Recently, someone showed me an old German postcard that gave best wishes for the recipient’s “name day.” A question followed: “What is a name day?” I gladly answered. Why? Because I also celebrate a name day―on May 27 in the Slovak calendar―and I may enjoy it equally, or some years even more than, my birthday.
So what is a “name day” exactly?
In the past, the Catholic church celebrated saints on certain days (usually the day of their death), and in many countries, their names are celebrated on the same day. For example, Jozef (Joseph) was celebrated on March 19, Peter and Paul on June 29, Zuzana (Susan) on August 11, and Katarina (Catherine) on November 25.
Later, the calendar expanded to include even more traditional first names, resulting in nearly everyone being able to find his or her first name in the calendar. Names can even be added to the calendar so anyone with a nontraditional or foreign name can also celebrate. Because of this, some days may show two or three first names.
In the past, if a child was born on one of the patron saints’ days, it was very common to be named after the saint who was celebrated on that particular day. Even if a girl was born on St. Anton’s Day on June 13, for example, she would be named Antonia (the female version of Anton).
Many enjoy celebrating their name day more than their birthday. Can you guess the reason? Not everyone may know your birthday, but everybody will see your name in the calendar! It might also be associated with the pure joy of your name day belonging to you―without the reminder of turning one year older! Family, friends, and coworkers will surprise you with gifts, such as a box of chocolate or flowers; call you with best wishes; and send you name day postcards. In these cell phone times, a special message over the phone serves well too.
Are you curious if your name is listed in the calendar of any country, and if so, what day it is, and what your name means? Check this website: Behind the Name. Type your name; hover the mouse over the Names tab at the top of the page; and click on the Name Days link. Then browse by country of interest.
The MCPL website has some interesting links as well. Within the Culture Grams database, choose a country, and click the Holidays link. Be sure to also check the Hospitality, Tourism, & Leisure Collection.
Let us know in the comments section below if you have any name day postcards in your family possession or if you discover anything interesting through the above-mentioned databases. And, if you find your name day, be sure to let us know so we can wish you a happy name day!
Midwest Genealogy Center