There are currently two people in my network, both on the young side of middle age, who are thinking about changing their names. I should say that only one is thinking about it, since the other has already filed the paperwork with the local county court for a legal name change. And in this case, the individual is changing both first and last names...
All of us are familiar with changing from baby or little-kid names to more grown-up versions. My younger daughter, called Tina or Chrissy up through elementary school, came home one day from 7th grade and told her mother and me in no uncertain terms, “From now on, my name is Christine! Please call me that.” Or in my case, born “Stephen Michael Feldman” back in 1939, I was Stevie as a little kid, Steve probably from junior high on, “S. Michael” for a couple months in prep school until my favorite teacher, himself a WASP, made fun of it—“Here comes S. Michael Feldman, the renowned prep-school poet!”—and finally just plain (!) Stephen. Well, not exactly “finally.” In 1961, at age 21, I joined the spiritual association of Subud. Its Indonesian founder had the practice of giving his followers new, “spiritual” names. He believed that the first (and occasionally last) names he received for us would help us develop into our true and best selves. They were, he explained, prayers for this desired change to happen, and that every time someone used our new names, we would be moved a little closer to that goal. And so, in 1966, at my request, he gave me the name “Reynold.” He also recommended that we legalize our new names. Thus, in 1968 I officially changed my name and have been Reynold Feldman legally ever since. But wait! There’s more. Starting in 1970 I began verbalizing the Russian first name Ruslan in my active-meditation Subud practice, where individuals often verbalize as well as move. I thought it might be for our second child, Christine, mentioned above, born in 1971. That name kept coming back to me, so in summer 2009 I wrote to our founder’s daughter, who answered that that first name was really meant for me. So I decided to keep it informally as my second name, since I’d gotten rid of my birth second name, Michael, in the legal name change.
Nomen est omen, the Latin motto instructs: “Names are full of numinous energy.” In Exodus, God refuses to give Moses a straight answer when asked for His name. When He finally does reply, He says, “I am who I am.” Thanks a lot, Moses seems to respond, then moves on to talk with Pharaoh. You know the rest. But even in small matters, if you run into someone who knows your name and says it while you’ve forgotten theirs and stumble on with an “Oh, hi!,” the other person is one up on you. There’s lots more to say on this topic, but I’ll end with two simple questions: What did you say your name was? And, are you sure?