A hint of personality

Behind the scenes, the NEHGS web team is hard at work preparing the searchable version of our Roman Catholic Archdiocese records. As part of that process, our volunteers create spreadsheets that associate information with a specific image file. I proofread these spreadsheets as part of our quality control process.

I’ve recently encountered some confirmation records and was intrigued by their potential value to genealogists. Most confirmation records do not contain parents’ names – they usually just consist of a last name, first name, date, and maybe a sponsor. Many of the confirmands also have a confirmation name recorded. In Catholic tradition, confirmation names were a way to honor a saint that you might feel close to, admire, or want to emulate. While I doubt many genealogical facts can be proven by confirmation names, they can be a small window into the personality of your ancestor. Why did they choose that specific saint? Did they find meaning in whatever that saint might be the patron of?

In Catholic tradition, confirmation names were a way to honor a saint that you might feel close to, admire, or want to emulate.

In two non-historical examples, my childhood friend’s confirmation name is Cecilia, which she chose because St. Cecilia is the patron of music, and my friend is very musically talented. I’ve always liked St. Claire, whose feast day is my birthday.

As I was proofreading, a few of the more unusually named saints caught my eye – as the proofreader, I’m always looking out to make sure what is written in the spreadsheet matches what is written on the page. I encountered the following confirmation names adopted by confirmands of Immaculate Conception in Boston between 1860 and 1900.

St. Pulcheria was a Byzantine empress who was deeply involved in ecclesiastical councils. She was a strong political and religious leader. Perhaps Isabella Rocher admired Pulcheria’s leadership abilities and commitment to keeping her vows.

St. Thecla was an early saint who was inspired to Christianity by St. Paul. She was very committed to her vow of chastity. She miraculously survived multiple attempts to make her a martyr. While stories about her life vary a little, she seems to have been very learned and she became a healer. Sarah Foley may have admired her bravery in the face of wild beasts, her devotion to God, her scholarship, or her medical propensity.

Perhaps Isabella Rocher admired Pulcheria’s leadership abilities…

St. John Berchmans was a Jesuit scholar who studied philosophy. He is the patron saint of altar servers.  Accounts of his life extol how he melded spirituality with ordinary aspects of everyday life. Maybe Theodore Tobin or William Harahan were altar servers, or maybe they respected St. John Berchmans’s quotidian connection with God.

St. Alphonsus was an Italian lawyer who in the 1700s who became a priest and eventually a bishop. He was known for ministering to the poor and preaching plainspoken sermons that could be understood by all. He wrote many theological treatises as well as hymns. Six young men from Immaculate Conception took St. Alphonsus’s name, perhaps inspired by his clear oratory, musical talent, or devotion to the underprivileged.

Subscribe to our Database News blog to be updated on when this searchable collection will be live; we’re anticipating we’ll be able to launch it soon! We’re excited for researchers to have the chance to search this collection themselves.

About Molly Rogers

Molly is from York, PA. She studied English and French at Colby College in Maine and has a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from Simmons College. She enjoys many outdoor pursuits such as whitewater kayaking, mountain biking and cross-country skiing and has a few indoor hobbies like reading, knitting and creating a genealogy website for her grandmother’s family.

9 thoughts on “A hint of personality

  1. Is it possible that Immaculate Conception parish was in the custody of the Redemptorist Order? If so, St. Alphonsus founded the Redemptorists and that could also explain the choice of his name for confirmation for boys in that parish.

    1. Hi Edward,

      To learn about the history of the parishes, we’ve been using a book called One Hundred Years of Progress, which was published by the diocese upon its centennial anniversary. It looks like Immaculate Conception was founded by the Jesuits as part of Boston College (at its original location in the South End). Here (https://archive.org/stream/onehundredyearso00bost#page/200/mode/2up) you can read about it, with the section talking specifically about Immaculate Conception starting on page 204.

  2. Thanks so much for this! I always enjoy reading about the saints since my grandmother signed me up for the saints book of the month club in second grade. I will have to check and see if there are any confirmation records coming up for my ancestors parishes.

  3. In our family, it was a tradition for a young person to take the name of a saint who was tied to the name of the confirmation sponsor. My own confirmation name was St. Lucy which was as close as we could come to my Aunt Lucille’s name.

  4. My confirmation name(s) was Marie Cecilia, this was the name of my grandmother cousin Mary who had died shortly after their confirmation at age 13, the same age as I was at Confirnation.

  5. My confirmation name was Collette. I definitely chose it because of my ancestors. It. combined the letters of my grandparents names, Colin and Helena. Colin was a Scottish name recalling St. Columb a saint of the Gaels, and Helena, the was mother of St. Augustine.

  6. Now that I think about it, I wanted to take the name Thomas, I was very impressed with St Thomas More and A Man for All Seasons. It was not approved so I tried for Michael but settled for Michelle

  7. St. Alphonsus doesn’t seem unusual to me – a Roman Catholic school opened in 1873 in Glens Falls, NY. In 1908 St. Alphonsus became the school and parish for those who spoke French, and St. Mary’s was for English speakers. They merged in in 1990s.

  8. So many stories exist for confirmation names. Mine was Marie for my aunt, who was my sponsor and personal hero. Building on the advice to write our stories, I have to say that only the confirmand knows why a name was chosen. I have a friend who feminized her boyfriend’s middle name for her confirmation name. This story will disappear as we do, but it is a wonderful tribute to young romance.

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