The first name given to a child is always a Christian name. It is the saint of this name who is the patron of the child. Many times the child receives the name of a saint who is commemorated on the day or near to the day of the child's birth. Sometimes the child is named after a saint for whom the family has special devotion. An adult who becomes Orthodox generally will be given a Christian name by the priest who accepts him into the Faith or he will be allowed to choose his own patron saint to whom he has a strong attachment.
It is to our patron saint that we should pray and have special devotion, so that we may receive an abundance of God's blessings. Not only should we hold our patron saint in special reverence, but also we should have an icon of the saint in our room and in the icon corner. His or her life should be read and studied, so that we may learn how our lives should be directed. On the feast day of the saint, we celebrate our name day and the saint's day. This day is considered as our birthday into the Church and on this day we celebrate this important event.
Orthodox, many times, celebrate their name day by inviting Orthodox family and friends to their home which may be decorated for the occasion. An icon of the saint is displayed in a prominent place and often is decorated with flowers. The priest may be requested to serve an Akathist or Molieben (prayer service) to the saint on this day either in the home or in the church.
The difference between the celebration of one's day of physical birth and of one's name day is that on the former the person whose birthday it is, is the center of attention, whereas on the latter, the saint is the focal point. For this reason the icon of the saint is prominently displayed. The saint being the center does not imply that the person is forgotten, for he is wished by all a "Happy name day," or is sung "God grant you many years." The latter might be thought of as the capstone of all name day celebrations.
Placing the saint as the center of attention on one's name day ties the whole celebration in with the entire Church—both the living and those fallen asleep in Christ, since it is on this day that the Church is commemorating the saint. Our friends and relatives are not alone in their celebration, but do so together with the whole Church. Their prayers are directed to the saint so that his or her prayer to God on our behalf may bring us God's bountiful blessings.
One's name day is not only a day for celebration but also is a day for our spiritual growth. We should try to go to confession and to receive the Holy Eucharist on this day. In parishes where this is not always possible, one should do so on the Sunday or feast that is nearest the saint's feast day.
Deceased family members and friends should be remembered in prayer on the feast day of their patron saint.