Why Did St. Patrick Change His Name?

mosaic of st patrick aka st patricius in Irish church

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According to legend, the honorific name Patricius (the Latin form of Patrick) was bestowed upon Maewyn Succat during a visit to Rome. As the story goes, the man-who-would-become-Patrick was finishing up his religious training in Auxerre, France, under the tutelage of St. Germanus, when he received some good news: Palladius—the bishop originally dispatched to Ireland—was dead! There was a job opening, and Maewyn Succat, who had long sought to return to Ireland, intended to fill it. I’ll let Seumas MacManus pick up the story from there:

“When finally came the news of the failure and of the death of Palladius, Patrick journeyed to Rome, to Pope Celestine, carrying with him a letter from Germanus. Celestine now granted his request, and consecrated him Archbishop for the Irish mission. Also twenty priests and deacons were ordained, to be his companions in the undertaking… Celestine also conferred upon him his new name, Patricius—an ancient title of the highest honour among the Romans.”

source: The Story of the Irish Race: A Popular History of Ireland

There’s only one, teensy little problem with this account: It has no basis in history. For such an important event, one would think that someone at the time, perhaps even Patrick himself, would make a note of it. But he didn’t. To quote Terry O’Hagan:

“There is no mention of Rome. No mention of popes. No mention of papal sanction or authority.”

source: “Will the Real St. Patrick Please Stand Up” (JSTOR Daily)

There is, however, an alternative account of how Patrick got his new name, one that seems much more plausible: He simply adopted the name when he became a priest. According to TIME, Patricius is derived from the Latin term for “Father Figure”—a fitting moniker for a priest who was keen on helping his wayward “children” of Ireland see the light.

Want to learn more about Saint Patrick? Check out…

Saint Patrick in Your Pocket

Separate man from myth, fact from folklore, in this small but mighty pocket guide dedicated to uncovering lesser-known facts about Ireland’s most beloved patron saint. Armed with answers to these 20 tantalizing questions, you’ll be the smartest reveler in the room at your next Saint Patrick’s Day party. Learn more…

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