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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Boy Girl Boy Girl

Now, I have a question. My daughter and I are being received into the Church very soon, and since we were both already baptized in a protestant church we can take a baptismal name when we enter (we live in Japan, and names are taken at baptism here, rather than confirmation). She is an artist and a big animal lover. Would it be alright for her to take St. Francis of Assisi or St. Luke even though she is a girl? And, of course, we would love to hear if you have any other suggestions!

Thank you!

Yes, it's fine.

Your question certainly got me to thinking, though. I was just going to point out to you that there are many nuns, our own Sister St. Aloysius among them, who have taken or been given male saints names. If it's alright for them, it's clearly alright for her.

But I was trying to think of some examples of nuns I knew with male saint names, like Sister Mary Ignatius or Mother Frances Cabrini, whose full name was Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, and I ended up with more questions than answers.

For example,  Mother Cabrini was named after Francis Xavier, but why change to the female spelling of Francis?

Then I remembered nuns whose names I have always taken for granted that they were named after some obscure saint of which I had never heard and just never gave the matter another thought. Sister Mary Arthen?  Who is Arthen?  It wasn't her last name. I distinctly remember her telling me that she was so thrilled to have a new name when she became a nun. Back then nuns were being allowed to return to their actual names if they chose.  Sister Arthen remained ever Sister Arthen because her name had been Flossie.

Florence, no doubt, but everyone had always called her Flossie and she was happy to  unyoke herself from the name of a famous cow.  But Arthen? I never asked her where that came from. There is no Saint Arthen. And even more disturbing, the word "arthen" is a Welsh  mythological creature, a river god bear. Better than a cow, I suppose.

Or Sister Mary Marillia.  Never thought about where she got her name, although it recalling her name brought forth a flood of memories.

Let's step aside for a moment, us old people, and talk among ourselves. These young folks have only ever met lovely, sweet Kumbaya nuns, and good for them. But we know better, don't we?  We had nuns that could wither you with a glance, because you knew behind that glance was a ruler with a metal edge that might soon find the palm of your hands or worse, your knuckles.  She might make you stand in the corner, put your nose in a circle on the blackboard or kneel on dried peas in the cloak room.  She might just put you in the cloak room, period, where eventually the coats all looked like ghosts or dead people hanging there in the dark.

Sister Marillia was the poster nun for this type. She looked the part, tiny old and shrivelled, her chin and nose hooking together like a wrinkled old witch. You would have been afraid of her even if you had never heard of her reputation.And what a reputation it was. At the beginning of the school year, when we would eagerly line up to read the room rosters to see "who you got this year", every incoming fifth grader was holding their breath in the clutches of fear of the worst case scenario.  One by one we heard the whispered fear when the verdict was read aloud: "Marillia."  "Oh! Marillia."

I survived my year with Sister Marillia somehow. But there were many frightening days. Many close calls and near misses. Shock and awe.  Once, there was a particularly homely boy who slid up to her desk with his $2.00 for his school photos that year.  She said to him, "You mean your parents are going to pay $2.00 for a picture of that mug?"

Kum Ba Ya.

Right, old people?

For some reason that seems to be acceptable to all for which there is no actual explanation, it's fine for woman to take male saints names, but utterly unacceptable for men to take women saints names.  You'll never meet Father Lucy.  It just doesn't happen.

I have my own theory about that, although I find it a bit sad.  There are many ways to insult women. And while there are also many ways to insult men, there is only one sure-fire way: insinuate in some fashion that he has feminine qualities. Sissy, "you throw like a girl", etc.

That's a bit sad to me, that the worse thing I can say about a man is that he is something like me.

As long as he isn't like Sister Marillia........


Anonymous Guy said...

I've actually had a similar question, but since I'm a guy I've been much more hesitant to bring it up. I'm in the RCIA process right now and have been thinking about a confirmation name for a while, but the only saints that have really resonated with me have been female. As a protestant, I was very much drawn to the life and work of Bl. Mother Teresa, and now I find myself fascinated with St. Teresa of Avila as well. I'd pick Teresa in a heartbeat if there weren't a weirdness about a guy picking a girl's name. I'd just like to get your take on that, and if you could think of another male saint whose work closely mirrored that of Bl. Mother Teresa, I'd be happy to hear about it.


JACK said...

Dear Sister -
I would be the LAST person to ever suggest a Sister was wrong (that whole ruler thing brings flashbacks), but let's just say that maybe you hadn't gotten the news yet.

There are, in fact, male religious who take female names. A prime example are the Monks of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel (http://www.carmelitemonks.org) who take the name "Mary" in honor of our Blessed Mother. Fr. Daniel Mary of Jesus Crucified is the prior.

Something tells me that this group of guys, braving Wyoming winters in sandals, shaved heads and robes are not a bunch of sissies. They probably don't give a hoot about what we think of their names.

Anyway, there's probably other out there too. Meanwhile, I'll go out back and kneel on those peas for a while. Thanks!

dre said...

After teaching confirmation class to tenth graders for many years, I have lots of interesting stories about choosing saints' names. Here's one of my favorite moments:

A young man by the name of Sam inquired of me, "Can I choose a woman's name for my confirmation name? There's one saint that fits me perfectly, but she's a woman. So, can I do that?"

I had to ask...."Who is this saint and why does she fit you so perfectly, Sam?"

"She's the patron saint of hopeless causes...St. Jude."

