in combination with a male name, such as Br. Mary John, Fr. Michael Mary, etc.

There’s also the feminization or masculinization of names. Michelle is from Michael.  Joan is from John.  St. Peter as a patron for a religious would result in Sr. Petra. A man wishing to invoke St. Faustina might take the name Faustino, though Faustina is probably from Faustinus in the first place.

So, the long and short of it is that all of the saints can provide us with powerful intercession. They can also serve as good examples for young people to grow in holiness.

The choice of a patron who is of the opposite sex is not something novel.  It certainly isn’t “dark and weird”, unless there are other attendant issues, such as teachers pushing some sort of demonic “gender theory” or blurring of the distinction between the sexes.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Adaquano says:

    The Franciscan Friars of the Eternal Word all take the name of Mary. If you watch the Mass on EWTN you will see Fr. Leonard Mary, Fr. Joseph Mary, Fr. Anthony Mary …. Etc

  2. clq24 says:

    I have to wonder if some of the uneasiness that the reader feels is from either a conscience or subconscience reaction to society’s belief that gender is fluid. Meaning that if a male wants to take a female saint’s name or vice versa then they must “identify” with the opposite sex which is not the reality in this situation. If this happened a few years ago, I am not sure if there would have been an issue but maybe I could be wrong. Even if we do not agree with the beliefs of secular society, it does not mean that we do not necessarily get away without getting some of that “smoke” getting on us.

  3. knute says:

    Before we were married, my wife took simple vows with a religious order in which? the members’ religious names normally included a male saint’s name and a female saint’s? name. Thus her name was Marie Bernard, and the prior’s name was Fr. Joseph Marie.

  4. Ocampa says:

    Out of all the things I dealt with as confirmation director of my old parish, this never bothered me. I had several boys who took variations on Our Lady, and it never occurred to me that it might be a problem.

  5. Boniface says:

    Well said, Fr.

    However (and I should note I have learned this from those that had later repented and “grown up” in their attitude and their faith lives), some confirmandi pick their patrons with a misdirected or flippant attitude (I.e. St. Bartholomew in actual ‘honor’ of Bart Simpson), so it would be prudent to very quietly and unobtrusively determine whether or not these are sincere choices (though it sounds like they were in this instance).

  6. I know several homeschooled boys who have taken Mary at Confirmation.

  7. gracie says:

    When I was a little girl I became curious who St. Louise was as it’s my middle name. Not only did I discover that it’s the feminine form of “Louis” but that there’s more than one saint with that name. Now my parents had not chosen “Louise” based on a specific “Louis” – they just liked the name and knew it was approved by the Church (back then, you had to choose a Saint’s name). I figured I had the freedom to choose which “Louis” I would be named after and, after reading up on several of them, selected “Louis IX” of France, the one who fought in the crusades and who purchased a number of relics which he brought to France (including a piece of the True Cross, and the Crown of Thorns). How cool was that, I thought. A “Defender of the Faith” to use a no-longer-used-term, and a man of great personal piety. What I’m getting at is many of us have a choice of which Saint we’re named after so go to it and find the one whose personal qualities you would like to emulate and whose friendship and intercession you would value.

  8. John Grammaticus says:

    I’d echo Father in saying that the choice is largely personal e.g. my first name is jack and when I was received into the Church I took the second part of Bl Cardinal Newman’s Christian name (Henry) as my own as he was the first post reformation Blessed to come from my home country of England. Of course it proved to be propitious as my Spiritual Director is also a son of St Phillip.

  9. amenamen says:

    In our culture, there is a long tradition of women taking the names of male saints. There is also tradition, in many Catholic countries and in religious life, of men taking the name of Mary (or Marie or Maria).
    But I think there is not much, if any, interest or tradition for men to take other female names. Even if it is not forbidden, I can’t think of any men named Theresa or Agnes or Elizabeth. I think a Confirmation teacher or parent might well advise a young man not to choose a female saint, even a great saint like Mother Teresa, for a Confirmation name. Not because of a theological error, but because it could be considered odd by his friends.

