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The Catholic links to the most popular name in the United States

Newborn baby

Olga Gorchichko |Shutterstock

Cerith Gardiner - published on 05/16/24

In 2023 this typically Irish name was chosen the most for newborn baby boys.

For an impressive seven consecutive years a name from the Emerald Isle has been the most popular choice among North Americans for their little bundles of baby boy joy. And with just four letters!

The moniker belongs to some very famous faces: from the Irish actor Liam Neeson, who played the main character in the inspiring movie Schindler’s List, to the Australian actor Liam Hemsworth, known for his role in The Hunger Games.

According to Irish Central, Martin O’Malley, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, announced on May 10 that 20,802 Liams were born in the United States in 2023, making up 1.136 % of total male births in 2023.

In Ireland itself, the name Liam is rather popular, coming in eighth position of the most popular name for boys born in Ireland in both 2023 and 2022, according to Ireland’s Central Statistics Office (CSO). And if you’re wondering, the number one choice in Ireland, also for seven years in a row, is Jack for boys, and Grace for girls.

The interesting Catholic connection

First, Liam as it stands is a name that exudes strength and warmth, and has its roots entwined with the Catholic faith. While it is derived from the Irish name “Uilliam,” that stems from the Germanic “Wilhelm,” meaning “helmet of will” or “guardian,” in Ireland there are also plenty of boys baptized William, like Liam Neeson, who are called Liam for short.

The name William has many diminutives, such as Will, Willy, or Billy, however, according to my elderly Irish Catholic father and other elderly relatives, Liam was a more popular nickname among Catholic families in Northern Ireland when he was a young boy (a good 70 years ago).

Apparently, as a nickname, Liam sounded more removed from William, the name belonging to William of Orange, the protestant king of England, Ireland and Scotland, who wasn’t exactly admired among the Irish Catholic population! Therefore, Liam became a popular option for Catholic boys to choose.

You might wonder why even a derivative of William would be a choice for Irish Catholics in this case. However, the name carries a sense of steadfastness and protection. It also belonged to some inspiring Catholic saints.

Two worthy saints

St. William of Vercelli was a humble yet courageous figure from the 11th century. This saint devoted his life to prayer, penance, and serving the poor, embodying the spirit of compassion and dedication that are virtues you’d want your child to emulate.

There was also St. William of York, another beacon of faith and virtue, who lived in England during the 12th century. He twice held the position of Archbishop of York and faced numerous challenges concerning the authenticity of his election, resulting in his being supposedly poisoned from his own chalice while giving Mass.

Despite being faced with constant opposition, he remained steadfast in his commitment to God and his flock leaving behind a legacy of piety and grace.

Baby namesCatholic LifestyleIrelandUnited States
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