Ignatians take a new name during their first year of novitiate. Though they continue to use their baptismal name, on one day a year, the feastday of the saint whose name they have taken, they use their adopted name within their own Ignatian community.
Thus, the Society of Ignatians upholds an ancient and venerable tradition of Christians. As early as the third century, St. Dionysius of Alexandria (c. 260) declared “I am of opinion that there were many of the same name as the Apostle John, who on account of their love for him, and because they admired and emulated him, and desired to be loved by the Lord as he was, took to themselves the same name, just as many of the children of the faithful are called Paul or Peter” (Eusebius, Church History VII. 25).
Each Ignatian chooses a name that he considers will inspire and motivate him to ascend to new heights either by the etymological meaning of the name or because it is the name of a saint whom he greatly admires, whose life, goals, struggles and virtues are close to his own and with whom he can now bond more closely through prayer and emulation.
By his choice he asks a particular saint to be his patron, intercessor, role model, and companion on life’s pilgrimage. Thus he confirms his Catholic trust in the closeness of the members of the Church Triumphant, the saints, to the members of the Church Militant.
He confirms his choice through an Ignatian ritual: a chivalric vigil of prayer in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament and before an image of his patron saint during which he asks the saint to honor him with his special closeness.
Thus he seals with the Christian spirit the primitive human instinct expressed in the ancient Roman saying “Nomina sunt omina” (Names are omens) and the ancient Jewish conviction that names touched reality, referring to some actual or future quality of the person that the parent sensed at the time of birth. Our Jewish forefathers also felt that the coming to consciousness of a vocation also appropriately called for a new name, as for instance the change of “Abram” into “Abraham”, or indeed of Our Lord’s naming of Simon “Cephas”.
In keeping with ancient Christian tradition, the Ignatian may also choose a name primarily for its association with a Christian virtue, feast, doctrine, or symbolism. For instance the symbolism in the names “Christopher” (the Christ-bearer); the doctrines in “Salus” and “Redemptus”; the virtues in “Fides”, “Spes”, “Martyrius”; the alertness to the Christian mysteries in “Natalis”, “Pasch”, “Athanasius”; the Christian sentiments in “QuodvultDeus”, “Deogratias”, “Victor”, “Gaudentianus”, “Vincentius”.