Santa Chiara di Assisi
Part of the idea for this post came from a keyward search that brought a visitor to my blog: "saint Chiara". After reading this and laughing out loud, I remembered that I had been wanting to do a post on naming, and that saints' names were part of it. So today, in anticipation of the feast day of Santa Chiara di Assissi, on August 11, I will first speak of her, and then more generally of naming practices and celebrations across cultures and how they might impact mixed culture families, whether they are bi-cultural, interfaith, or bilingual, or living abroad for a time in a different culture.
Santa Chiara di Assissi, Santa Clara, Sainte Claire, Saint Clare
Santa Chiara, Giotto
Unlike most of the saints whose lives have been explored on this blog-- as representations of cultural paradigms across MENA countries and related Western ones, and as part of the theme of interfaith perspectives, and of the goal of furthering cross-cultural understanding--Santa Chiara wasn't one of the disciples of Jesus, but rather, like most saints, was beatified because of special piety, service, and miracles.
Santa Chiara was born Chiara Offreduccio in Assissi on July 16, 1194 and died there of natural causes on August 11, 1253. She was the oldest daughter of an aristocrat, Count Favorino Scifi of Sasso-Rosso, and his extremely pious wife Ortolana, who had completed the pilgrimages so prominent at the time, to Rome, to Santiago de Compostela (in Spain), and to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. On March 20,1212, after learning that her parents had betrothed her to a wealthy young man, Chiara sought refuge with the monk Francis of Assissi (later to be St Francis of Assissi) who had founded a very strict and ascetic order of monks, the Franciscans. The Franciscans' vow of poverty was in response to the more liberal and relatively ostentatious Benedictine Order.
At first there was no place for her, so she lived with the Benedictine nuns in San Paolo delle Abadesse and then with women penitents in Sant'Angelo di Panza. Her younger sister Agnes (later St Agnes of Assissi) joined her within days. As followers of Francis of Assissi, both sisters took an oath of extreme poverty. Both soon moved to the church that Francis had had rebuilt, the Church of San Damiano. There, after a number of other women joined them Chiara formed a Franciscan order of nuns, originally reporting directly to Francis as the priest in charge of the Priory where she was the Prioress, and later, in 1216, taking full control as the Abbess of San Damiano.
Cross of San Damiano, representing St Francis of Assissi, in the Basilica Sta Chiara,
then returned to the Church of San Damiano
At the same time, she was an active support to Francis, acted as his adviser, and cared for him through his illness and death (in 1226). She structured her convent on the Franciscan rule, and defended it against the influence of the Benedictine Rule. While the Franciscan Friars were known both for their ascetism and their wandering or traveling ministries, the "Poor Clares" lived an enclosed life, sharing their beliefs from there. This was understood as being a necessity due to unsafe conditions at the time for a woman alone to set out to minister to the poor in solitary travels.
Chiara was obliged to defend her Franciscan Rule from the efforts of Cardinal Hugolino, later Pope Gregory IX, and then from Pope Innocent IV both of whom wanted to institute common property rules to support the women of the monastery, more in keeping with Benedictine Rule and against the Franciscan vow of absolute poverty. The last battle she won only 2 days before her death. She was in fact the first woman to write a Rule for a monaster: the Rule of the Clares.
Her life was one of devotion, prayer, study, manual labour, and mortification of the flesh. She lived enclosed in San Damiano for the last 40 years of her life, from the ages of 19-59. During this time her younger sister, Beatrix, her mother Ortolana, and her aunt Bianca joined her at San Damiano, becoming "Poor Clares". Other monasteries of Poor Clares were established throughout Europe during her lifetime.
Chiara and her nuns, fresco, Church of St Damian
She is credited not only as an exemplar, along with Francis, of rejecting a worldiness all too prevalent at the time in the Church, but as miraculous saving the life of a child from a wolf, and also with saving the city of Assissi twice from invaders: in 1234 against the advance army of Frederick II, who scaled the walls of San Damiano to prepare an attack, by using the power of the ciborium (a chalice-like vessel containing the Eucharist or blessed host) to inspire fear of God in the soldiers; later when the full army arrived, by gathering her "daughters", the other Poor Clares with her and kneeling in prayer, to cause a great storm that scattered the army encampment, and put the soldiers to panicked flight.
In honour of these miraculous sparings of the city of Assissi, when she died on August 11, 1253 her remains were moved from San Damiano into the city, to the Church of San Giorgio, where she had first heard Francis preach, and then had met with him, and where he himself was interred until the completion of the Basilica San Francesco to house his remains. Similarly Clara's remains stayed in San Giorgio until the completion of the Basilica Santa Chiara in 1260. She had in the meantime been canonized by Pope Alexander IV on August 15, 1255 as Santa Chiara or Saint Clare. In 1263, Pope Urban IV officially change the name of the Order she founded from the Order of Poor Ladies, to the Order of St Clare.
In 1958 Pope Pius XII made her the patron saint of television, then relatively new as a mass phenomenon, because reportedly, when she was too ill to attend mass, she could see and hear it being performed on the wall of her sick room as if it were on a screen.