    Remember Johnny Cash?
    … some gal would giggle and I’d get red,
    and some guy’d laugh and I’d bust his head
    I’ll tell ya, Life ain’t easy for a guy named Sue

  10. I was forbidden to take the name Dominic as my confirmation name while completing RCIA and preparing for Baptism, Confirmation and First Holy Communion. It was said to be inproper to choose a male saint for a female but I dod not understand and argued, but it is a Saint! It was his feastday that I was born on and grew to love him quickly. I was sad and he still has been a friend to me but chose St. Clare who has also become, or I suppose was long before I knew her, a good and faithful friend and patron.

    There is nothing weird about choosing a patron Saint of the opposite sex. If there were, I say (as if it matters), Stay weird! ;)

  11. Josephus Muris Saliensis says:

    First neutral comment: it is also very common in France for men to take the name ‘Anne’. In that country its is usually hyphenated to another name, often of the opposite sex, but I know an man called Anne-Marie.

    Second more contentious comment: your correspondent, seemingly lacking in pretty basic knowledge of the names of many saints and church history, and seemingly also riddled with hang-ups (‘dark and weird’ is a very fanciful and powerful phrase) tells us that he/she is home-schooling. I would be worried.

    The education of children is a serious matter, so I shall go further, in charity, though some will not read it thus – the writer claims his/her son has a vocation to the sacred priesthood. He is very young, not yet at the age of catechism. Perhaps (Deo volente) he does have a vocation which will grow. But does he really? Or is this not perhaps also part of the often damaging dreamland seen in so many home-schoolers, which is more to do with a personal puritanical and revolutionary mindset than the true good of the children?

  12. Giuseppe says:

    I know a number of people who don’t use their Confirmation name as part of their name. So a Jane Doe who takes St. Michael might still be called Jane Doe. Confirmation is not a legal name change.

  13. hwriggles4 says:

    I am glad to see that teenagers being confirmed are interested in taking confirmation names and for the right reasons (i.e. a teenage girl taking the name St. Katherine because she likes Katy Perry would be inappropriate, and I didn’t take St. John to honor my childhood hero Johnny Gage).

    I got confirmed in the early 1980s, and there was hardly any mention of Saint names. Some took one, but we didn’t have to. I also showed up in cords and a button down shirt, and we wore stoles that we made with our names. Boy, we sure didn’t get the memo back then. Much of our program centered on social justice and volunteering, not much on prayer and sacraments.

    Glad to see Saints are being discussed, and most parishes I am familiar with now do a two year program. Ours consisted of about twelve to sixteen Monday evenings, and service hours.

  14. Nan says:

    I was confirmed as an adult. A male saint presented himself when I was told I needed a confirmation saint. I was surprised and prayed to be certain he was the right saint. At Mass Father used the feminine, Pia, for St. Plus X.

  15. SumusResNovarum says:

    This post irked me initially, but the comments have eased my frustration. I catechize the Confirmandi as one of my many duties as Youth Minister of our Parish. We spend a majority of our time on baptismal identity, sharing in Christ’s ministries of Priest, Prophet, and King. When we discuss saint names, it is in the context of who will be a great patron for you? Who will be an example and an intercessor to help you better live out your baptismal call? As a result, we have had young teens take their choices very seriously, some even taking “gender-swapped” names because they were enamoured with the saint, not the name.

  16. Charlie says:

    At Confirmation I chose the name “Joseph” after ,of course,St Joseph.From that time on when I signed my name I added Joseph as a second name.Now it appears on myriad legal documents but was never legally obtained.

  17. jeffc says:

    That’s not uncommon at all. For many years (and they probably still do this in some monasteries), the Trappists all took the name Mary as part of their name in religion (Mary Basil Pennington, Louis Mary Merton, etc.). Also, in very large communities of women religious, it was frequent to avoid the over-duplication of names.

