What’s in your name?

As a child of God, where did your name come from? Is it a family name, a name that inspired your parents, a saint’s name, or a name they made up?

My name fits the first three categories.

My middle name, Helen, is a family name, the first name of my mother and her mother. It’s fitting because I’m the only child who looks like my mother. When I was born in my grandmother’s home, she took care of me while my mother dealt with the illness of my 18-month-old-sister. My grandmother and I bonded more closely than my mother and I.

After I converted to Catholicism, I read stories about  St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine the Great. She promoted Christianity by building churches throughout the Roman Empire and on the holy sites in Israel. She is the patron saint of difficult marriages and divorced people because her husband divorced her for someone with better political connections. Her feast day is August 18. Helen means “light” and other forms of the name are Helena, Eleanor, Leanore, Lenore, Lenora, Lee, Leora, Nell, Nellie and Nelly. So I have a  St. Helen in heaven, not counting my mother and grandmother.


Mom liked the name Nancy, thinking she was bringing a new name into the family. Nancy is a form of Ann, and St. Ann, the grandmother of Jesus, is one saint I easily relate to because of my love for my grandmother.  St. Ann’s feast is July 26. Other forms of Nancy are Nan, Nanette, Anne, Anita, Anna, Annabel, Annabella, Annette and Hannah. Nancy means “grace,” a share in God’s life and love and presence. How special is that?

When I was in my 20s, my grandmother’s cousin, Bird Walker (now there’s a name story!) investigated the family genealogy. Bird discovered a woman named Nancy married into the family several generations ago. Bird couldn’t find any details about Nancy’s children, if she had any. But the most interesting fact about this ancestor named Nancy was that she was the only known Catholic in our Protestant family. Did Mother receive some heavenly inspiration in selecting my name? It makes me wonder.

Now I have a granddaughter named Nancy Rose Ward, a cradle Catholic who is growing into a devout young woman of God. I was present at her birth, so we bonded from the start, like my grandmother and I.

A few years ago I told Nancy Rose the story of the ancient Catholic Nancy, the one Mother didn’t know she named me for. My namesake was excited about the legacy of her name. We agreed that we have a saint Nancy looking after us.

What heritage is in your name? Check out the meaning behind your name at Girlsnames.htm  or Boysnames.htm. Celebrate the feast day of your patron saint as your own.

(© 2014 Nancy H C Ward)

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About Nancy Ward

Nancy HC Ward is a journalist, author, and speaker who blogs about Catholicism, her conversion, and Christian community at JoyAlive.net,
 7 websites and 7 magazines. She loves to share her faith story and help others share theirs through her Sharing Your Faith Stories seminars, also available on DVD. She contributed four chapters to The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion. She facilitates the Dallas/Fort Worth Catholic Writers and a critique group for the Catholic Writers Guild, where she serves as a board member.
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5 Responses to What’s in your name?

  1. Nancy says:

    I’m Nancy Helen too 🙂 ! Actually, that’s my Baptismal name, as the priest baptizing me refused to do so (then in Latin) by calling me “Anna Anna.” Having a birth certificate with one name and a Baptismal certificate with another made for years of confusion in Catholic school!

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