Changing names...

Why do women who become nuns/sisters change their names, but priests do not? At what point would a priest change his name? Is it only when he eventually becomes the Pope? Do monks take different names?

Also, some priests we call Father Bob, etc; other priests prefer Father Smith (last name). The one who preferred his last name had a first name of ‘Barry’ (a form of Bartholomew, I think); does it depend on if the priest’s first name is a ‘Christian’ one, as opposed to something like ‘Apple’?

Just curious.

I’ve always been taught that diocesan priests should be addressed as Father LastName or Monsignor LastName. While in Lourdes this year, we had several Dominican priests on the trip, and they explained the choice to change names was an option for them. Typically, though, at least for these Dominicans, we called them Father FirstName.

Side note, I met some young men studying at a Dominican Study House named Brother Innocent and Brother Philip Neri. I guess I had never really thought about the habit of changing names, but then I thought of it kind of like confirmation names - a patron to guide you through the process, and I thought it was a pretty special thing.

That’s an interesting question! I am surprised I have never thought of it myself.

When a person makes a covenant with God, and receives a character on his soul, he usually receives a new name. This occurs in Baptism and Confirmation.

Perhaps with Holy Orders, priests take on a new name, but don’t often use it in general use, like as it is done with Confirmation. I know that I do not usually use my Confirmation name.

Men who join religious orders of brothers or priests often take a new religious name. Men who become diocesan priests generally do not. The great majority of priests are diocesan priests, although the religious orders are again growing.

As a matter of courtesy, we should always address a diocesan priest by his last name unless he specifically requests otherwise.

When I visited a Convent which was Cloistered Carmelites, they had all taken a new name. When I entered a Franciscan Convent which was active, not cloistered, only the Sisters who had made their professions prior to 1960 had changed their names at the time they took their Final Vows. All of the younger Sisters were still known by both their first & last names they had prior to entering the Convent. I didn’t care for that, personally. My first name is “Judith”, and there is no “St. Judith”, although my middle name “Louise” is a Saint’s name. However, we were (required) bi-lingual, and the other Novices “gave” me the name “Maria Louisa”, because I was so devoted to Our Blessed Mother, and Louisa was Louise (in Spanish). However, had I taken Final Vows, I would have been known as “Sister Judith” officially, and that is the name that would have been on the papers signed at the time of Final Vows. I’ve had only one Diocesan Priest here who insisted on his last name being used. All the others were known as “Fr. Bob”, “Fr. Kevin”, etc… which I find more personal and friendlier. We all like that here!

Religious (whether male or female) change their names.

Diocesan priests are secular not religious.

Religious Sisters in some active Convents (those who do teaching, nursing, etc…). some of them DO NOT change their names any longer. Many do, of course, but some do not. I know of at least one Franciscan Order of Sisters who do not, also one Benedictine Monastery of Sisters who not only do not change their names at Final Vows, but most of them also do not wear any habits, but rather secular clothing. The Franciscan Order I know who do not change their names DO wear habits, but slightly modernized (shorter habit, but well below the knee) and a veil which leaves the front of the hair and forehead exposed, but covers the rest of the head, but shorter than the original Veils worn prior to Vatican II.

Receiving a new name upon initial profession into a religious is becoming less common these days. I know one (relatively) young religious who did however choose to take a new name - not that he was given a choice of the name itself though. As he memorably put it: “there’s a moment of terror when they lift back the cowl [hood] and say 'before you were known as X but from now you will be known as…” as you find out what name you’re going to be tagged with! Admittedly, he got off lightly!


For the record, I never knew there were different kinds of priests until this year!

As a matter of courtesy, I usually let the priest take the lead. After I introduce myself, I wait to see if he is going to call me “Ann” or “Mrs. Arbor.” I take my cue from that and address him accordingly.

Many sisters in both contemplative and active communities do not take new (“religious”) names anymore. The justification for this is a renewed emphasis on the baptismal call as the basis for Christian life. This is not to be critical of communities where the tradition is otherwise, but it is the reason why not all communities do so anymore.

Of course, there were always communities that did not take religious names, such as the Religious of the Sacred Heart, founded by Sophie Madeleine Barat. Among men, I don’t believe the Jesuits ever took religious names, for example.

Diocesan priests don’t change their names, but religious priests do.

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