Question about Mother Angelica's name

As a non-Catholic admirer of Mother Angelica, I was surprised to learn her birth name was ‘Rita Rizzo’. I had just assumed her first name was always Angelica. :o

Question:
Can someone briefly explain what the rules or guidelines are for keeping one’s birth name versus getting a new name later in life for Catholic religious leaders?

For example, the local archbishop in Oklahoma City is Archbishop Paul Coakley. He didn’t change his name when he became archbishop. However, when someone becomes pope, they choose a new name, like Pope Francis did. Apparently, Mother Angelica did likewise at some point in her religious life.

Thanks in advance for your help in better understanding this. I find it fascinating but a little confusing.

I wait with interest as well.

In the past it was very common for nuns and sisters to change their names. Now, it is sometimes done and sometimes not. This may give some explanation:
anunslife.org/resources/nun-sister-religious-name

Sometimes, when one enters consecrated life, one will have the option of choosing a new name and/or a title of devotion – the later very much depends upon the institute of perfection. Thus, Rita received a new name as a Poor Clare…Mary Angelica of the Annuniciation.

The decision now depends upon the custom in the institute of consecrated life, since it is not a universal custom. It is common for Monks and Nuns. The practice is more varied among Brothers and Sisters. Also, the method of choosing the name varies according to the custom of the institute. It is always ultimately the choice of the superior, of course, although it varies how much input the newly consecrated is allowed in the process.

Diocesan priests do not receive a new name because, as such, they are not members of an institute of consecrated life; the archbishop was a diocesan priest before he was elevated to the episcopate.

The pope’s situation is unique. His is a regnal name. After he is asked if he accepts the election, the cardinal elected is then asked under what name does he wish to reign.

The same question was asked of Her Majesty, The Queen, when she acceded to the throne upon her father’s death. She chose as her regnal name the name by which she had been popularly known – whereas her father chose a name by which he had never been known.

When a woman decides that God is calling her to consecrated religious life (“to be a nun”), she chooses a particular group of sisters to join. Each group has its own work that it does – teaching, nursing, prayer, evangelism, service to the poor, etc. In some groups (orders or congregations) the women keep their birth names, in others they change their names. Each order or congregation makes its own rules about names.

Mother Angelica was a Poor Clare nun, and the sisters there take a new name, usually when they make their first vows (that’s “first vows” as opposed to “perpetual vows” – the vows are the same, but first vows only hold for a certain number of years, perpetual vows are for life).

The taking of a new name is very biblical actually – Sarai to Sarah, Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, Simon to Peter, Saul to Paul… It signifies a radical change in life or conversion, a specific calling and future.

There are all kinds of ways that the woman’s new name is chosen, from the woman choosing it herself, to the Mother Superior choosing the name without any input, and all kinds of variations in between.

At the time Mother Angelica entered the convent,virtually all religious sisters (and brothers and monks … members of religious congregations) were “assigned” their names, (my great-aunt had no say, and no idea what would be given her in the convent), by their superiors. Their religious orders made the decision. They accepted as a matter of obedience. Some chose to revert to their baptismal names at some time post-Vatican II. now some orders still have name changes, some do not.

The diocesan priests do/did not change their names. Thus your bishop kept his baptismal name.

Thanks to all for the explanations and insights. It makes a lot more sense now.

There is a part in Scripture where it says God will give you a new name when you convert to Him. I believe this is where the practice came from. I think its in the book of Revelation.

Like someone else said here, some nuns get a new name- some choose for themselves, others have a name chosen for them, some just keep the names they have.

As Catholics lay people, we kind of do the same thing when we are confirmed. We chose a confirmation name. We are not likely to be known by it, but we do chose another name to go along with our given name.

Often times, they are names of one of the saints.

This is not a universal Confirmation practice. I’ve seen this in North America, but not in the Philippines.

. Thanks for the bigger, universal picture. :slight_smile:

It was also common in Europe.

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