Protecting the Integrity of Names in Worcester

Man is not self-made but a gift from God through parents who co-create under Him

Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, Massachusetts, has mandated that Catholic schools in his diocese use a child’s legal name, not substitutes a student, driven by gender ideology, might want. Congratulations to him for providing episcopal leadership! [To see McManus’s policy, click here.]

But, some may ask, doesn’t that harm the student’s “identity?” Let’s answer that red herring from a Judeo-Christian perspective.

“Identity” in the Jewish and Christian tradition is received, not taken. Abram does not rename himself “Abraham,” Jacob does not decide “Israel” better expresses his character, and Cephas didn’t become a rock until Jesus made him one.

In many other cultures, legal documents still contain that recognition of identity: “John, son of John” or, as the Russian patronymic (incorporating father’s name into yours), “Vladimir Vladimirovich.”

The practice of Jewish-Christian culture, whereby parents name a child, recognizes that who you are is in significant measure given, not made. And in saying given, that tradition recognizes givenness not as an impersonal fixture but as a gift.

Your name, your body, your very life — none of those were your doing. And, in the Jewish-Christian tradition, they are ultimately the doing of Him before whom “all my days were numbered before one of them even came into being” (Ps 139:16). As Catholics, we desperately need to sustain the basic insight that man is not a self-made monad but a gift from God through his parents who co-create under Him. Our post-modern culture seeks to isolate individuals, reducing real biological relationships to mere voluntary choices. Such alienation of the human person, far from affirming his “dignity,” radically undermines it.

In no state can a child legally change his name before attaining the age of majority. We must not allow the erosion of parental rights in this area by schools, which are usually state entities, conspiring behind parents’ backs to do otherwise. Don’t think there’s not an entrenched mindset to resist parents; despite model policies promulgated by Virginia Governor Youngkin to require use of a child’s legal name, some school boards are resisting.

This isn’t just about “feeling welcome.” It is about a whole view of reality and being.

God speaks through Isaiah: “I have called you by name; you are mine” (43:1). It says nothing about Him asking first.


John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are exclusively his.

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