You ask some very good questions and I’ll try to answer them as best I can. Before I get started, I’ve been discerning for over 3 years off and on and I have spent time with 3 religious orders and I am discerning with the Sister Servants of the Eternal Word in Birmingham, AL. Now for your questions!
How do religious sisters and nuns come up with their new name?
This depends on the order. Most of the time, Mother Superior has the final say in what name the religious Sister chooses. In the order I am discerning, the postulant writes down 3 names that she would like and gives them to Mother Superior. Mother can choose one of these names or choose one that is totally different. It all comes down to what the Holy Spirit wants for your name. All religious end up loving their names because it is the name that God ordained for them in religious life. If/when I become a Sister (God-willing), I hope to hand in these three choices:
Sr. Mary Elizabeth (my favorite)
Sr. Mary Catherine
Sr. Miriam Therese
Also, many religious orders add a title to the end of their name either at the beginning of the novitiate (such as my order) or at the ceremony of first vows. Such names as “of the Blessed Sacrament”, “of the Sacred Heart”, etc. add meaning and devotion to the Sister’s religious life.
What are some good orders to consider?
It depends on what kind of apostolate you are interested in! There are so many wonderful orders out there that do different things such as education, health care, retreats, catechesis (CCD), social service, etc. The Sister Servants of the Eternal Word focus their time on two apostolates: retreat work (their main one) and catechesis. They study distance learning courses to teach CCD to retreatants who are preparing to make their Confirmation and other Sacraments of Initiation.
Then you have the Nashville Dominicans and the Ann Arbor Dominicans who specialize in teaching. These are two very popular orders with the young ladies and each has a giant postulant class each year. Both orders are over 200 Sisters. Fun fact is that the Ann Arbor Dominicans emerged from the Nashville Dominicans in the 1990s, so they have many similarities. However, the Ann Arbor Dominicans focus a lot of their attention on evangelization, whereas the NDs are a little more subdued. The NDs have been around since the Civil War, too.
If you can give me an idea of what kind of apostolate you are interested in, I would be happy to recommend some awesome orders for you to look into.
This is the random question: How many layers are in a habit and how many pockets do they have?
Very good question! Nowadays, a lot of orders have modified habits from what they used to wear before Vatican II. Beforehand, they were very heavy habits with rather cumbersome veils and headgear. Nowadays, nuns have basically two layers to wear including underwear, t-shirt, slip or petticoat, and the tunic with scapular (if they have one). The Sister Servants of the Eternal Word have a petticoat underneath their tunic’s skirt that has pockets sewn in to the sides. The pockets are hidden by the way the habit comes down from the belt in the middle. Some scapulars have built in pockets. The Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal have a zipper part on the top part of the habit where they keep very small items like lip balm and tissues.
I hope this helps. Let me know if anything needs to be clarified further.