A Rose by any other Name would Smell as Sweet

About 20 years ago, I started thinking about whether my name was right for me. Like most people, I neither loved nor hated it, and I felt it was kind of silly or frivolous to consider changing it. But I wasn’t sure that the name Peter was serving me anymore. 

Around that time, I met a Vedic astrologer named Bharat who offered to draw up my chart. Based on the time and place of my birth, he told me my first name should ideally start with the sound “Lo.” It just so happens that my middle name is Logan, which felt like quite a coincidence, and the idea of going by my middle name seemed less eccentric than changing it to something entirely new.  

I was acquainted with an elderly woman who had a reputation for knowing what the right name for a person was, so I decided to get her opinion. We were in a dance class together, and after class one day I asked her what she thought about my going by Logan instead of Peter. “Let me think about it,” she replied. 

A week later she told me, “If you went by Logan, a part of your personality that comes through with the ‘Pee’ sound in Peter would be lost. And I like that part.” 

I trusted her, so I let go of the idea of calling myself Logan, but I continued to feel that I might be limited by my name. There was a growing sense that every time I used this name I was reinforcing the notion that my identity is the history, beliefs, and personality of Peter Logan Borten.  

I started to feel differently about people who changed their names as part of a healing process or spiritual awakening. I realized that it must have taken a lot of courage. They risked weirding-out their friends, family, and coworkers for the sake of something more important – their own freedom and potential. 

In our advanced level Dragontree Life Coaching training last weekend, we did a day-long process about death. More striking than the fears people had about the death of their bodies was the angst – and liberation – surrounding the death of their ego (including their personal history and all of their stories about themselves). 

Part of the process was giving a title to an internal story. Any time you find yourself feeling like a victim, like life is treating you unfairly, or that things aren’t going according to the plan, it can be useful to determine if there’s a story that you’re subconsciously participating in and then give it a title. For instance: “I Lost My Only Chance at True Love” or “I Always Hold Back From My True Potential” or “Nobody Respects Me.” There are small stories and big, overarching stories. 

Often, we’re unaware of the stories we’ve constructed, but when we come up with a title it’s easy to see how much we comply with the narrative. We can be so insistent on the validity of the story that we’re almost compelled to keep playing the tragic main character. 

Two of the big questions that came up in our weekend were, “How am I limited by this identity?” and “Who would I be without it?” We avoid abandoning the story because: (1) it means we were “wrong” about this story being true, (2) it means doing something new, unknown, and uncomfortable, and (3) it means letting go of whatever “benefits” we may have derived from perpetuating that story. But I encourage you to take a moment to feel into that second question. What if you were able to let go of all of your stories and identities – who would you be? What would you do? How would life feel? 

Our stories are usually attached to the name of the main character. Sometimes the bond is very strong, other times weaker. In many cultures, taking a new name upon beginning a new chapter is an established and culturally acceptable rite, but that’s not often the case in the West. So, do we need to get rid of our name in order to let go of our story? 

In my opinion, it’s not essential but for many people it makes liberation and empowerment easier. I can tell you with utter certainty and conviction that I am not Peter Logan Borten. Peter Logan Borten is the name assigned to this body and the personality attached to it, but the name Peter Logan Borten doesn’t come close to encompassing my true identity. This is also true for the Being bearing your name. Numerous religions say the same about assigning a name to God. The first line of the Daoist classic, Dao De Jing, is “The Dao that can be named is not the true Dao.” 

Even if your name doesn’t feel like a heavy weight, perhaps you can still perceive that you’re less than your Whole, Authentic Self when you’re playing the part of the character who has your name. If so, I recommend doing some journaling on this. Consider these questions: 

  • How do you feel about your name?
  • Who is [insert your name here]?
  • What’s one (or more) of your limiting stories?
  • When you play the part of [your name] how are you limited?
  • Who would you be without this identity?
  • How does it feel to consider letting go of your name? 
  • Is there another name that feels right for you? A name without baggage – and better yet, a name that feels like it would unleash new potential?

If you do feel baggage attached to your current name, but, like most people, you’re not willing to change it, see if you can “cleanse” the name. Imagine you’re deleting all of your name’s “cookies” like you’d do to clear your web browser’s history – release all old perspectives and associations. Or come up with your own process for refreshing that name and making it your own, such as writing it on a piece of paper and burning it; writing it on something washable and immersing it in water; reclaiming it, loving it, breathing new life into it; making art that’s centered around your name, etc.