I was able to give Sam the happy news that he could choose St. Jude without compromising his masculine name in any way...and I agreed that St. Jude suited him perfectly! LOL

Sue said...

Thanks so much, Sister! For answering, and for the laughs. I think she has settled on St. Luke. We recently watched Nun's Story, and I think that's where she got the idea in the first place. Anyway, in Japanese Luke is Luka, which sounds a little more feminine...

And, commenting on what Jack said, I have heard of priests with the name Mary, but I have never heard any other female name. On the other hand, I won't officially be Catholic for another three days yet, so what do I know? ;0)

Stella Orientis said...

Thanks again for a wonderful post, sister. I'm only 25 (next week!) but it's always great to hear the reminiscences of the venerable of age.

I thought I should point out that the tradition of male religious taking the name of the Blessed Virgin is a lot older and more widespread than the monks of Wyoming. St Jean Marie Vianney for instance wasn't even a religious, he was an ordinary diocesan priest. That said, I don't think men religious generally take the name of any other female saint.

As for Japan, the practice of taking a new name at baptism is actually because most of their baptisms (until recent decades) were for adults, and therefore also confirmations. Since baptism (as the moment someone goes from being a pagan to a Christian) is the most memorable of the three sacraments received, people associated the new name with it rather than confirmation.

Luke is also Luca in Latin, the language from which they took their transliterations (such as "Yohane" for John).

Anonymous said...

I had a Sister Marilla for music classes. She was kind, sweet, and brilliant! We used to call her Sister "Mi Re La" because she taught us solfege (do, re, mi, etc.)

I'm sure she's still alive, and working wonders with the music students at a wonderful Catholic College in Wisconsin (run by Franciscan Sisters).

Catholic School Teacher

Donna. W said...

I love the way you think.

Catherine said...

I know a husband and wife who, when received into the Church together, both chose Therese as their confirmation name! And I'm a woman who chose Jude as my confirmation name. I also have female friends who have chosen Francis and Michael. Yes, it's far less common for a man to choose a female name than vice-versa, but the man of the Therese couple is an example for you.

rick allen said...

A layman also comes to mind, the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, whose mother was, I understand, a very devout Catholic.

Tracy said...

i had a Pastor in Brazil who once married a Maria Jose to a Jose Maria...

Claudia said...

I do remember those days. Thinking about my brother, who has learning disabilities, I remember a mean nun telling my mother at conference "Once a sparrow, always a sparrow" This was in the early fifties.

I can only imagine how special education would have helped him today. He has always been employed and a lower level job, but at least he is self supporting and paying taxes.

JP said...

Our son was born on the date of Blessed Angela Merici.

His middle name is Merici. We weren't going to be so cruel as to call him Angela.

Funny thing though (and I just thought of this now), when we were overseas, the locals kept looking at him and saying "angeli"! because of his curly blond hair!

Nan said...

The first time I went to daily Mass when it wasn't a holy day of obligation was on the memorial for St. Pius X, so I didn't have far to look the next spring when I needed a confirmation name; since I'm female, I needed clarification and learned that I needed a saint with no requirement that the saints gender and mine matched.

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to be disrespectful, but I think that a man taking a woman's name is rather odd. It's probably more to do with time and customs in our society, but we have to admit this much: when we see a woman in jeans at the local supermarket, we wouldn't give it a second though. But if we saw a man wearing a dress...
50-60 years ago, it would have been more unusual to see a woman in jeans. 100 years ago, she would have been thought of as a rebel. Times will change, but until they do, why not stick with male saints for the guys, and female saints for the girls? When we keep 'pushing the envelope' we often find unintended consequences. Just my 2 cents!

mph said...

Anonymous, I agree about the way things are, but the only reason things did change in regard to womens clothes is because women wore jeans despite peoples attitudes towards it. I'm not saying all change is good or all change is bad for that matter, just that if noone dares go against the norm, nothing will ever change.

e.d. said...

Had to laugh because the president of my college was named Father Lucey. (Last name, though, not first name.)

Anonymous said...

The senior cashier at the thrift store where I worked in high school was Sister Jeremy, fondly known as Sister J by her largely Protestant or atheist coworkers. I (also a Protestant) had always wondered how in the world a girl got named Jeremy and had never thought of religious names!

Dylan said...

Dear Sister Mary Martha.
I was wondering about a particular Saint. St Gottschalk. I understand he's the patron of linguists and translators, Linguistics being a hobby of mine. I was wondering why he was the patron of those particular things. I actually guessed Ss. Cyril and Methodius would be patron of linguists, after all, they created an alphabet.
Thank you, Dylan.

Anonymous said...

mph - my point exactly. What, exactly, have we gained from women going against the norm? Planned Parenthood - NOW - abortion - rampant lesbianism - women priests - disobedient nuns/sisters that are so far from the norms of the church that there had to be a visitation - those are just a handful of the uninteded consequences of what started as Women's suffrage (a good thing) and equal pay for equal work. Weeds start out as tiny little plants that look so similar to the plant it will one day strangle.

e.d. said...

Sister, I, too, have thought about gendered insults. When boys and young men want to hurt each other, they always try to insinuate that the other boy isn't masculine enough.

I think that women do the same thing, but in a roundabout way. Women will insult each other's appearances-- "she's fat" for instance. And when women are mostly prized for their physical appearance, calling a girl fat is, in a way, calling her unfeminine. That's my theory, anyway.