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In the Name of…

SMA: Faith Is Culture

By Joseph Toone

For my parents, choosing baby names was made fairly easy by the church. Their first daughter was born in a Marian year (a year the Pope devotes to Mary) so she, like most of the girls in her Catholic school classes, was named Mary. The rest of us got saint’s names, followed by the name of someone my parents liked. For me, that meant the most powerful saint followed by the most powerful priest in their parish, Joseph William.

Naming a baby in San Miguel also has strong spiritual influences. Until recently, nearly all boys were named José (Joseph) and girls Maria (Mary) for Jesus’ parents. Often children went by nicknames or their middle name, but on all forms Joseph and Mary dominated the name field.

Today there is more flexibility. Following are some of the most common names you will find in SMA and their faith-based roots:

Lupe/Lupita: These are for the Virgin of Guadalupe, the image of Mary representing the birth of the Mexican country and race. Of the six women in a dance class I teach, four are Lupitas. The other two women are…

María de los Ángeles: The original name for  the city LA, this image of Mary is named for the town in Italy  from which she rose into heaven. Angelica is a popular nickname.

Miguel, Rafael, and Gabriel: The names of the three archangels and my student María de los Ángeles’ three boys.

Malu: Short for María de la Luz (Mary of the Light). The church and neighborhood behind the mall are also named in her honor.

Manuel/Manuela: A derivative from the word for mule, as in the one that carried pregnant Mary to Bethlehem. It is considered auspicious to receive a toy mule on this day. So many have been sold that the toy makers started what today is the handmade toy fair in Plaza Cívica in June.

Pepe/Pepa: A nickname for José or Josefa meaning adoptive father, as Joseph was Jesus’ adopted dad.

Cecilia: Ask any local Cecilia and you will likely learn that one or both of her parents are musicians. St. Cecelia is the patroness of musicians, and the Oratorio church hosts a wide variety of music on her feast day.

Carmen: From the Virgin of Carmel, the image of Mary wearing brown.

Rosario: From Our Lady of the Rosary (Rosario).

Patricio: Patrick, or Pato (duck) for short, has made a recent local comeback. The Patricios were a US military unit from Ireland that switched sides, joining the Mexican Catholics.

For naming my own children, I broke with my parents’ saint tradition and opted for the Gaelic-sounding Glennon, Greyden, and Trevyn. Since my dog was a Three Kings Day gift, he got the moniker Gaspar, after one of the kings. See, even an SMA dog’s name has a faithful tale!

As the number-one-rated local tour guide on culture by TripAdvisor, I provide tours Thursday and Friday at 9am from the Oratorio church. To learn more about faith and culture in San Miguel, visit; it benefits children’s library and art programs.


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