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Pope Benedict and children's names: Britney doesn't have a prayer

January 12, 2011 | 12:30 pm

What's in a name? A lot, according to Pope Benedict XVI, who is inveighing against the practice of giving newborns names not suitable for launching them on a "journey of religious faith." The pope is calling for a return to the days when it was difficult for Catholic parents to use anything but "Lives of the Saints" as their baby-name book.

I remember those days. My sister Laurie was named Laurel after a character in a short story my mother was reading before giving birth. But when it came time for her baptism, the priest balked, complaining that Laurel wasn't a person; it was a plant. In an artful compromise, he baptized her by her middle name, Ann, followed by the pagan Laurel. I can only imagine his reaction if she had been named Lavender, Summer or Phoenix. Even an "Ann" wouldn't have saved the day.

Obviously the pope has a religious rationale for his anathematizing of novel names. In his statement, he said: "Every baptised child acquires the character of the son of God, beginning with their Christian name, an unmistakable sign that the Holy Spirit causes man to be born anew in the womb of the Church." But there is a secular payoff from the saint's-name rule: a protection against parents who otherwise would saddle their children with cringe-making monikers. After all (as far as I know), there's no St. Britney.

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 -- Michael McGough

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