The Importance of Names

Call it what you will – the soul, the essence, the ego, the Middle Self – but I am a big fan of me. And not only am I a fan of me, but I’m also a fan of the concept of me. There is a Me. There is a self in this body. There is something utterly precious in this limited, mortal sliver of existence bookended by this body’s birth and this body’s death. I don’t know if I or any part of myself is immortal, and frankly I don’t care. What I care about, practically and magically, is this life, this being peeking out of these eyes, using these hands to affect change in this lifetime.

I did magic tonight in the spirit of doing magic on a regular basis, just like my Lady told me to. Half the spell tonight I wrote out beforehand, with the main ritual actions yanked directly from The Goodly Spellbook. (I’ll let you know later if I recommend this volume or not.) I’ll leave the details of tonight’s working to your imagination, partly because I don’t feel like sharing something so personal and partly because I want to keep the energies of the spell focused. Basically I performed a severing spell with the intention of separating the energies of myself and someone else who really needs to be gone, in totality, from my life. This mix of Me and Not Me energies have needed pruning for a good, long while. Though I feel like the Morrígan is neither finished with myself or with this working, what I want to specifically talk about is the impromptu segment of tonight’s activities that started after I’d sat down before my altar, but before I read aloud my prepared spell.

I started by naming myself. My birth name is this, my chosen male name is that, my online Pagan monicker is a third name. I am this person, the one I am naming now. And just so the universe is absolutely sure it’s got the right person, I recited my  birthday and the names of my parents, grandparents, and beloved.

I did this purely instinctually and felt a response. It was like I was saying to the universe: “Hey look, buddy. I’m here and I’ve got something to say.” And the universe listened.

Naming myself at the beginning of the spell was, in the strangest way, like using the advanced search feature with Google to ensure I could find the exact point of data needing to be found. Except I wasn’t during the searching, the universe was, and I was that point of data being searched for. (Okay. It’s not a perfect metaphor.) Maybe a more effective analogy would be a call number for a book in a very, very large library. Each letter and number is vital to finding the book in question; change one thing and you’ll wind up with a different book entirely.

There’s a fantastic series I’ve been meaning to reread called Young Wizards by YA fantasy author Diane Duane. In it, a key component to a wizard’s spells was to properly name the involved individuals by writing that name out in the Speech (essentially the code behind the entire universe). At first the protagonists’ naming was simple, involving birth names and dates of birth and data like that, but over the series these identifying markers grew more and more complex. One example that comes to mind is that the boy wizard, Kit, was secretly a huge Shakespeare fan and his partner Nita encouraged him to include this characteristic when writing out his name in the Speech. After all, words have power and every word is essentially a spell until itself, and Kit might go into a spell one way and come out another if the right words at the right time in the right way weren’t part of his written name.

Of course, it would be awfully unwieldy for those of us in the real world to recite as thorough a list of attributes as possible whenever we wanted to do spellwork. Certainly, I’ve no reason to think that this universe and the magic therein would have difficulty finding me when I needed it to without such a list in hand. However, I do think that at the very least this instinctual experiment in naming myself tonight had some psychological impact. It gave me space to affirm who I was, without question – this wasn’t some other Ellen, Danny, or Sage running around – as well as clarify which parts of my identity are most important to me. My immediate lineage, the date my ka entered this body, the name of my chosen lover and soulmate – these things make up who I am. You cannot mistake me for any other person, nor another’s magic for my own.

I’m not sure where I want to go with this, to be honest. I think that a larger part of my spirituality in general and my spellcraft in specific will involve some naming of myself. At the very least it gets me engaged and focused: two necessary ingredients for successful ritual. I may also take another look at sigils, or some other graphic way to represent myself when writing spells.

What do my readers think? What relationship do you see between magic and names? When has naming, either yourself or others, become a magical act for you?

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One thought on “The Importance of Names

  1. Names have always been a kind of really important Thing for me, ever since I was a kid. I was obsessed with genealogy, and my stuffed animals had to have the RIGHT names. When I started writing, I would spend hours researching the meaning behind characters’ names, and often I wouldn’t be able to continue writing in a new character until I’d found the RIGHT name for them.

    In elementary school I changed my name several times. I was tired of being my “real name”, or my legal one, because it didn’t feel right. I was Dion Justine for a while, or DJ. I think part of the reason may have had to do with my then-obsession with Full House, but another reason, completely subconscious, may have been that I was trying to be the son that mom had lost and mourned. She was going to name him Dion.

    By high school I settled on the name CJ Flower, and a lot of people in my life still call me CJ. In Junior year I had a nervous breakdown and went back to my legal name, and then in 2008 I chose Katje.

    Morag I chose after reading The Tir Alainn Trilogy by Anne Bishop, and Spinner was more recent. There’s meaning behind these names, and they’re important.

    Nowadays, I can’t imagine myself as anyone other than Morag or Katje. They’re my True Names.

    Something we did in First Nations Studies classes, as part of protocol, was to recite our introduction. It always had to have a thank you to the indigenous peoples whose traditional territory we were on, a thank you to the elders whose wisdom and support we had the benefit of in our classes, a thank you to the professors who facilitated class, a thank you to our classmates for showing up, and we had to say who we were — which meant saying the names of our parents, our grandparents, our spouses, our children, our sisters, our brothers — and where we were from. Mine changed every time, because sometimes I’d forget to say certain folks, but I’d always remember my mother and my Oma.

    I think that was very telling. There was no doubt in my mind that Katje — who Katje is — was very much made up out of the influence of my mother and my Oma. But there was doubt as to if Katje was made from my father or not. (Verdict: nope.)

    Now, if I were to do that introduction, I’d include my grandmothers, my mother, and my Lord, Manannan. I am son and daughter of the rains and the mists. That’s as much a part of either of my names as the vowels and consonants that make them up.

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