What’s in a name? And how do we get our Orthodox names? Is it something we choose, or is it chosen for us? Some people choose a patron saint perhaps because their feast day is also their birthday. Or maybe you share a name with that holy person or a very similar name.
There are actually two stories that I want to tell you regarding names. The first one involves my son John. My wife and I were married in 2009 and we had tried so many times to conceive a child, and have it grow to full term. We suffered many losses. As hard as each miscarriage was we picked ourselves up and tried again. I always wanted a son and I wanted to name him after my grandfather, who was also named John. (Fun fact: Ian is John in scottish, my dad’s name is John, and his dad was John) Grandpa John was one of the greatest men I knew. He was strong, he was kind and he sang in a barbershop quartet. More importantly, he was devout in his faith to the very end. He was my role model, my sponsor during my Catholic Confirmation, and just a really great man. So naturally I would name my son after him. The problem was my wife and I weren’t having any luck having a pregnancy stick.
Flash Forward to Autumn of 2014. My wife and I are in church, we are now orthodox and we are praying and looking at the icons while our spiritual father leads The Divine Liturgy. He had previously told us about using a ribbon that was blessed. The monks in Mount Athos take the ribbons and place them on top of the belt of the Holy Theotokos, and it’s supposed to help women get pregnant.
We were going to ask him at the end of service to give us a blessing to order such a belt. During service, my wife Emily was praying and focusing on the icon of Saint John the Forerunner, asking for his intercessions when suddenly his hand moves. Just slightly, making the sign of the cross. At the end of service we get the blessing for the belt and we tell father about what happened with the icon. He says a quick prayer and tells us to keep it in our hearts.
Something then happened in our life the beginning of 2015 and we ended up having to move away from our home Parish. We ended up settling in Spokane, then once we finally got settled we decided the beginning of Lent would be when we would put the belt on. About 4 months later we were getting our first ultrasound… we were pregnant! It was a chaotic time for us because we kept praying and hoping it would stick and somehow it did and now here we are with a rambunctious toddler and you know what, he is the best thing in our life. John was born on January 8th 2016 and it just so happens to be the day after the feast day of Saint John the Baptist. With the miracle of the icon and the Miracle of being able to actually have this child, plus the family connection, there was no way his name wasn’t going to be John.
The second story I want to tell you is about how I got my Orthodox name. My Orthodox name is Ioannikios, after St Ioannikios the Great. However that wasn’t always my name. I was actually baptized what’s the name Ioanes, after St. Ioane of Zedazani. He was an amazing Saint who after being called by the holy Theotokos, took 12 of his disciples and helped bring Orthodoxy to Georgia. His story actually introduced me to many of the other great Orthodox Saints of Georgia, like Saint Nino.
It was about a year after my conversion to Orthodoxy and I was having confession with my then spiritual father. At the end of confession when he was saying the prayers of absolution, he said my Orthodox name wrong. He kept calling me Ioannikios. I had to correct him. I said father you are saying my name incorrectly. Why are you calling me Ioannikios? He replied “because that’s your name, isn’t it?” I corrected him and said that it was Ioanes. He resumed the prayers.
Later that night I did some research about St. Ioannikios, and his amazing life. I felt this powerful connection and knew in my heart he was my saint. I still loved Ioanes, but I wasnt him. The next time I saw father I explained the situation. Without missing a beat he looked at me and while smiling, made the sign of the cross. It was in that instance that I became Ioannikios.
So that’s the story of not only how my son got his name, but of how I got my orthodox name.
Side note: my wife Emily really didn’t have a choice of who her Orthodox Saint was, because father simply looked at her and said “my dear Emmelia”. And so now my wife is named after Saint Emmelia, mother of st. Basil The Great, saint macrina the younger, Saint Gregory of Nyssa and St. Peter of Sebaste.
Thanks for reading, until next time my friends!
My home church in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Holy Myrrhbearers Orthodox Church.