  18. PTK_70 says:

    So far as I know, the election of a patron saint is not a requirement to receive the great Sacrament of Confirmation. Someone correct me if I’m wrong. What’s required is a name. The bishop needs to know what to call the confirmand. That name can be the name one received at baptism.

    Ostensibly, the questioner is concerned first and foremost with the choice of a name and not with the choice of a patron saint. Thus, should a boy be fond of the Blessed Mother and take her as his patron saint, I suspect there would be no qualms (from the questioner and those who share her concerns) with this boy being addressed as “Mario” at his confirmation. Likewise, should a girl be fond of St. Stephen and take him as her patron saint, I suspect there would be no qualms with this girl being addressed as “Stephanie” at her confirmation.

    What may have been acceptable in other times for those taking on religious vows, may not be entirely appropriate today for adolescent confirmands given the rise of the ideology of gender fluidity. Besides, “Mother Stephen” was always known as Mother Stephen and not simply as “Stephen.”

    I acknowledge that some masculine names do not admit of feminization. If there is a feminized version of “Luke,” for example, I am not aware of it. What to do when a girl with a baptismal name of Edith elects St. Luke as her patron saint at Confirmation? Unless we are prepared to accept “Luke” as a gender-neutral name (such as “Chris”), this girl should be addressed as “Edith Luke” and not simply called “Luke.”

    This is my opinion and I openly confess that I empathize with the questioner.

  19. Chiara says:

    I do not know about other secular Orders, but we who are professed as a Secular Franciscans (my 2-year anniversary is next Tuesday!), take on the name of our Franciscan patron saints as part of the formal Franciscan profession at the end of our 2-1/2 year formation period. I have always felt strongly guided in my vocation by good St. Francis of Assisi himself. That is who I chose and I am glad of it. Our good spiritual advisor, a TOR Franciscan friar, had no objection and showed no surprise, nor did my fraternity. Personally, I think it is far more important to find a worthy spiritual patron, regardless of gender, than to stress about whether the gender matches our own. That goes for Confirmation or any other occasion we are called to select a patron saint. God bless all here – Susan, ofs

  20. MissBee says:

    The Zeitgeist is getting under our skin in ways we didn’t expect. And, I think it’s prudent to reject the thought that choosing a Saint has anything “dark” or “weird” about it. There is no such thing…. we’re talking about powerful intercessors.

    That said, as a woman, my Saint is St. Michael the Archangel. I’m sort of wimpy and need all the help I can get!

  21. Tara Tremuit says:

    I understand there is a custom of taking names of saints of the opposite sex.
    What we commenters have failed to address is that the questioner was actually at the Confirmation and was able to get a ‘sense’ about the whole thing that left her creeped out. The high proportion of name – switchers (11-2 is unheard of for me) may have led her to wonder whether the catechists were actively encouraging the girls to take boys’ names as a sort of ‘coded’ approving nod to gender-fluidity. (I could totally see this happening, by the way, in several CCD programs that I know of. )
    It really may have been a case of a legitimate practice in the Church being co-opted by the gender-benders. And that would be “dark and weird” no?

  22. Flos Carmeli says:

    Josephus Muris Saliensis says:
    “Second more contentious comment: your correspondent, seemingly lacking in pretty basic knowledge of the names of many saints and church history, and seemingly also riddled with hang-ups (‘dark and weird’ is a very fanciful and powerful phrase) tells us that he/she is home-schooling. I would be worried.”

    I think it’s over-reaching to ascribe the fears of the questioners to the fact that they home school. The rest of the comment is frankly off topic, and while claiming to be doing so in charity, the commentator assumes quite a lot about the parenting of those who posed the question.

