August is “name day month” in my home, because all of my children have patron saints whose feast days fall in the month of August: Lydia (August 3), Dominic (August 8), Claire (August 11), and Aidan (August 31). Years ago, when I began researching ways to bring Catholic culture into my home, celebrating name days was one of the first things we did together. Until then, I was completely clueless that all my children had the same name day month!
If you’re not sure of the date of your child’s name day, American Catholic has a great calendar that you can search. But, hold on. If your child’s has a name day, it means you actually went to the trouble of naming him or her after a saint. Thank you! Naming children after saints or biblical figures is like naming them after our parents or revered ancestors: it honors the saint and gives our child a link to his heritage. Even more, a patron saint has a special connection with our child; I think patron saints help us raise our children. Finally, giving our a child a saint’s name affirms our belief in the communion of saints.
So, what’s not to celebrate?!
Creating a tradition of celebrating a child’s patron saint not only provides an opportunity to teach our kids a thing or two about a great soul, but we also show them the delight of our Faith. And, of course, as we gather together for these celebrations, we are strengthening our family bonds and the Catholic identity of our family.
Here are a few tips for celebrating your child’s name day:
Start with Simple and Symbolic
You don’t have to create a replica of your child’s name saint out of a cake and garden flowers in order to do something special on her name day! Keep it simple and realistic.
Every saint has a story and particular symbols associated with them. You can draw on those symbols and use them in your celebration. For example, St. Lydia was a seller of purple cloth, so we always use a purple table cloth in Lydia’s name day celebration. She is also known for her hospitality to the early Christians, so we have a tea party and practice our best hospitality. St. Dominic is credited with spreading the practice of praying the rosary, so we try to incorporate the rosary into our observance. St. Dominic is also associated with oranges because he planted the first orange tree at Santa Sabine (where an orange tree still grows which descends from Dominic’s tree), so we always have breakfast with orange juice in honor of St. Dominic. Incorporating these details into our name day celebrations gives them some depth and helps my kids remember little details about their patron saint.
Start with one symbol, and the ideas will flow. In fact, if you do a Pinterest search on your child’s saint and you will be flooded with ideas! Depending on your child’s age and interests, you can incorporate crafts, hikes, pilgrimages, etc. The important thing is be realistic about what you can do every year, because you are creating a family tradition that your children can count on and grow up with.
If you can, get a prayer card of the saint and pray the saint’s prayer at your celebration. If you don’t have a special prayer card for your child’s saint, you can do what I do for St. Lydia: I just print out an image of her icon and we pray this general name saint prayer which I found in Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers:
God of glory, whom we name in many ways, when we brought this child to your Church we were asked, “What name do you give this child?” We answered, “[child’s name].” May St. [saint’s name] ever pray for him/her, may he/she guard him/her so that [child’s name] may overcome evil and come at last to that place where his/her name is written in the book of life. We ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen.
You can also read a story about the saint from an age-appropriate book so your child begins to know the story of her special saint. I display the child’s saint’s image on our family altar and near the child’s plate at our celebration and/or at dinner.
After you get going, you might end up creating the cake replica of the saint after all.
Name Days for Big Kids
When kids are little, name days feel like little birthdays to them. They love the attention, goodies, and fun. This is okay and entirely normal. But as kids mature, we can remind them of the deeper significance of their name day. Giving our child a biography of her saint can give her insights into the saint’s whole story, particular gifts, and holiness so that she has somebody to look up to as she grows up. Attending Mass together as a family and asking for our priest’s blessing over the child would be wonderful.
In the teen years, perhaps we can inspire or lead our kids to do kind acts for others on their name day, so that we transition away from the “what do I get today” toward a “how can I serve you God” mentality. This can be done even in the context of our name day celebration. The child can help prepare food or create special favors for his siblings or guests.
When Your Child Doesn’t Have a Name Saint
If your child isn’t named after a saint, you aren’t a negligent crumb! You can always adopt a patron saint for your child. Perhaps you can choose a saint with a name close to your child’s name or whose story especially inspires her or you. And don’t forget that your child will choose a saint’s name at Confirmation. You can begin talking to her about that wonderful tradition very early. There’s no St. Kim, but I took the Confirmation name “Therese” after the Little Flower.
I’m off to make pancakes and fresh orange juice for the Feast of St. Dominic!