You could also watch how you introduce yourself, and rather than making your name your identity by saying, for instance, “I AM Peter,” make the subtle change to, “My name’s Peter.” If a name comes to you that would feel fresh and liberating, you can try using it just with yourself, or share it with only those with whom you’re most comfortable. 

Notice what happens. Does it feel different when people use your name? Do you feel freer to be yourself when you use a different name or have “cleansed” your current name? Share with us below. Have you changed your name? What was your experience with retiring your given name and choosing a new one?

Be well,

The Being Formerly Known as Peter

10 thoughts on “A Rose by any other Name would Smell as Sweet

  1. Beautiful and timely for me in so many ways. Thank you. And I’m curious about those in places other than the US where the phrase generally used (in English or other languages) is, “I am called {insert name here}” versus “I am {insert name here}.” (In these same languages, “Who is that?” will get a response about the person versus “How is that person called?” which translates to our “What is that person’s name?”)

    1. Thanks, Cindy. I’ve wondered about that syntax too – e.g., “me llamo …” (I call myself…). Most people probably see it as insignificant, but I wonder if there’s a subtle difference in the experience of introducing oneself.

  2. Hello Peter! When I started reading the first lines of your narrative, I laughed out loud. Why on earth the contemplation of changing your given name! If there is ‘baggage’ assigned with this name, it’s not the name. It’s you, who happened to be named ‘Peter.’ If your name was ‘John’, you would still have ‘baggage’. And who knows, Peter’s baggage might be the same as John’s, depending who were the parents who came up with the name. Some cultures, newborns are named after their parents (like the 2nd or 3rd of same name) or grandparents. And those similarities may be carried over by behaviors. Their expression goes, ‘he took after his grandfather’. And that was after maternal or paternal, who knows if they chewed tobacco and spat out or read a book under the kerosene lamp drinking tea! The factors and influences are many that carried on.

    When I was in undergraduate school, my history class profession told us, “after you leave this classroom today, depending which door you exit the building from, will determine the rest of your day or beyond, or nothing.” That is walking out of the door, you meet someone who gives you information that would alter the direction of where you were to go. Or as you go out, you see a cop ticketing your car because you parked in front of someone’s garage, and the interaction with him/her creates different outcomes.

    The name given to me, Theodora, was my grandmothers. I never met her. She passed on before my birth. I’m told that I’ve got most of her characteristics, such as attention to detail, doing things right the first time, introspective, etc, etc. I guess that’s DNA, right!

    And two other things before I close:

    I met a woman at a Greek specialty store in my town, located next to the Greek church. As I was checking items out, a woman walked in to pick up bread she had ordered for the church, part of the communion, as it was Easter week. However, she forgot her wallet. As I watched this brief encounter to unfold, I offered to pay for the bread. She did not allow me. She had made the arrangement with the store that she’d pay later. This wasn’t the first time she’d do that. She also asked ‘what’s my name, and told her. She almost fainted. Her father’s name was Theodore, and being spiritual, she felt that her father’s spirit showed up in me blessing her, as she said had happened so many times before.

    Recently, I met a woman in her 70s through a mutual friend. It was the friend’s birthday dinner and I has placed to sit next to her. She was very conversational (or talked too much). She was a retired English teacher. Then said that few years ago she changed her religion from Protestan (or something like that) to Jewish. Her daughter had done it about ten years earlier and as she learned more through her, she decided to do so as well. I did not ask her what prompted her to do that, but it made me wonder if I could do it. The the answer was a very strong, no way. Even though I’m not very active with the church, the Greek Orthodoxy has a strong hold of my values and the fabric of my life and believes. It’s too strong, too potent to fade into the presence or existence of any other. And so, my name, my baggage, my essence are all rolled in one. One could not take this blend and name it Maria, or Agape, or Martha. It’s similar of making that Easter bread with those traditional spices, and it is not without them and without them it is not an Easter bread.

