Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Pontifical Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: It is customary for children in my country who are preparing to receive the sacrament of confirmation to take the name of a saint whom they wish to have as a patron. I cannot find any liturgical directive regarding this, though it seems to be the established practice to use such chosen names when pronouncing the sacramental formula for the children. Is there some official liturgical recognition of this practice or is it just an established custom? Regarding the taking of a saint’s name, would it be permissible for a child to take the name of someone beatified (such as the recently beatified Carlo Acutis), or even someone proclaimed venerable or a Servant of God? A question often asked by primary school students preparing for confirmation is whether a full list of the Church’s canonized saints has ever been produced? My understanding is that the Martyrology only contains a sample and is not meant to be exhaustive. — J.D., Wagga Wagga, Australia
The use of confirmation names is not a universal custom nor an official part of the preparation for confirmation. It would appear to have begun in the United Kingdom and is common in English-speaking countries, Germany and Poland.
In recent years some dioceses have discouraged the custom while others have continued to recommend it. One diocese offers the following recommendations for those preparing for confirmation:
“1. Stay with your present Baptismal name (your regular first or middle name). If your baptismal name is that of a recognized saint of the Church, there is no need to select a new name for Confirmation. Using your baptismal name for Confirmation is preferred because it highlights the relationship between the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. To stay with your baptismal name would demonstrate that you feel there has been a continual growth in your faith and you now wish to make this formal through Confirmation. You should honor this saint through prayer and imitation.
“2. Pick a saint’s name that would symbolize a new beginning in your faith life and a connection with that particular saint. This would be especially true if you feel that you have not been particularly strong in your faith and are now making a renewed commitment to your faith. Your commitment would be symbolized with the taking of a new name to show that you are, in some ways, now a new person. This new name would be used after your present middle name and before your family name. The particular saint’s name chosen would represent the direction you feel your faith-life is taking or would represent a strength or attribute you feel you need. It is important and necessary to learn something about the saint you choose before you decide on that name. The option of taking a new name is not to be used because you like the sound of the name, how it fits with your other names, or because it is the name of a nice friend or relative. You should honor this saint through prayer and imitation.”
A resource for choosing confirmation names offers a different perspective:
“Perhaps a confirmation name is best thought of as a name that God – and only God – calls you by. It is not a name that other people call you by, like a baptismal name. Ideally, a confirmation name should be the name of a saint whom you know something about, or who inspires you, or whose virtues you want to imitate. It is the name of a saint who will accompany you through life.”
It is usually recommended to candidates for confirmation that they research names of saints and that they pray to find one that fits their personality and will guide them as they seek a closer relationship with God.
With respect to what names may be chosen, the general custom is to choose a saint’s name. Any saint or blessed may be chosen as may holy figures from the Old Testament.
Another diocese offers the following practical advice:
“Candidates may use their baptismal name or another Christian name when receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation.
“A Christian name would be the name of a saint or blessed.
“Derivatives of names (Kelly for Catherine; Jenna for Genevieve) or Old Testament names are also appropriate.
“Candidates may use their first or second names if they are Christian names, or they may select a new Christian name.
“The candidate should know the relationship of the name to the religious Christian tradition.
“Exceptions can be made if a particular non-Christian or family name has significant meaning for a candidate that can be articulated to the bishop.
“Most importantly, candidates should be encouraged to learn about their patron as part of their preparation for the sacrament and should particularly focus on the virtues of their patron they wish to emulate.”
The confirmation name is imposed by the bishop during confirmation and customarily becomes a part of the candidate’s full name, coming after the first and middle names and before the surname.
In most civil jurisdictions the confirmation name will not be automatically added to the name hitherto used for legal purposes.
The Roman Martyrology strives to be as complete as reasonably possible. However, it does not claim to have all the saints, not even all those who have been recognized in ancient times. Thus, the latest printing, from 2004, has about 7,000 saints.
Saints and the blessed who have been recognized since that time have yet to be included in the list, although they may be chosen as confirmation names. This includes the 45 saints canonized by Pope Benedict XVI and the 898 saints canonized so far by Pope Francis (813 of them, the martyrs of Otranto, were canonized in a single ceremony).
In fact, the martyrs of Otranto are an example of why it is practically impossible to have an exhaustive list of saint’s names. The witness and the relics of these 813 martyred on August 14, 1480, is recorded. However, most of their names have not been transmitted.