Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Catholic Activity: What is a Nameday?



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A wonderful explanation of the importance of a name and the practice of namedays.


God calls each one by name (Cf. Is 43:1; Jn 10:3). Everyone's name is sacred. The name is the icon of the person. It demands respect as a sign of the dignity of the one who bears it. (#2158, Catechism of the Catholic Church).

Importance of Names

Our name is part of the great mystery of our being. It somehow expresses to us and to others our essential uniqueness, even though the same name could well be shared by thousands of others. When we hear our name being called, it gives us an unaccountable thrill. We have sense of being known and accepted for who we really are. We are somehow compassed by our name and at the sound of it something deep within responds joyfully, "Yes, that's me!—that's who I am." Our name is, as it were, a bridge that provides linkage with 'other(s)' across the moats of distance that sometimes surround us.

When parents are asked why they chose the names they did for their children, they often say that although they had selected other names prior to the birth of their child, they inexplicably changed their minds after the babies were born. One new father told me he had searched through countless names during the long months of waiting for the arrival of his child, but none of the names seemed quite right. On the day he walked into the hospital ward to visit his wife and meet his newborn daughter, his wife handed him a book of names, and he recounts with some surprise that a name immediately 'jumped out' and 'spoke' to him, and he knew without a doubt this was the name he had been seeking. One might say that it's almost as if children bring their names with them and somehow transmit this knowledge to their parents.

Christians should not be surprised to learn that God, Himself, chooses our names. In the Old Testament we read:

Yahweh called me before I was born. From my mother's womb He pronounced my name.(Is 49:1).
God changed Abram's name to Abraham, his wife Sarai's name to Sarah and foretold a year in advance that Sarah would give birth to a son and that he was to be named Isaac (Gn 17).

In the New Testament, the Angel Gabriel twice brought messages that included names for babies not yet conceived; telling Zechariah that he must name the baby John (the Baptist), and telling Mary that she must call her Son, Jesus (Lk 1:13; Lk 1:31). We might be tempted to wonder what difference it would have made if Jesus or John had received other names. Yet, it seemed to be a matter of some importance to God. Our names, therefore, would appear to have an important that goes beyond just being stick-on labels for identification purposes.

What is a Nameday?

A Nameday is the feast day of our Patron Saint. This begets another question: Who is my Patron Saint? [The Church has honored some] men and women who have lived through the centuries in such a holy manner as to have been declared by the Church to be Saints or Blesseds. If we bear the name of one of these, this Saint is known as our Patron. Each Saint has been assigned a feast day by the Church. The feast day of your Patron Saint will be the day on which you celebrate your Nameday.

Nameday Tradition

For centuries it has been the custom in Catholic countries to celebrate Namedays even more than birthdays. This tradition is still very much alive in Europe and South America, and continued to flourish even during times when religious freedom was curtailed.

Immigrants to Canada and the United States from countries that observe Namedays are already carrying on the practice in North America in the same way they did while they were in the country of birth...

Celebrating Namedays

Socially, cards and small gifts of flowers or candies are usually given to those celebrating their Nameday. Spiritually, one would normally have a devotion to one's Patron Saint, and pray to them regularly, especially when in need. A Patron Saint, we can be sure, will be watching over those named in their honour, and will be protecting them in a special way.

Activity Source: Nameday Book, The: A Book of Saints, Names, Anniversaries and Celebrations by Compiled by Sister Theodora of the Trinity, Alba House, New York, 2000