    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to express these thoughts.
    Be well, as well.
    Theodora

    1. Hi Theodora,
      Thanks for your insights. Mainly I wrote this one to provoke explorations like yours. I didn’t set out with the assumption that most people dislike or feel trapped by their name, but wanted to stimulate inquiry … what would change if your name changed?
      Of course your name didn’t create your psychological baggage, and changing your name wouldn’t be a shortcut to releasing that baggage, but what if, somewhere along the journey of working through it, you saw that much of that baggage isn’t “yours.” That is, as you implied, we inherit some of it, and sometimes the name itself can be a heavy mantle. Also, the name may come with the belief that dropping that mantle would be a spit in the face to those who gave it to us or wore it before us. And so, even if the name and generational patterns don’t feel like a burden, there’s still the subtle limitation of knowing we’re not *entirely* free to be or call ourselves whatever we want. Probably it’s a very small percentage of people who acutely experience that limitation, but still an interesting discussion, in my opinion.
      I hope you’ve been well,
      Peter

  3. Thank you for this blog….I wonder how many have always questioned their name. The name game. My name identity has had different variations over the years.

    My original birth certificate actually has a blank where my first name should have been. The Nuns at the hospital must have been busy on that St. Pattys day. Seems it was handwritten in later. Which would explain my identity crisis.
    Started as Theresa, but the Polish household nickname was Tinia or Terenia or Tereska than as a tweenager TJ was first, then Terri became more fitting, then spelled Terrie , sometimes called T then a boyfriend insisted Theresa was more adult like. It feels different when people say it and usually sounds too nasal. It has a lot of baggage. Now, Identity crisis is back but I like Teressa without the H, Pronounced the British way. Wanting clarity to find a positive strong version of my name, Tinia would make me feel young again but I like the idea of letting go of the baggage of Theresa…cleansing time. I think it would be amazing to rename yourself, and have a celebration.

    The being formerly know as: Theresa, Tinia, Terenia, Tereska, TJ, Terri, Terrie, and the beat goes on.

    1. Thanks, You-With-Many-T-Names. Seems like it could be fun and flexible to have had so many variants, though perhaps confusing as to which one really feels like YOU. I wish you grace and lightness in making that choice.

  4. This is interesting. I know 2 people who have changed their name. One is dealing with a mental illness, and the other is exploring a gender transition. Both felt like their original name no longer represented the person who they are now. I wasn’t “weirded-out” by their name change, and actually thought it made a lot of sense. You don’t call a butterfly a caterpillar; it has a new name once it changes.

    That being said, I have never felt the desire the change my name although I do go by 2 names. I introduce myself as Beth or Elizabeth and tell people that they can call me either. It’s always fun to hear which version they pick. I also had the experience of being known as Beth at work until a new co-worker named Beth was hired. I suggested that people call me Elizabeth to avoid confusion, but they call me Ebeth now instead. And actually this just reminded me that I was called Bethel (or Beth-L) in high school because my last name started with a “L” and there was another person already called Beth. So maybe I don’t feel the need to change my name because I go by 4 different yet similar names depending on who I’m with.

    Maybe we shouldn’t limit ourselves to one name. I go by my first or middle name is an easy concept for people to grasp. However, if one feels like a butterfly then I would suggest honoring that and choosing a new name. Metamorphosis is a natural and normal process, and those who know the caterpillar never find it weird when it announces that it is now named butterfly.

    1. Thanks, Elizabeth. Without knowing you personally, I have a strong preference for the longer version of your name!
      That reminds me – I meant to say in that article that one of the factors we can’t control – and are often unaware of – is what preconceptions people have of us based on others they’ve known with the same name.
      It’s funny, during the process of choosing a name for a baby, how one of the parents will say, for instance, “How about Vanessa? That’s a pretty name,” and their partner will say, “Ewww, Vanessa?! Not unless we want her to be a deceptive bitch!” Hopefully we’re all pretty fluid with those associations and don’t let them color our experiences (at least not in the negative) but I’m sure it happens.

  5. Words have power, as do the names we call ourselves. I’ve been called Jenna since the day of my birth, but my legal name is Jennifer. My mom wanted to name me Jenna, but Dad was worried that I wouldn’t like such an unusual name and insisted I be given Jennifer, just in case. Other than as a term of endearment by my dad, I am not Jennifer. It grates against me whenever anyone else calls me that.
    When I got married, I tried to formally change my name then to Jenna, but because I was changing my last and middle names, they wouldn’t allow me to change all three names at once. To this day, when I have to give my legal name (at doctor’s offices, on bank accounts, etc), I am startled to be called “Jennifer.” I don’t recognize that name.
    I have begun the paperwork for the legal change several times, but haven’t justified the expense until now.
    Your post here may have been exactly what I needed to push me over into me legally becoming Jenna.

    1. Thanks, Jenna. I wish you an unexpected sum of money in the exact amount needed to process that name change.

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