Basilica di Sta Chiara, Assissi
Naming, Birthdays, and Feast Days
Naming is an important activity in all cultures, and parents usually choose a name for a child that they hope will give the child a positive (self) image, and show connectedness with family and community. This includes the use of names with particularly aesthetic sounds and significant meanings. Other names may be ones that repeat within a family, honouring living family members or ancestors. Sometimes this follows a cultural and religious code, or even a legal code of naming nationally, while at others it is more an individual or familial practice. Names may be chosen in emulation of important contemporary or historical figures. Some names are more regional than others.
For different religions, giving names that are those of important religious figures, often from sacred texts, or in the history of the faith, is common. Within a religion, or in different national and ethnic groups within the religion, some names are more prominent than others. For example, in Christianity it is common for hispanophones to name a child Jesús,whereas it is almost unheard of in other languages. Italians often name a son Salvatore (Saviour) which is not common in other languages. Protestants are more likely to have Old Testament names than Roman Catholics are.
Roman Catholics, particularly in Catholic majority countries where the law may require it, are more likely to have saints names. This may be the name of the saint whose official day is on the date of their birth, or one that is preferred for aesthetics, meaning, or attributes, or is one of the family names that is repeated. At the age of 12-14 Catholics confirm their faith in a religious ceremony and sacrament called Confirmation, where they are asked to add a saint's name to their given names. This is a chance to (re-)name oneself that many children, and especially teens, fantasize about!
Muslims also name children after major prophets, the Prophet Mohamed, his family, and his contemporary followers, the sahabah. They may name children other names from history, contemporary leaders, or family favourites as well. Certain names are prohibited: derogatory ones (eg ones with a meaning like dog or dirty), and those which identify the bearer as belonging to a different religion (eg all variants on Christian or Christine).
In the last years of the reign of King Hassan II of Morocco, in 1996 there was a clamp down in Morocco on naming. Part of the clamp down was against giving titles as names which was common, eg naming a child Moulay, Sidi, Amir, and less commonly Lalla for a girl. However, the clamp down was part of a more political manoeuvre by then Minister of the Interior, Driss Basri, to make Berber names illegal, as a way of repressing rising Berber nationalism. The famous "liste Basri" was a list of names with official approval, those which were part of the Moroccan patrimony, not more than a double name, not an aristocratic title, and respecting Islamic norms. Of course, there was no real law, only a recommendation and a lot of rumour, plus local officials registering births with their own understanding of the edict, the list, and a proclivity to approve or disapprove the "Moroccanness" of names. The Basri list of approved names was published by consulates though it remained a mystery in Morocco.
"La liste Basri", or List of Authorized First Names for Morocco
Sadly, this list remains in effect, but the reasoning--denying Berber names as not being in keeping with Moroccan identity (!?)--is more openly stated, as described here in French. A list of approved names is provided here by the Moroccan Consulate General of Toulouse France. A number of Arab names more common in the Middle East are not on the list.
One may petition to have a name included but if is a Berber one it is unlikely to be successful. Another way around the list is not to register the birth of the child until it is past the time when it can be done locally, and then do the registration nationally which bypasses the local official's whims about the list (or at least it did, according to an amusing and helpful guide online from activist magazine TelQuel le Maroc).
A quick look at the list or others on Arab and Muslim baby names shows that Arabic names also include words for positive attributes (like the 99 Names of Allah) but also natural phenomena, like Zahra (dawn), Noor (light), Laila (night), flowers such as Warda (rose), Yasmin (Jasmine), animals, like Abbas (lion) and Reem (gazelle) and gems, like Amber. Place names are often a "last name" but may serve as first names too. A number of names are near universal, and serve bi-cultural families well: Sara, Adam, Daniel, Mona, etc.
In some countries of MENA traditionally structured names are common: first name-son/daughter of father's name-son/daughter of grandfather's name and region/ tribal name. Women do not take their husband's surname, though all children take the father's name. Adoptees do not take the adoptive parents surname but keep their own. This is a particular legal challenge for abandonned children who cannot be adopted easily, in part because of it.
Birthdays and Feast Days
While it is common to celebrate the date of one's birth in Western cultures, it is uncommon to do so, particularly after puberty, in MENA countries. In some traditionally Catholic countries the celebration of one's name day, that is the Feast Day of the saint one is named after, is more important than celebrating the birth date. This was true traditionally in France. One French woman I know was beside herself, when her children were small, that her mother wouldn't send gifts or call on her children's birthdays, but did so on their name days. Since they were born and raised in Canada she felt they were unhappy to be ignored by their grandmother on birthdays, and were less concerned about their name days, which aren't celebrated here.
Although some Muslims reject the celebration of personal birthdays as being unIslamic, I don't know any personally. All "my" Muslims are happy to be fêted on their birthday, with a party, gifts, and cake with candles and singing. They are more likely to do this among peers in their home countries, and with friends and family abroad. I was surprised on my birthday one year when I was in Morocco, by nieces and nephews rushing in with gifts and a cake shouting "Bon Anniversaire!". They were extremely excited, the little ones in particular, and rushed through a touching though rather jumbled "Happy Birthday to you" in a collection of languages real and imagined, and were very helpful: blowing out candles, opening presents on my behalf, and trying them out! :) Tooo cuuute!
How did you receive your name?
How did you name your children?
Do you celebrate birthdays? How?
Do you celebrate your name day (saint's day)?
If you could easily change your name would you? Why?
What are your favourite naming or birthday/name day celebration stories?
Any other comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?