Generally, the Church advises against the practice of naming our angels. In a document written in 2001 by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments entitled “Directory on Popular Piety in the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines,” it says, “The practice of assigning names to the holy angels should be discouraged, except in the cases of Gabriel, Raphael and Michael, whose names are contained in holy Scripture” (No. 127). While the congregation does not offer reasons for discouraging the practice, I would like to offer a couple.
First, there is the understanding of what a name is. For most of us in the modern Western world, a name is simply a sound we go by. But in the ancient, biblical world, and even in many places today, a name has a far deeper meaning. A name describes something of the essence of the person. This helps explain the ancient practice of the Jews to name the child on the eighth day. The delay gave the parents some time to observe something of the essence of the child, and then, noting it, they would name the child. Indeed, most biblical names are deeply meaningful and descriptive.
But it is presumptive to think that we can know enough of the essence of a particular angel in order to be able to assign a name. Hence, assigning a name seems inappropriate.
The second reason is that assigning a name indicates some superiority over the one named. Thus in the case of children, parents, who are superior over their children, rightly name them. However, in the case of angels, they are superior to us. And, even though we often speak of them as serving us, they do this on account of their superior power and as guardians. Thus God commands us to heed their voice (see Ex 23:20-21).
You are surely encouraged to speak to your angel, and the usual practice is to say something like, “Dear Guardian Angel….” or simply “Guardian Angel, please help….”
I usually get a lot of pushback when I have given this answer elsewhere, whether in print or in talks. I realize that many have strong feelings to the contrary of what the Roman congregation advises. And though I think the caution is reasonable and that we should not name angels, neither should we abandon charity among one another over this issue or allow it to loom too large as something permitted or forbidden.
The bottom line should be to avoid the practice but to preserve charity and gently correct if possible, or tolerate it with kindness where necessary.
Rev. Msgr. Charles E. Pope is a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.