Birthdays & the Calendar of Saints

Today is my birthday (Becks, not Access Riviera’s), hooray to me!

Today I share my birthday – 27 January – with Saint Angèle……..WHO is Saint Angèle??!!

Saint Angèle de Mérici was born in Desonzano on Lake Garda and was the founder of the company of Saint Ursula in Brescia in the 16th century; she was canonized in 1807.  Why does she matter to MY birthday?

Statue of Saint Angèle (Angela) at the Vatican

Statue of Saint Angèle (Angela) at the Vatican

Well, in France almost every day of the year has a saint’s name assigned to it (some have more than one saint). Traditionally, in France a child would be given the name of the saint on whose day they were born as their first or middle name, so if I had been born here in France all those years ago it was a strong possibility I would have been named Angèle or a deriative such as Angelina.

The Calendar of Saints

The history of the calendar of saints in France dates back to the Bourbon monarchy when the Catholic church controlled the birth registry and all parents of newborn babies had to choose a Christian name from the calendar.

In the late 18th century, the calendar was abolished by French revolutionaries who favored an agricultural calendar based on harvesting, weather and seasons so parents were given free reign with baby names.  The ‘revolutionary’ calendar was short lived because less than 15 years later Napoléon bought back the calendar of saints.

French names

Over the last few centuries, French parents have battled for the right to name their children as they wish however the French authorities remained rigid on the notion ‘children are under the good intention of the state and parents are not to be trusted because they give their children absurd names’.  A few cases of babies being christened as Parfait Cocu (‘Perfect Cuckold’) or Alex Terrieux (‘a l’extérieur’ which translates as outside) confirmed this.  I’m sure the original birth registrars from centuries ago would be turning in their graves at some of the baffling celebrity baby names floating around today!

In the 1960’s, French names were ministerially decreed to also be permitted from regional sources (e.g.Ignatius originating from Basque), hyphenated (e.g. Jean-Christophe) or attributed to mythology (e.g. Apollo or Saturn).

Since 1993 when a High Court ruled parents could name their child anything that would not cause ridicule, the calendar of saints has become less influential especially with the rise of popular television programmes, celebrities and immigration bringing trends or other traditions to France.

Towns and cities also celebrate saints and there are special events that may mark those days such as Fête de la Saint Pierre.

So, next time you think there are a lot of Pierres, Henris, Sophies or Jacques’ around you know why.

If you’re interested in which saint represents your birthday on the calendar of saints, you can find them here:

Happy Birthday Saint Angèle – I shall toast you later with a glass of birthday bubbly!  Santé!