Saint Rocco ~ My Son’s Namesake

Saint Rocco
Saint Rocco

I never realized what a negative association many Americans had with the name Rocco until I began receiving looks of horror and disgust from people when they heard my son’s name.  I will admit that it did not fit him when he was an infant, but by some of the expressions, you would have thought I told people his name was Adolph Hitler.  I do not live in an area with a large Italian population, so I had never met anyone named Rocco. We have a Rocco’s Pizza in town though, as well as restaurants named Dario’s, Stefano’s, Gianni’s, and Fabrizio’s. My first association with all of those names was great Italian food. Mafia thugs never crossed my mind. Apparently, the character, Rocco Lampone, from Mario Puzo’s The Godfather left quite a negative impression on the minds of many Americans. I wondered about the other Godfather characters like Michael, Anthony, Vincent, Sonny, Paulie, Joe, and Carlo. Perhaps those are common enough that people have made many other associations with them. What about the name Luca? My son has a sister named Luca.  She was 13 years old when Rocco was born. Neither name is very common, but both were in the top 500 the year Rocco was born. I was curious as to why no one associated it with the character Luca Brasi, described as ruthless, brutish, slow-witted, and the only man feared by Vito Corleone, with a reputation as a savage killer. In general, people love that name, so what happened with Rocco? I simply do not accept that The Godfather had such a powerful influence over people’s opinions of a name. Rocco is a perfectly good name that’s been around since at least the 14th century. It has very special meaning to me, and I am writing this to share my personal reasons for naming my son Rocco.

My son is not named for a movie character, and mobster movies were the furthest thing on my mind when I chose the name. Rocco is named for a Catholic saint.  Saint Rocco was French, although the name is Italian.  My son’s paternal grandmother was French (LeBlanc) and his paternal grandfather was Italian (DeTora).  It was great to have an Italian name with a French connection for our son.  In 1998, I took a religious education class about the Catholic saints and wrote a report on Saint Rocco. I learned everything known about his life and works.  He became my favorite saint and I decided if I ever had another son and the name flowed with his surname, he would be called Rocco.

The life of Saint Rocco was very interesting to me.  He was born into a wealthy family about 1340 A.D. in Montpellier, France. At birth, he had a red cross shaped birthmark on the left side of his chest. From a very young age, Rocco was very devoted to God and the Blessed Mother, Mary. He was quite young when his parents died and was left in the care of his uncle, the Duke of Montpellier. As a very young man, Rocco took a vow of poverty and gave all of his money to the poor.

Dressed in the clothes of a pilgrim, he went to Rome. On his journey, he traveled through Aquapendente, Cesena, and other neighboring cities before reaching Rome. These cities were stricken by the plague. Rocco devoted himself to these plague victims and healed them with prayer and the sign of the cross. Legend has it that everywhere Rocco visited, his miraculous power healed entire cities. After leaving Rome, he traveled through Mantua, Modena, and Parma, all with the same amazing results.

During this time, Rocco contracted the plague, which was evident by a sore on his right leg. This caused him to be banished from the city. He took refuge in a cave, sleeping on leaves and drinking from a stream. Legend has it that a dog owned by a lord refused to eat and would faithfully bring Rocco bread each day.  Out of curiosity, the lord followed his dog one day and discovered Rocco in the cave. Taking pity on him, he brought Rocco back to his castle where he was healed.

Rocco continued to travel through northern Italy for about three more years. When he returned to his birthplace in France, he was very ill and unrecognizable to the townspeople. He was thrown into prison.  He had been imprisoned for five years when a guard found him near death and his cell illuminated with a blue light radiating from his body. His uncle, the governor heard of this, went to the jail cell, and demanded to know his identity.  When asked, he replied “I am your nephew, Rocco.” When the governor saw the birthmark on his chest, he knew this to be true. Rocco passed away on that day, the 16th of August in 1378. After his passing, those present in his cell heard a voice announcing that the soul of Saint Rocco had merited immortal glory in Heaven.

Saint Rocco continued to perform miracles after his death. He is venerated in the Roman Catholic Church as the protector of the plague and all contagious diseases. His image is very unique because of his pose and that he is depicted pointing to a sore on his leg. It is extremely rare for images of saints to expose any afflictions or handicaps. The body of Saint Rocco is enclosed in a glass tomb in Saint Rocco Catholic Church in Venice, Italy. He is remembered each year on the 16th of August. Saint Rocco is greatly venerated throughout Italy, but especially in Southern Italy and Sicily.  He is my son’s namesake.

Thanks for reading ~ Sid

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Published in: on February 2, 2009 at 10:20 pm  Comments (9)  
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