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Author Topic: Nuns changing names  (Read 668 times)

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Offline BeorningTopic starter

Nuns changing names
« on: July 09, 2014, 03:06:44 PM »
Right now, I'm researching nuns for a story... and I've come upon a question I have trouble finding an answer for. And yes, I've tried Google!  ;D

Basically: in many religious communities, there was this custom of a nun receiving a new name when entering novitiate. This custom seems to be on a decrease these days, but it was an usual thing for nuns of the past.

The question is: when did this custom *begin*?

Yesterday, I researched some medieval nuns, like Hildegard of Bingen - and I can't find any reference to them getting new names. So... it may look that the custom didn't exist in the Middle Ages yet. But if so, then when did it start, exactly? Can somebody help?

I considered asking this question on some Catholic forums, but you know... I feel kind of weird about it. Posting something akin to "Hi, I'm totally not a Catholic and I'm just researching nuns for lesbian convent romance story. Could you help me out?" wouldn't get me any answers. Meanwhile, not disclosing the intent might give wrong impression to those people... and I'd feel bad about it.


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Re: Nuns changing names
« Reply #2 on: July 09, 2014, 03:16:01 PM »
Here is something that may help answer your questions:

Quote
What is the reasoning behind a nun or sister choosing a religious name?

What is the reasoning behind a nun or sister choosing a religious name? Where does the significance come from? How is a religious name determined?

In the Catholic tradition as well as in many other religious traditions and cultural traditions, the taking on of a new name is symbolic of entering into a new place in one’s life. In Scripture, there are many times when a person takes a new name. For example, Abram was given the name Abraham and Sarai the name Sarah (Genesis 17) to indicate that God had called them to a new place in their relationship with God and in their role in human history. Jesus called Simon to follow him and gave him a new name: Cephas which translates to Peter (John 1:42).

Taking on a new name is also common in our Catholic sacramental tradition. When a person is baptized or confirmed, she or he takes on a new name symbolizing the new life they have entered into.

There are a variety of customs across religious congregations as to how a religious name was assigned. Some new sisters were allowed to suggest their name preference but it was ultimately up to the superior of the community or another leader to decide upon the name. The name typically had to be a saint’s name or a title of Mary or Christ. In congregations that are named after Mary, it was common that all the names include “Mary” as the first part of a sister's religious name.Sisters might also suggest as their preference a favorite saint or the saint that their parish was named after or the name of a parent (if it were also a saint’s name). In other cases, sisters were simply assigned a name — sometimes it was the name of a sister who had died in the congregation.

Many religious communities required and continue to require new entrants to take a new name as a sign of their new life as a religious. Other communities allow a person to keep their baptismal name since our vocation is intimately linked to our baptismal call.

It isn't a custom that seems to be bracketed by a time frame or common to all orders and in the last few decades many religious who took a saint's name when professing their vows have gone back to using their given names.  Many newly professed nuns have only used their given/baptismal names.

Offline Iniquitous

Re: Nuns changing names
« Reply #3 on: July 09, 2014, 03:21:00 PM »
Quote
In the Catholic tradition as well as in many other religious traditions and cultural traditions, the taking on of a new name is symbolic of entering into a new place in one’s life. In Scripture, there are many times when a person takes a new name. For example, Abram was given the name Abraham and Sarai the name Sarah (Genesis 17) to indicate that God had called them to a new place in their relationship with God and in their role in human history. Jesus called Simon to follow him and gave him a new name: Cephas which translates to Peter (John 1:42).

Taking on a new name is also common in our Catholic sacramental tradition. When a person is baptized or confirmed, she or he takes on a new name symbolizing the new life they have entered into.

source: http://anunslife.org/resources/nun-sister-religious-name

Another source on name change : http://www.vocationnetwork.org/q-a/11

As to when the practice began and why it is done:

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/w/wsfh/0642292.0033.028/--taking-the-veil-clothing-and-the-transformation-of-identity?rgn=main;view=fulltext

Not a very clear timeline but it was being done in the 1700's.

Offline BeorningTopic starter

Re: Nuns changing names
« Reply #4 on: July 09, 2014, 03:25:31 PM »
Fantastic! Thank you! :)

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Re: Nuns changing names
« Reply #5 on: July 09, 2014, 03:25:44 PM »
Depending on the order the name change can be done to signify many things such as a separation from the secular and material world and a joining of the spiritual one.  A professed nun can also be called a bride of Christ in a spiritual union and would take on a new name much as a woman in a secular marriage might take her husband's family name as her own.

Offline BeorningTopic starter

Re: Nuns changing names
« Reply #6 on: July 09, 2014, 06:00:58 PM »
Thanks again... :)

If only all of my nun questions could be answered here... Unfortunately, some of them concern so specific details that they would be answered best by writing an e-mail to real religious orders... and as I mentioned, it would feel weird. Hm...