    It seems obvious to me that the “hang-up” is a direct result of the definitely weird and fanciful secular society we live in where we are told there is no such thing as genetic sex, and where it is demanded that we embrace the idea that one can “choose one’s own gender”. The choice of a male saint name for a female candidate (or vice versa), as many other posters have pointed out, has been a perfectly reasonable and innocent, even laudable, option for Catholics for a long time now. It only appears dark and weird because we are a little battle scarred from fighting against the constant bombardment of the upside down, aberrant culture around us. Thanks to Fr. Z and other commentators for pointing things back to the sane and rational, not only in this post, but in many others we read on Fr Z’s blog. We need reminders that not everything we do/think/say ought to be simply a reaction to the evil around us.

    FWIW, my husband and I home school our multiple blessings, and just recently our daughter chose St. Martin de Porres for her Confirmation saint. She thought about it long and hard, and was a little concerned that she “ought” to choose a female saint. We reassured her on that matter, and her devotion to him won the day.

  23. MouseTemplar says:

    I am the reader who posted the question:

    I am, of course, well aware of the history of saints having names of the opposite sex. And I am still concerned. This is a new parish to us and the altar serving team, catechists, choir, sacristans, eucharistic ministers, and even the ushers are well over 90% female. The Liturgy is circa 1970. The young priest with whom we dined said he didn’t want to rock the boat with the “women who run the parish” when my husband volunteered to help form and train a boys altar serving team to serve once a month. This fine priest only has 1 1/2 years before he’s transferrred out of here.

    I do indeed have hang-ups about gender confusion being fostered in the young. We are no longer in those innocent days where Sister Marie Joseph was simply someone who admired both saints. During the ceremony, there was applause at each girl who’d taken a male saint’s name. None at all for the other children. That, and given the very limited variety of saints’ names chosen together with the disproportionate number of Luke’s and Sebstians that were taken, it simply felt out of kilter (if that’s not too fanciful and powerful a term to use). We don’t know the parish well yet, but yep, it felt dark and weird and thank you for the poetic license.

    To the charitable “Msg.” Saliensis, our son has simply consistently said he wants to be a priest. Some years it is in addition to being a Navy Seal or, in previous years, Spiderman II. We are just one year into homeschooling using the Seton program and I don’t think that’s enough time to develope the “personal puritanical and revolutionary mindset over the true good of the children” yet.
    This question came out of real curiosity. We’ve just never seen this before.

  24. gracie says:


    ” . . . there was applause at each girl who’d taken a male saint’s name. None at all for the other children.”

    That says it all. No wonder you were creeped out. The indoctrination of our children by those who wish to label as “backward” the view that sexual differences are biologically based is happening at lightening speed. My Catholic daughter-in-law, whose own child received her First Communion last weekend, posted a video on Facebook today of a 10 year old boy who is an “expert” at putting make-up on himself. Not clown make-up, the real deal kind – shadow, liner, blusher. The supposed point of the story was to show how talented the boy is when of course the real point is to indoctrinate us into thinking that a boy “transgendering” himself is a “normal” activity. You picked up on the transgendered brainwashing that already has infected these parents. I’m sure they think they’re being very “progressive” in applauding the children’s more “fluid” view of sexuality.

  25. Legisperitus says:

    Just took a look at “Bless Me, Father”… If you’re in the US and have an all-region player, better get it from Amazon UK. It makes the difference between £9 and $99.99.

  26. John Grammaticus says:

    Just because Mouse templer is creeped out by a misunderstanding of taking confirmation names of the opposite sex, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it.

  27. Flos Carmeli says:

    MouseTemplar says:
    “We are just one year into homeschooling using the Seton program and I don’t think that’s enough time to develope the “personal puritanical and revolutionary mindset over the true good of the children” yet.”

    LOL! Yes, you’re probably still safe. I suppose I am a lost cause, though, having been subjected to 10 years of homeschooling myself, and now into the 5th year of homeschooling my own children. :-D

    Your further description of the event sheds light. It seems that it was not the choice of male names by female candidates per se, but the overall tone of the “liturgy” which made an otherwise innocent and laudable thing dark and weird. That is such a shame.

