On Naming


 ST I, Q. 94, Art. 3, s.c.

On the contrary, Man named the animals (Genesis 2:20). But names should be adapted to the nature of things. Therefore Adam knew the animals’ natures; and in like manner he was possessed of the knowledge of all other things.”

This sed contra appears in the Summa in St. Thomas’ discussion of the prelapsarian knowledge of Adam and Eve.  That really doesn’t matter all that much here, except insofar as it gives us a window into how St. Thomas views certain types of names and the act of naming.  The gist of the above quote is that Adam was capable of properly naming each animal in the Garden of Eden according to his perfect knowledge of that animal’s nature.  So in a perfect state, we would be able to know the nature of all animals and call them such.*

This isn’t unlike God’s perfect knowledge of us. Recall the words of Psalm 139 or the beginning of the book of the Prophet Jeremiah:

The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jer 1:4-5)

  Or think about our Gospel reading from last Sunday on the Solemnity of SS Peter and Paul:

[Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”Simon Peter said in reply,“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.And so I say to you, you are Peter,and upon this rock I will build my Church.

When Simon [Peter] is able to correctly identify Jesus for WHO HE IS (that is, the Son of the living God), Jesus turns around and responds in kind:  “You are Peter.”  To be the rock of the Church is Simon Peter’s “nature,” so to speak.  It is his vocation and his special role to play in salvation history.  We see this so many times in the Old Testament: Abram becomes Abraham, Jacob becomes Israel.  These names mean something because they tell us about the nature of the person who holds that name.  The name has been given by God in His perfect knowledge of His creatures and therefore should not be taken lightly.

This is why the naming of children is so important– in an imperfect way, we name our children according to what little of their nature we can perceive (‘boy’ or ‘girl’ is a good starting point) and what we desire for them.  When a Catholic gives their daughter the name “Mary,” this isn’t just because we like the name.  Rather, it should signify that we wish Mary to watch over this child, to guide her and in the best case, for that child to imitate the virtues of Mary to the best of their ability.

So what does this have to do with you?

Well, this is how I chose to approach my discernment on choosing a Dominican name (see my previous post if you missed the preliminary discussion!)  I was certain that I would choose “Thomas” as my second name because of my connection with him through prayer and study, but I was still uncertain about a first name (why choose just one if you can have more, right?).  At first, I was entirely set on Cecilia, but after making that decision I still didn’t feel ‘settled’ in the way one wants to with these sorts of decisions. You can read the previous post for more name options, but after a lot of deliberation I finally settled on “Zelie Thomas.”

…But I really didn’t. I submitted the name to my chapter president only to change it because a certain someone kept nagging at me to take her name instead. So I did. Officially.

She’s not a Dominican.
            She’s not a scholar in any technical sense.
                       She doesn’t bear a family name.

 But wow is she awesome. 
Queen Saint Margaret of Scotland!
Reformer of the Scottish Church, 
Mother of eight children, 
Exiled princess of England, 
Devoted reader of the Gospels, 
Friend of the poor and orphans, 
Intercessor for prisoners of war, 
Help of pilgrims,
Skilled craftswoman, 
Clever and just judge, 
Loving wife. 
And so that’s my name: Zelie Margaret. 

I still have a long way to go in terms of understanding what this name means for me, why the Holy Spirit guided me this way (because I do believe that is the case) and what challenges and responsibilities await the new Mrs. Zelie Margaret Valenzuela, OP.  But that’s the fun part, isn’t it? 🙂 

I’ll ask again because it’s fun: what religious name would you choose? 

Or what confirmation name did you choose? Why? 

Which saints have guided you in your life? Have any of them been surprises? 

* Umm, that’s an awesome super-power. 


One comment

  1. Names – I have always loved names – what they mean – how they sound. I have grown up loving the fact that my name means pure battle maiden who is royally brave and I have tried to live up to it but I know that I have failed at times. Right now, I feel very, very close to St. Helena – I don't even remember how I found her. I feel as though I am following in her footsteps – trying to find the true cross of Jesus.


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