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: Nuns changing names
« Reply #7 on: July 10, 2014, 06:29:48 AM »
Check out Nuns by Marcelle Bernstein. A few decades old but it was researched and written at a time when many convents were reassessing their methods and how to handle their inherited concepts. Very insightful and sympathetic book; she interviewed many nuns and abbesses, both in orders working out in the world and, especially, fully "closed-house" orders (such as the Carmelites and Cistercians), visited several moinasteries too of course, and let the women speak for themselves in many voices, adding comments to explain points of their thinking that could seem strange to most people or to show the historical continuity. The best book on contemporary monastic life I've ever seen (not that I've been looking widely but it is very good).

« Last Edit: July 10, 2014, 06:35:45 AM by gaggedLouise »

Offline Retribution

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Re: Nuns changing names
« Reply #8 on: July 10, 2014, 09:16:03 AM »
On another note I was in Catholic high school in the mid 80s. At that time the order of sisters that was involved with my school for whatever reason decided to start using their birth names. So they all went from biblical like and saint names to names like Brenda and Wilma from one day to the next.

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: Nuns changing names
« Reply #9 on: July 10, 2014, 10:35:35 AM »
The idea of changing one's name to mark off that one is entering a new time in life (or skipping past something dangerous and nasty) is really ancient. The Old Testament has been up already here. There's also a bizarre note in Freud's Totem and Taboo (I think he got it from The Golden Bough) of a tribe where "when a man died, the chief used to change the name of every member of the tribe" - that must have been fairly difficult to stick to.  ;)

Offline Iniquitous

Re: Nuns changing names
« Reply #10 on: July 10, 2014, 10:43:17 AM »
The idea of changing one's name to mark off that one is entering a new time in life (or skipping past something dangerous and nasty) is really ancient. The Old Testament has been up already here. There's also a bizarre note in Freud's Totem and Taboo (I think he got it from The Golden Bough) of a tribe where "when a man died, the chief used to change the name of every member of the tribe" - that must have been fairly difficult to stick to.  ;)

I would hope that tribe was a peaceful tribe or it's members were going to end up really confused after the first twenty or so deaths. 'Wait, your name is my name!'

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: Nuns changing names
« Reply #11 on: July 10, 2014, 10:47:15 AM »
"That man stole my name! I'm challenging him to a duel!"  ;D

Offline Iniquitous

Re: Nuns changing names
« Reply #12 on: July 10, 2014, 11:01:19 AM »
And then he dies and the names change again! If I lived there I'd have to move lol.

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: Nuns changing names
« Reply #13 on: July 10, 2014, 11:06:54 AM »
By the way, some nuns may have male names, taking the names of thoroughly male saints, Sister Vincent, Sister Jean-Pierre and so on.  At least it used to happen occasionally in some countries - like France and, I think, England. Very interesting in a romantic/erotic story.


Offline BeorningTopic starter

Re: Nuns changing names
« Reply #14 on: July 10, 2014, 11:15:11 AM »
Audrey Hepburn played Sister Luke in The Nun's Story...

Unfortunately, it turns out that my favourite Daughters of Charity didn't change their names. It messed one of my story ideas a bit...

Offline BeorningTopic starter

Re: Nuns changing names
« Reply #15 on: July 10, 2014, 04:54:38 PM »
Oookay. I did something crazy and I actually e-mailed some webpages of the DoC with a list of questions...

.... possibly weirdly-detailed questions, as in: how often did sisters in your community shower?

I... wonder what the results will be, if any...  :o

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: Nuns changing names
« Reply #16 on: July 10, 2014, 05:43:32 PM »
If they have access to showers my guess is they would use them on a daily basis. Remember they are living close to each other...  :P Not sure about multiple showers side by side though, if that's what you're after for the setting.

By the way, many small religious communities these days settle in ordinary residences, villas and so on, rather than having a monastery with a block-like structure, kind of forbidding outer walls and a park custom-built for them. 

Offline BeorningTopic starter

Re: Nuns changing names
« Reply #17 on: July 10, 2014, 06:00:26 PM »
If they have access to showers my guess is they would use them on a daily basis. Remember they are living close to each other...  :P Not sure about multiple showers side by side though, if that's what you're after for the setting.

I wouldn't be too sure about that. I once read a description of a nun's daily routine in a cloistered community - and it seemed that they get up at 5 AM, wash themselves quickly in their rooms and immediately get out to pray...

Quote
By the way, many small religious communities these days settle in ordinary residences, villas and so on, rather than having a monastery with a block-like structure, kind of forbidding outer walls and a park custom-built for them. 

I know... Things surely have changed.

Offline ladia2287

Re: Nuns changing names
« Reply #18 on: July 18, 2014, 04:44:47 AM »
Thanks again... :)

If only all of my nun questions could be answered here... Unfortunately, some of them concern so specific details that they would be answered best by writing an e-mail to real religious orders... and as I mentioned, it would feel weird. Hm...

