Tuesday, March 06, 2007

What's In A Name?

How can words convey so much meaning and yet that meaning be slightly different for each person because of the connotation? How can names do the same thing for different people? Do people think about their words within their own connotations verses someone else's? How about names?

I've been thinking a lot about the meaning of names and how they say a lot about a person. This can be any type of name - your "real name," a nickname, a spiritual name, and even a name you are called during the heat of an argument. All these names say something about you - who you are, who other people think you are, if they like you, and if they don't.

I've been thinking about this subject of names in regards to two things: my own name and how I use it as well as the use of spiritual names. With my own name, I tend to prefer my middle name. When my first name is used, it is by family and long time friends who have trouble thinking about me in a way that allows them to call me by my middle name. As one of my friends said (after repeatedly asking him to use my middle name), "I just can't think of you as Nichole. Sorry." Other people had no problem with the change and told me, "It fits you better than your first name." While I have not taken the time to contemplate the differences in treatment when one name is used verses the other, I know there are differences. And it could be one reason why family and some friends still refuse to call me by the name I prefer.

But there is another realm of names that I have been thinking about as well - spiritual names or as Pagans like to call them "Craft names." Up until recently, I have seen no need for them. I thought them to be something of a pretense, a show, one more thing that screamed "I'm different! Look at me!" But there is more to it than just being different, I am starting to realize.

There are many religious groups and cultures that have used special or secret names as a way to express aspects of their spirituality. For example, a friend of mine who is Catholic chose a spiritual name at the time of her confirmation. The one she chose fit her perfectly because it was an aspect of her personality she wanted to express.

Another example of how names are used in different ways, and I've seen it in both in real life and in literature, is the "real name" verses "daily use name." In the Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula Le Guin, the characters and called by one name from birth until they hit their naming day. On their naming day, they are given their "true name," one that gives other people power over them if someone knows what it is. They are not to give this name to people. I thought that this was a unique concept and was surprised to find that there are cultures that hold this very belief today.

After having a conversation about this subject with a friend of mine, and thinking about some of the above, I now realize that a spiritual name name is a way to show connection of who you are to your religious and spiritual side/life; a way for you to connect to your beliefs. It can be used not only to identify you within your community (if it is a public name) or a way for you to connect to the divine (if it is a private name or even a public name).

Names are so much more than just something that is used as a label. They are a tool for you and others to connect; to connect to each other, to the divine, to your culture, to your religion and to your spirit. Although I won't be choosing a spiritual name just yet, I now have a lot more respect for them than I used to have.


Mama Kelly said...

In the near 20 years I've been a Witch I've worn 2 magical names. At this point both of which have been outgrown.

One was too enmeshed with a relationship that I thought would last a lifetime

One became secularized by my using it online.

At this point its time to choose another hidden name solely for ritual. But I am still waiting for that name to call me.


Mama Kelly

S. Nichole said...

Thanks for the comment, Mama Kelly!

You make a good point that I hadn't even thought of: When is it appropriate to choose a new spiritual name? And(depending on the culture or religious path), should you change names if the name no longer fits?

I am guessing the answer would be different for different people, paths and cultures. And, as you pointed out, depending on the previous usage of the name.

Toni said...

I read the EarthSea collection and hadn't given much thought to their tradition of names until I read your post. That knowing the true name of an individual was an act of trust and faith in someone else, the idea beckons to me.

Having problems with my own name and my own acceptance of it, I see the need for having a name personal and/or private to incorporate aspects of your being that may be coming to the forefront. How to choose that name has yet been revealed to me so I trudge on with what I have.

Thank you for the inspiring thought on the subject though.