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?
The Being Formerly Known as Peter