In mid-January, newspapers announced that Pope Benedict XVI had "declared war" on baby name trends, "railing" against secular, celebrity-inspired names. The key quote: "Do not give your children names that are not in the Christian calendar." As is often the case, the pope said no such thing and spoke simply on baptism as a sign of new birth in the church. But the discussion was launched anyway: Does giving your child a biblical name enhance the child's spiritual development? Does it matter what we name our children?

The Science of Names

A series of psychological studies have found that names do matter: we subconsciously stereotype and form expectations of our peers and co-workers based on their first names. "I wouldn't overestimate the impact of names, but [they] are an important part of first impressions," Ohio University's James Bruning said about one of his many reports. He noted that parents often indirectly choose names for their children that reflect expectations that are reinforced throughout the child's development.

But a 2004 study in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion found that "religious commitment is unrelated to [parents'] selection of prominent biblical names." Biblical names are no more common among frequent church attendees, for example, than among infrequent attendees.

Nor are they significantly more common among evangelicals than among mainliners or Catholics.

Do Names Form Children's Spirituality?

"Naming can have considerable significance when the parents and the church are intentional about what that name conveys, and celebrate it regularly. There's something powerful when someone knows your name, which is why we must take time to learn them."

"Biblical names or names from Christian tradition ...

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March 2011

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