I’ve had a difficult relationship with my name since childhood. In the fourth grade, we were given the opportunity to take on new identities for our Old West social studies unit. I became Victoria. I remember trying on different names in the mirror. While combing my hair I’d repeat them as I gazed into my own eyes (how witchy of me…) and tested names like Vanessa or Serena. By the end of elementary school, I had switched from using my given name to “Lucy,” my middle name, and this stuck through high school.
Shortly after college, I began using my Hebrew name in some online spaces. It didn’t fit me any better than my legal name did but I liked that it was, in essence, spiritual and ancestral. It connected me to my Jewish heritage. I was raised in a semi-secular household, so it was one of the only shreds of a Jewish spiritual life I really had. But I wasn’t spiritually Jewish. I was pagan. I had been engaged with paganism and books on witchcraft long before I could really conceive what I was getting into! Yet, even as my spiritual life matured, I never truly considered taking a pagan name. That all changed after my daughter was born and I, once again, confronted how much weight I place into names.
There are countless spiritual teachings around names found in human cultures. Across those cultures, names are consistently recognized to carry not only meaning but power too. Indeed, magic is often thought to be spoken. A name is an extension of that magic. There have been a series of studies in recent years that show people are also affected by their name, with everything from a person’s personality to their physical appearance able to be altered. Some cultures traditionally bestow a single person with multiple names. These may be names that are for a specific purpose. Some names are used with outsiders, spoken only within the family unit, between child and parent, or with one’s spouse or spiritual leader.
My husband and I took this to heart when we were exploring names for our daughter. We ultimately gave her three legal names: a first name and two middle names, all chosen for the magic they carry. But she also has a fourth name we use for her at home, a Hebrew one that, like Sarai Ora, connects her to her Jewish heritage – even if we don’t actively participate in that spiritual system.
If I could rename myself, I would – so why not? If I’m being honest, my childhood self would be surprised that I’m approaching 30 and have yet to legally change my name. But I haven’t come across the one that fits me, nor encapsulates the woman I want to become. No matter how many times my ten year old self muttered Vanessa in the mirror, I’m not a Vanessa. I’m not a Lucy. Nor am I a Sarai.
Most pagans who have a spiritual community, whether they’re druids or witches, are given the opportunity to take a new name upon completion of the first year or so of their studies. Of course, not everyone is keen to take this on. Some choose to take the name of their patron deity as a new “surname,” while others choose entirely new names to use within their grove, coven, or circle. As a solitary practitioner, I’ve never had someone kick down my door and declare that I’m ready to take a name. If someone had, I’m sure I would’ve taken the opportunity!
How does a solitary witch, pagan, or druid take a new name?
1. Choose wisely
The first decision needs to be a private one. This name is going to be yours, so take time to consider more than face value of the name or what others may think. I’d say that a “good” name for a pagan is one that feels accurate to your personality and your soulself. To me, a spiritual name is something that encapsulates your essence, while also encouraging the playfulness and mundane reality of being a human being.
Many pagans, as I mentioned before, tend to select the name of a deity or mythological figure they work with and adapt it into their name. Other pagans choose words from the natural world to craft something unique, such as Silver RavenWolf. Many name lists online suggest names from the natural world, too, or celestial bodies.
But practicing an earth religion doesn’t mean your name choices need to be limited to options derived from nature. Being pagan is also about exploring the depth of archetypes and psychospiritual experiences that make up our fascinating inner world. Thus, names that evoke those archetypes, myths, heroes, or memories are beautiful choices, whether they’re from the collective experience or personal experience.
2. Take your time connecting with your new name
Before making a ritual of it, I’d recommend you keep your newly decided name to yourself for at least a few lunar cycles. If you’re truly ready to keep this name for a long time, this practice shouldn’t be too much of an interruption. Speak your new pagan aloud often, especially in the mirror, in the bath, or late at night. Allow yourself time to see if the connection is genuine.
Of course, waiting any length of time isn’t required. Personally, I find that my mental state can seriously influence my likes and dislikes, and my mental state can change pretty easily with the seasons. I’m a very different animal in winter than I am in the summer! I’d wait awhile just to be sure that the many versions of myself that I experience and express can wear the name.
If you’ve had an idea for a name for awhile, you could consider testing it with a few friends or others close to you before committing fully.
3. Make it official!
There are basically three ways of doing this. If you’re part of a grove, coven, or other pagan group or community, check with them if there are any rituals they have in place to facilitate your “re-birth” into this new name and identity. Chances are, they have this – or might even expect it of you at the one year mark!
On the other hand, if you’re a solitary practitioner (like me) you’re on your own. There are a variety of rituals to suit whichever path you follow. I’ve come across more than one ritual for lightworks, witches, druids, and other neo pagans. Because I haven’t engaged with any of these myself, I won’t link them here. Don’t fret! They’re easy to find and abundant.
If you’re not comfortable sourcing a ritual and performing it yourself, you could always reach out to a temple, circle, or grove that offers ritual services to non members. Expect a fee or be prepared to offer a small donation.
The path to choose my own name
Looking back over the last ten years, I’ve been dedicated to my path in a way. I want to recognize the woman I’m becoming, the druid I feel called to be, with a name that reflects it. And I haven’t found a name yet, but I’m looking.