What’s in a name? A lot, according to the pope.

On Sunday, as he baptized 21 infants in the Sistine Chapel, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged parents to give their children Christian names. He said this was “an unequivocal sign that the Holy Spirit gives a rebirth to people in the womb of the Church.”

The Italian media then warned parents about not using names from the Bible, even though the vast majority of Italians still choose saints’ name for their children.

The further west you go from Italy, however, the more unusual names tend to get, and it’s been this way for some time, according to Canada’s National Post:

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It’s a different story in Canada, the United States and Australia, where parents are more likely to give their children unique names compared with their European counterparts in Denmark, Austria and the U.K., a new study in the journal Psychological Science found.

Researchers theorized that frontier countries such as Canada were founded on a need for independence from the old world and while the frontier spirit may have faded from contemporary Canadian culture, our penchant for unusual names has only grown stronger as the Canadian identity has matured. Provinces that were settled more recently, such as Alberta and B.C., were more likely to give their children uncommon names compared with Eastern provinces, which were settled earlier.

“You’re not going West on a wagon anymore, but those values of individualism and independence are still reflected in the culture,” says study co-author Michael Varnum. “The message is that frontier settlement still has contemporary consequences.”

Some studies have shown that even common names can have significant implications. Certain careers or roles, for example, are associated with particular names. In one study, “Hank” was associated with the job of a plumber, while “Emma” sounded like a nurse.

Long-standing Christian cultures seem to have used Christian and Biblical names for infants, which goes hand in hand with naming children after parents and ancestors. In my family, traditional names were often given as middle names.

Parents are always forced to choose whether they should give a child a name so they can fit in, or one that makes him stand out. (You can guess what my own parents chose.)


  • Zoe Romanowsky

    Zoe Romanowsky is writer, consultant, and coach. Her articles have appeared in “Catholic Digest,” “Faith & Family,” “National Catholic Register,” “Our Sunday Visitor,” “Urbanite,” “Baltimore Eats,” and Godspy.com. Zo

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