What gave the baby name Kateri a boost in 1980?

Catholic saint Kateri Tekakwitha
Kateri Tekakwitha

Among the seven new saints canonized by Pope Benedict seven last Sunday was Kateri Tekakwitha, an Algonquin–Mohawk woman who was born 1656 in what is now New York state. She is the first indigenous woman of North America to be canonized by the Catholic Church.

The name Kateri is based on her baptismal name, Catherine (which would have been pronounced the French way, ka-TREEN, as she was baptized by French Canadian Jesuits).

“Kateri” has been popping up in the U.S. baby name data for decades, starting roughly around the time Kateri Tekakwitha was declared venerable, in early 1943.

In 1980, the year Tekakwitha was beatified, usage of the name Kateri more than tripled:

  • 1982: 45 baby girls named Kateri
  • 1982: 37 baby girls named Kateri
  • 1980: 65 baby girls named Kateri
  • 1979: 18 baby girls named Kateri
  • 1978: 19 baby girls named Kateri

Every year since, several dozen U.S. baby girls have been named Kateri. Here are the most recent numbers:

  • 2011: 43 baby girls named Kateri
  • 2010: 29 baby girls named Kateri
  • 2009: 29 baby girls named Kateri
  • 2008: 35 baby girls named Kateri
  • 2007: 48 baby girls named Kateri

Do you think Kateri Tekakwitha’s promotion to sainthood will give her name another upward nudge? If so, how much of a nudge?

P.S. Other baby names inspired by Catholic saints include Jeannedarc and Cabrini.

Update, 2020: The name was given to 60+ babies for three years straight (2012 to 2014), but the 1980 number is still the overall high-point.


Image: Kateri Tekakwitha by Fr. Claude Chauchetière

4 thoughts on “What gave the baby name Kateri a boost in 1980?

  1. I’ve seen at least two birth announcements for babies named Kateri in last few months. My county is traditionally very Catholic, so I won’t be surprised to see more.

  2. I wonder whether Tekakwitha will make it into the SSA statistics, it sounds very “namy”. Do you know the meaning of Tekakwitha?

  3. @elbowin – I don’t know the meaning, but here’s what I found in Kateri Tekakwitha, Mystic of the Wilderness by Margaret Bunson:

    Her name was originally Tekakwitha, or Tegarouite (translated by some scholars as meaning she who puts things in order), or as Tegahkouita (translated as meaning one who advances or cuts the way before her). […] The addition of Kateri, or Katherine, the name which she now bears within honor before the altars of the universal Church, was the result of her conversion and baptism.

    And here’s another translation, from the National Women’s History Museum:

    In 1660, when she was four, smallpox spread through her village and took the lives of her mother, father, and younger brother. She survived, but was left weaker, scarred, and partially blind. Thus, she was named Tekakwitha, which means “The One Who Walks Groping for Her Way.” Her uncle, also a Mohawk chief, and two of her aunts adopted her, and a new village was formed five miles away from the contagion.

    I had always assumed Tekakwitha was some sort of surname or clan name. I guess not. Looks like it was her one and only name until she joined the church.

    I hadn’t even thought to look for people named Tekakwitha before you mentioned it. (Thanks for that!) Turns out there are at least a few people out there with the middle name Tekakwitha (typically first name Kateri) and at least one person with the first name Tekakwitha.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.