What’s In a Name? What Our Protestant Ancestors Called Themselves
The names that came to represent various Protestant denominations of the 16th century were not always the names our ancestors would have known or would have preferred to be called.
Anabaptists. Anabaptists had many names for themselves, including Brethren and simply Christians. Their enemies, however, called them “Anabaptists” (“re-baptizers”) or even “revolutionaries.”
Anglicans. In the 16th century, the Anglicans, much like the Huguenots, preferred the term “Reformers.” They also used “Protestants” to distinguish themselves from Catholics, whom they thought of as “old believers” or as belonging to the “old religion.”
Calvinists. Like Martin Luther, John Calvin’s followers balked at being called “Calvinists” as if they followed a man instead of God. Scottish Calvinists became known as Presbyterians, while French Calvinists, Huguenots, preferred “Reformed.” (Réformé)
Lutherans. Martin Luther fought against his followers being known as “Lutherans,” wanting all the praise and glory to go to God. He disliked the idea of lending his name to new evangelical doctrines. However, the term “Lutherans” soon became popular and was used even among believers. Lutherans probably came to dislike the name when every 16th century Protestant, even those of the Calvinist faith, was referred to as “Lutherans” by enemies who simply did not care to learn the differences.
Huguenots. No one is exactly sure where this name came from, but it was first coined by Catholics and used in derision against their foes. Huguenots preferred to be called “Reformed.”
If one were to call 16th century Protestants by any of these controversial names, the calling might or might not have been offensive depending on the group. For instance, while “Calvinist” and “Lutheran” were not preferred, they were not particularly offensive. “Huguenot,” on the other hand, had become an epithet, although many Frenchman doubtlessly disregarded its origins and used it for themselves anyway.
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