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Magical Names

Dear Witchful Thinking,

I’ve been a practicing Pagan for over a year but I’m having trouble finding the right magical name. What should I do?

Sincerely,

Literally Anonymous

Dear Literally,

I suppose the first question to answer is this: why do you want a magical name? There are a variety of reasons people choose them or receive them:

  • Anonymity – Sadly there are some (nay, many) places around the world where it is unsafe to be public about who you really are. A magical name protects the person online in chatrooms, at public moots, in letters to the editor, and that sort of thing. A lot of teachers use magical names as, essentially, the name of their business or a brand. Very useful if you are doing more than one thing–for example, writing articles for a Pagan magazine and articles for the New York Times, and nary the twain shall meet. This way, they can protect their family identity, their professional careers, and their children.
  • A Sense of Belonging – Many covens use magical or craft names only when they get together. It further solidifies the group cohesion. Names may imply a lineage, such as who initiated who. Sometimes these names are secret: used only within the coven context.
  • Individual Identity – I belong to a large community in which there are several Jamie’s. One has been around for many years longer, and another is relatively new. But now that we are all in the tradition, we need to differentiate! There is Jamie Alpha, Jamie the Other (that’s me) and Jamie the Usurper (it’s a long story). Now if we all just went by craft names, it would be a lot easier! In this case, the names were given to us, but we embraced them and include them on name tags, in programs, and things of that nature.
  • As Rite of Passage – There are times when we finish a book of life, and begin another one. When one feels so separate from who they were before, it is time for a right of passage. A good example would be a person who survived something horrible, but no longer wants to associate with the person they were before that experience. Many children do this naturally as they become teenagers. Bobby becomes Rob, and Will transforms into Bill. But we have the option to differentiate further and take on a whole new name to use in the community.
  • As Secret Code – Many traditions encourage their members to take on a magical name, but to keep it secret. It is to be used only between the individual and their Gods. It’s a handy device: sometimes during ritual, one gets whispers from ancestors, Gods and spirits. And one way to know it is someone you know, it to give them your secret name. Or perhaps you hear your secret name as you walk through a party: it gives context and meaning as an omen from the Beyond.
  • In Homage – Some show their interests and hobbies through the clever choice of name. Perhaps a first name is taken from a fantasy novel and the last name from some meaningful herbs. Some Heathens may choose a name that is more in line with the Scandinavian languages spoken by the Gods they honor. Perhaps one may have Native American heritage, or were given a name by the Tribe. It is perfectly appropriate to honor those roots and connections.
  • Because I’m Supposed To – Really? In a religion as individualistic as ours and you’re going to let some book tell you what to do about something as personal as your name? There’s got to be a better reason than that!

So much depends on your community!

On the East Cost, where the Craft first landed, many were educated in traditional covens that had Craft names, and so Solitaries and other Pagans found that to be what the community expected and took them on.

But in the South, where values are more, shall we say…traditional, folks took on magical names to protect their identities.  They needed to keep their families safe and hidden in an unstable region.

In California, where the hippie movement was born (among other things), the feminist culture melded with drug-induced trips and desert Native culture. Magical names became part of a magical identity. I think it is considered healing to take up a magical identity, and build the kind of person you want to be. Very empowering.

Where I live in the Pacific Northwest, magical names are fine for keeping one safe on the computer, but many who live a serious life as a Pagan consider them a little amateur. They see it as mixing too much fantasy with something that ought to be taken more seriously. And why come up with a new identity when most of us are still trying to figure out who we are?

What about your region? What is the attitude about Craft or mgical names?

Some things to consider…

Think about it. The truth is that our names are given to us. Even a nickname we go by is given to us by a friend. Your parents named you your name for a reason. They might be upset that you want to change it. And good luck getting your family and close friends to call you by a new name. Once your introduced as a certain name–that’s it. It’s hard to change once it’s already established.

Names are incredibly powerful. Nary a human being doesn’t shudder at their mother calling them by their entire name. Taking on a new last name during a marriage has so many social connotations. I’m recently divorced, and in drawing up the papers, had to decide which name I wanted, weighing the social implications of keeping my husbands last name or returning to my family of origin. I had to ask around before I felt comfortable making a decision.

The idea of creating your own name has the advantage of building your own identity. But what identity are you building? Is your choice for a name so complicated that no one will remember it? Likely it means no one will remember you! Is the name so derivative that you look like a copy-cat or a otaku fanboy? And taking a name from another culture may bring the wrath of the people in that culture (it’s called cultural appropriation and we need to be aware).

Personally I don’t need a magical name because I have all the name I need. I’m still figuring out who I am and what I represent (and I hope I never find all the answers!). So I use a moniker on websites? Yes of course, that’s just good common sense. But in certain situations, like here on my blog, you and, Gentle Reader, have a professional and personal relationship, so I don’t mind telling you my name. It is up to you how much you want to share in return. I promise to never make fun of your name, however you introduce yourself. And let me know if you want your real name or a nom de plum.

But if it all goes to shit, you can always use this.

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  1. Shaiha
    December 1, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    I just had to make a comment about regions and names. Even in the Pacific Northwest, many pagans that follow traditional paths do take on magickal names. It is part of their teachings and traditions.

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