  28. PTK_70 says:

    There’s one more thing I want to say before this drops off the front page…..

    Granting, for the sake of argument, that acceptable is the practice of a male confirmand taking a female saint for a patroness (and vice versa: a girl taking a male saint for a patron), and further granting the acceptability of said male confirmand taking the name of his patroness as *part* of his full name, shall we go one step further and address the boy exclusively by the patroness’ name, be it Mary, Elizabeth or Catherine?

    If this latter practice is found acceptable, then what is to prevent Catholic parents from having their boy-child be baptized as “Mary” or “Elizabeth” or “Catherine”??? These parents can say, “We’re really devoted to St. Catherine, and we want our boy to model her faith and virtues. We therefore want Catherine as his patroness and want Catherine to be his baptismal name.”

    Put more simply, if a female confirmand may be named “Luke” (just “Luke,” not “Mary Luke”) at confirmation, why should she not be named “Luke” at her baptism?

  29. jaykay says:

    This makes me chuckle, in this, the 50th anniversary of my first Holy Communion, thinking of the nuns who educated me up to age 6: Reverend Mother Anthony, Sisters Francis Xavier, John Baptist and Laurence. All, of course, long-habited, veiled and wimpled. With big, stout, black shoes. We called them the Daleks (Dr.Who was in its early years then, and required viewing on late Saturday afternoons, b&w, of course- which only reinforced the image). Bad little boys were certainly exterminated. Promptly, and without appeal. Girls had it easier… but not much.

  30. Alice says:

    As far as I know there is no rule saying that a girl can’t be baptized Luke or that a boy can’t be baptized Mary, Elizabeth, or Catherine. While the Baptismal name is normally a person’s legal name, that’s not required either. I know several people with non-Christian legal names who have the names of saints (not necessarily of their own gender) for their Baptismal names. If it were up to me, parents would be required make the name match the gender of the child and Anglicize it (or at least pronounce it correctly), but as far as I know, there’s nothing requiring me to name my son Mario John instead of Maria Gianna (pronounced MaRYEuh GEEana) if I want to name him after the Mother of God and he’s born on the feast of St. Gianna Molla. Nothing, of course, except good taste.

  31. PTK_70 says:

    @Alice…..Rules or no rules, I am trying to highlight what appears to me to be a disconnect in praxis, namely, using feminine names (exclusively) for our infant daughters at baptism but using masculine names (commonly) for our daughters at confirmation. If a girl named “Mary” at her baptism later develops an affinity for St. Luke and wishes him to be her patron saint at confirmation, let her be addressed as “Mary Luke.” This not only sidesteps the gender-fluidity craziness going on but also has the salutary effect of tying together the child’s baptism and confirmation.

    Come to think of it, I would have all confirmands addressed by their baptismal names, followed by the name of their patron saint (if one has been chosen/assigned), regardless of the sex of the child or the gender of the names.

  32. Elizium23 says:

    My Confirmation patroness is Katherine of Alexandria, which was quite shocking, because she had been removed from the General Roman Calendar in 1969. The year following my Confirmation, she was restored to her rightful place on November 25.

    There is no such thing as a coincidence.

  33. Imrahil says:

    What amenamen said.

    That said, if someone wants to go for Theresus or Edithus or Katharinus or Magdalenus, go for it. It’s not traditional, but why not.

    That said, “Sr. George” seems to be a peculiarly anglophone thing. She would normally be called Sr. Georgina – even with St. George as patron saint. Which is why St. Frances Xavier Cabrini was called as she was – not “Francis”, that is.

    Also, “Mary” is in fact the only example of a female name taken by a man – and only as a second or last of more than one name (which would work out for a Confirmation nme, though).

  34. Imrahil says:

    The female version of “Luke” is, I guess, “Lucana”. At least the adjective “Lukan” does exist (the lucan Gospel), so why not put it into the feminine form if the name does not allow of a direct femininization.

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