What is the purpose of a confirmation name?
We read in the Sacred Scriptures how God sometimes changes the name of a person. For example, the Lord said to Abram, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations” (Genesis 17:4-5). Similarly, Christ Jesus said to Simon, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jona [Son of Jonah]! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:17-18). If we consider the various times God changes a person’s name, we find a commonality: Whenever he changes a name, it is because God has given that person a mission.
When a Christian receives the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of confirmation, he or she is “more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed” (Lumen gentium, 11). While this is not a new mission for the baptized, those who are anointed with the sacred chrism “share more completely in the mission of Jesus Christ” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1294). So, it became customary for those preparing for confirmation to choose what we commonly call a confirmation name. While not required by the Catholic Church, choosing such a name is a laudable practice and is commonly done in the dioceses of the United States of America.
Some time ago, it became somewhat usual to choose a confirmation name because it was the name that a grandparent had, but this was never the idea behind the choosing of a name. Rather, because the one to be confirmed will be sent out “to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross,” the idea is to choose the name of a saint who can help fulfill this mission (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1303). Sometimes, we choose the saint because of his or her patronage, because of the name itself, because of a common personality, or because of his or her story. Sometimes, though, it also seems a saint, as it were, chooses us. Whatever the case, choosing the name of saint is a way of placing oneself under the patronage of this particular friend of God, of seeking to imitate this person who imitated Christ, and of seeking the prayers and guidance of this saint (cf. I Corinthians 11:1).
Father Daren Zehnle, JCL, KCHS, is pastor at St. Augustine Parish in Ashland and St. Peter Parish in Petersburg, director of the Office for Divine Worship and the Catechumenate, and judge in the diocesan Tribunal.