How Do Name Days Differ From Birthdays?

Kate Chered
4 min readDec 4, 2023

What is a Name Day and Why Does it Not Coincide with a Birthday?

Name Days are a tradition rooted deeply in history and culture, particularly in Orthodox Christian societies. This custom involves celebrating the feast day of the saint after whom a person is named. Unlike birthdays, which mark the physical birth of a person, Name Days celebrate the spiritual connection to a patron saint who shares the same name.

Traditionally, the Name Day was highly significant in pre-revolutionary Russia. Infants were baptized soon after birth, typically on the 3rd, 8th, or even the 40th day, and were named after a saint whose feast day was close to the date of baptism. This meant that, historically, a person’s Name Day coincided with their baptism day.

Today, the situation is quite different. While many children are still named after saints (like Elena, Irina, or Maxim), this naming often happens at birth rather than during baptism, which may occur months later. Consequently, the feast day of a child’s namesake saint might not align with their baptism day, leading to a distinction between Name Day and Angel Day.

What is an Angel Day and How is it Celebrated?

An Angel Day, distinct from a Name Day, directly refers to the day a person is baptized. In Orthodox Christianity, it is believed that from the moment of baptism, God assigns an invisible Guardian Angel to watch over the baptized individual. This belief underpins the significance of the Angel Day in one’s life.

In ancient Russian tradition, the Angel Day coincided with the Name Day as the child was named after a saint on the baptism day, thereby also receiving a Guardian Angel. However, modern practices have altered this tradition. Today, the child’s given name at baptism might not necessarily be that of a saint, leading to a separation between the Angel Day and the Name Day.

The celebration of an Angel Day is a reminder of one’s spiritual journey and the protective presence of their Guardian Angel. Unlike Name Days, which have a clear connection to a specific saint, the identity of the Guardian Angel remains unknown and is celebrated in a more personal and introspective manner.

Understanding the differences between these days helps in appreciating the cultural and religious nuances that define them. While birthdays are universally celebrated and mark the beginning of one’s life, Name Days and Angel Days offer a deeper spiritual connection to one’s heritage, beliefs, and the unseen guardians believed to guide and protect them throughout their lives.

In adapting this tradition to a broader audience, particularly in the United States, it’s important to recognize the diversity of cultural and religious practices. These traditions offer a window into understanding how different cultures commemorate life, spirituality, and identity. By exploring these customs, we gain a richer appreciation of the varied ways in which people around the world celebrate life’s significant milestones.


How Do Name Days Differ From Birthdays?

Name Days celebrate the feast day of a saint a person is named after, focusing on a spiritual connection rather than the physical act of being born. Unlike birthdays, which commemorate the date of birth, Name Days are linked to the calendar of saint feast days. For those named after a saint, their Name Day is observed on the saint’s feast day, fostering a sense of spiritual identity and connection to religious heritage.

What Constitutes an Angel Day in Orthodox Tradition?

An Angel Day in Orthodox Christianity marks the day a person was baptized. It is believed that on this day, a Guardian Angel is assigned to the baptized individual. The Angel Day is a reminder of one’s spiritual journey and the divine protection believed to accompany them throughout their life. This day is celebrated more introspectively, focusing on spiritual reflection and the presence of the Guardian Angel.

When Did Name Days Traditionally Coincide With Baptism Days?

In pre-revolutionary Russia, Name Days traditionally coincided with baptism days. Infants were baptized soon after birth, and a name was chosen based on the saint’s feast day nearest to the baptism date. This practice aligned the Name Day with the baptism day, making them a combined celebration of spiritual naming and the commencement of religious life.

Where Do the Concepts of Name Days and Angel Days Originate?

The concepts of Name Days and Angel Days originate primarily in Orthodox Christian traditions. These practices are deeply embedded in the religious and cultural history of countries with strong Orthodox Christian influences, such as Russia and Greece. They reflect the significance of saints in Orthodox faith and the belief in divine guardianship through Guardian Angels.

Why Are Modern Name Days and Angel Days Often Separate?

In contemporary practices, Name Days and Angel Days are often separate due to changes in baptism and naming customs. Nowadays, children are frequently named at birth, sometimes after saints and sometimes not. Baptism may occur months later, and the name given during baptism may differ from the birth name. As a result, the feast day of the namesake saint (Name Day) and the baptism day (Angel Day) may not align, leading to separate celebrations.

Originally published at on December 4, 2023.