Tuesday, March 7, 2017


Whenever I have to show my passport at some airport, I am often asked, "Do you own Forbes magazine?" or something similar. To which I sometimes reply, "If I did, would I be flying commercial?"

Most people don't know that the Franciscan tradition for us friars is to DROP FOREVER our family, or last, name. NO MORE FORBES

Have you ever noticed? Saint Francis OF ASSISI. Saint Anthony OF PADUA. Saint Padre Pio OF PIETRELCINA. All Franciscans.

No last names.

Yes, yes. In the time of Saints Francis and Anthony, last names were just appearing but appear they did, and Francis was called Francesco di Bernardone, and Anthony was of the Martins (and possibly the Bulhoes) family. But they aren't known by their last names, and neither are all the subsequent Franciscan saints known by their last names. They are known, instead, by the towns and cities where they were born or the towns they were most identified with.


Why did a man drop his family name when he joined the Franciscans?

In order to become a brother to everybody, rich or poor, high or low.

Like it or not, our last names often tell others about our social background. Depending on the country or area, a last name immediately tells others, "Oh, he's from a rich family, a poor family, a banking family, a political family," and so on.

Last names thus can be a sort of barrier between people. Saint Francis saw himself as a brother to everyone, even to the animals, the sun and moon and everything that God created in this world. He didn't want to be higher than anyone, and he called his community the Friars Minor.

Friar = brother

Minor = lesser, lower

Last names could make one elevated above others, so we dropped our last names. Even if a friar came from a humble family, the last name was dropped because last names, whether of a rich or poor person, point to our earthy family ties. Keeping a name that connects us with just our blood relatives defeats the purpose of becoming a brother to everyone, as is the ideal of the Friars Minor.

So, in case there were two Friar Johns or two Friar Josephs, the home town was added to their name.


These are the names of Spanish Capuchins who used to work on Guam. The very old may remember their names.  But the names the older people remember of these Spanish friars are of their TOWN NAMES, not their last names.

Let's start with the best known Spanish friar on Guam, Påle' Román María de Vera. Was his family name de Vera? No. His last names were Dornacu Olaechea. The town where he was born was called Vera. Román de Vera means Román OF Vera (of the town of Vera).

Another Spanish example. Brother (Fray) Jesús de Begoña was the secretary and assistant to Bishop Olano. Was Begoña his family name? No. His family names were Jáuregui Aranzábal. But he was born in the town of Begoña, so when he became a Capuchin, he became known as Jesús OF Begoña (Jesús de Begoña).


If you're from Santa Rita, and are older, you will remember the name of the pastor there in the 1950s, 60s and part of the 70s. His name was Father Ferdinand. His family name was Stippich (a German name), but he signed his name "Ferdinand of Wauwatosa," because his home town was Wauwatosa in Wisconsin. This letter was in Latin so he signed it with the Latin form of his name "Ferdinandus a Wauwatosa."

Just to show you how that would be in English, here is a letter signed by the superior in Detroit, Father Theodosius, whose last name was Foley (Irish), but who was born in Yonkers, New York.

So now I hope you can see why sometimes I sign my name like this :

This was a book I wrote translated into Spanish, so my name is Fray (Friar) Eric de Sinajaña (of Sinajaña), the village I grew up in.

If something is in English, I might sign it "Fr Eric of Sinajaña."

If in Chamorro, I could make it "Påle' Eric gi Sinajaña."

And, most times, I just say "Påle' Eric" or "Father Eric," and nothing else follows after, since I am the only priest named Eric (so far) on Guam. No need to ask, "Which Påle' Eric?"

Only when truly necessary, for people to know who I am, will I go ahead with using my last name, but I often tell people, "Just drop the last name."

Diocesan priests are (in an English-speaking context) properly known by their last names. Father Crisostomo, Msgr Quitugua, Father Gofigan.

But not Capuchins.

We are properly known by our given names and our tradition is to avoid using our last names. But most Capuchins today use their last names all the time.

Except for me.

I hope you understand why now. It's a Franciscan tradition.

If anything feels like a kick to my stomach, it's to be called Father Forbes.

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