Depending on the order, you might actually be surprised at how much information nuns would be willing to give if you only ask. You don't need to be specific about why you want to know; you could, for example, simply explain that you're conducting research for a book and would they consent to an interview? No need to go into graphic details. Anyway, thought I might offer up a few tidbits that might prove interesting. Mind you, this information dates back to WWII so I don't know how accurate it would be now. My Grandmother attended a Convent School in England during this time and it's one of the few periods of her life which she shared in graphic detail. Anyway, this is based on the Order of Mary, Help of Christians, based in London just before the war.

Generally speaking, a woman who wished to become a nun would be required to pay a dowry prior to taking her initial vows. It may be different now, but at that time the amount of dowry paid affected how much you could progress through the ranks (The Mother at my grandma's school was very upset when told she couldn't take her final vows to become Mother Superior because her dowry wasn't high enough).

You first enter the convent as a Novice, and as a rule you would remain a Novice for a minimum of one year. During this time you would be expected to immerse yourself in the convent and learn everything about it. Novices didn't usually wear a full habit but the details of exactly what they would wear would vary from order to order.

Once the Mother Superior was satisfied that you were ready (and providing your dowry permitted you to), you would take your final vows to become a Sister. At this point, you become 'Bride of Christ' and are permitted to wear the full habit. You would then eventually (and again assuming your dowry permitted it) take final vows as a Mother, and then a Mother Superior. As Mother Superior, you are responsible for the entire convent and oversee everything to do with it, including any schools that are attached.

Life as a nun was quite strict, and once you had taken your vows as a Sister it was expected you would remain a nun until death; to leave the Order and return to 'civilian' life, you would have needed to make confession to an Archbishop or Cardinal regarding a matter that was considered a serious breach of the last vows you took.

Like I said, I don't know how much of this is accurate or even still stands today; it's just what I have managed to glean from my grandmother's stories.

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: Nuns changing names
« Reply #19 on: July 18, 2014, 05:02:47 AM »
I have a feeling it might be a story with improved dramatic potential if it were set in the Middle Ages or at least the 17th-18th centuries (and a more scenic setting too - a fully built convent, with gardens, walls and lattice gridwork gates locking in the sisters is so much more exciting than a plain villa or a large apartment!). The nuns being romantically involved would not be a total block to the story, that kind of thing must certainly have existed...  :P

Offline ladia2287

Re: Nuns changing names
« Reply #20 on: July 18, 2014, 05:09:15 AM »
I have a feeling it might be a story with improved dramatic potential if it were set in the Middle Ages or at least the 17th-18th centuries (and a more scenic setting too - a fully built convent, with gardens, walls and lattice gridwork gates locking in the sisters is so much more exciting than a plain villa or a large apartment!). The nuns being romantically involved would not be a total block to the story, that kind of thing must certainly have existed...  :P

I'd be surprised if it didn't exist. It would have simply been hushed up if it was happening. We already know men in the church were prone to be sexually active in spite of their public claims of abstinence and let's be honest, women have needs too. I would even argue that there was a greater urgency to hushing up any 'scandalous' activity within a convent because the consequences for women were generally much more harsh than for men (More than 4 centuries on and Lucrezia Borgia still hasn't lived down her rumoured affairs, whereas her brothers' lovers have been all but forgotten)
« Last Edit: July 18, 2014, 05:13:39 AM by ladia2287 »

Offline TaintedAndDelish

Re: Nuns changing names
« Reply #21 on: July 18, 2014, 11:42:19 PM »

My understanding from very long ago, was that when Simon was renamed to "Peter" ( which meant "rock") , it implied that this change in name was really supposed to be symbolic of his change in his identity and his role. I think back then, culturally, a name was more than just something you called yourself. It was more akin to who and what you were.

I apologize, but I cannot support this with a quote and do not have the interest to go digging through religious and historical material for it. It might be something worth looking into though, if it is of interest to you.


Offline BeorningTopic starter

Re: Nuns changing names
« Reply #22 on: July 29, 2014, 01:42:58 PM »
*falls of the chair in shock*

So... nearly three weeks ago, I e-mailed some Daughters of Charity webpages with some questions about their lives.

Today, I received an answer!!!!!!!!

Ooookay, I really didn't expect that to happen.  :o

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Re: Nuns changing names
« Reply #23 on: July 29, 2014, 02:16:34 PM »
That was nice of them. :-)  Although I've found that a polite request for information will often get good results.

Offline TaintedAndDelish

Re: Nuns changing names
« Reply #24 on: July 29, 2014, 04:05:46 PM »
*falls of the chair in shock*

So... nearly three weeks ago, I e-mailed some Daughters of Charity webpages with some questions about their lives.

Today, I received an answer!!!!!!!!

Ooookay, I really didn't expect that to happen.  :o

Out of curiosity, did they offer any interesting answers that you might care to share?  :)

Also, did your letter include: "Hi, I'm totally not a Catholic and I'm just researching nuns for lesbian convent romance story. Could you help me out?"    XD