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Don't Call Me Ishmael: Religious Naming Among Protestants and Catholics in the United States

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We explore whether first names of religious origin continue to have religious connotations for Protestants and Catholics in a U.S. culture where naming is largely secularized. We use 1994 General Social Survey data to examine several questions: (1) whether there are Protestant-Catholic differences in broad categories of names (Old Testament, New Testament, saints, etc.); (2) whether worship attendance predicts the likelihood that Protestant and Catholic parents select categories of names corresponding to their respective traditions; and (3) whether worship attendance predicts selection of specific names that are disproportionately common within Protestantism and Catholicism (without regard to the broader categories). Results show some expected Protestant-Catholic differences in the frequency of name categories. However, there is no relationship between parental worship attendance and the likelihood of choosing these categories, suggesting that differences cannot be explained by religious motivations. In contrast, worship attendance does increase Catholics' likelihood of choosing specific names that are disproportionately common within their tradition. This suggests that committed Catholics perceive certain names as “Catholic” and represents one instance in which names do retain religious connotations for believers. We are aware of no previous research that has established such a link between parental religious commitment and naming.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, Washington, DC

Publication date: June 1, 2004

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