N is for… Names

True names. From Rumpelstiltskin, to the Jewish concept of not speaking the name of God, to the Doctor – we have a lot of mythic and cultural precedent for associating names with power.

I’ve never liked the name I was given at birth. It means ‘pleasant’. How dull is that? I grew up wanting a name that meant something exciting.

For a long time, on the internet, I’ve used the name ‘Sophia Catherine’. Catherine is one of my legal middle names, and St Catherine of Alexandria is my patron saint (her with the wheel) – so including that name was obvious. Using ‘Sophia’ was more of a complicated decision. Many people honour Sophia as a goddess: either as the feminine aspect of the Christian god, or a goddess in a sort of Christian pantheon. That’s not exactly how she was seen by the Gnostics, though she was very important to them. Sophia, the journey to wisdom, to enlightenment, was a principle and a process more than a person. It’s also a name that I’ve long wanted to give to a daughter if I had one (even though I more than likely won’t have children). I loved using Sophia as a name. It… fits. Yes, it’s a bit ‘up myself’ to use a name that some people use for a goddess and which means ‘wisdom’ – but it just fit.

So you can still call me Sophia anytime you want. But in an effort to try and repair the gap that is growing between my Pagan life and my so-called ‘real life’, I’m starting to use my legal name more widely around the internet. I want to write, and do other interesting things – especially once I’ve finished my PhD – and I don’t want there to be any confusion between my identities.

ADF members often take on religious names, and I’m thinking of using Leithin Cluan as that name in the future. Leithin of Cluan is another mythological wisdom-seeking figure, though she approaches wisdom and knowledge from a very different, more earthly perspective than Sophia. Ultimately, Sophia is a carry-over from my Gnostic days, when I believed that enlightenment was found through a rejection of the world. But that’s no longer my primary path to wisdom (though it will always be an important aspect of my spiritual journey). I now seek wisdom in and through the world, through the sacredness of life in all its incredible diversity. Leithin the eagle sought wisdom from the stag, the blackbird and the salmon, from the oldest animals. She sought knowledge with her five senses, as Manannan advised Cormac to do. And eventually, Leithin also discovered that the devoted, obsessive pursuit of wisdom is not everything. Sometimes, it’s better to be at home looking after your chicks.

And all that name stuff is before we’ve even got to surnames. I disliked the surname I was born with even more than my first name, and I was delighted when SJ and I changed both our last names to a previous name of my family’s, that my granddad gave up just after the war (because it was a Jewish name, and he was meeting with some serious prejudice). Now that did feel like a name that encompassed my actual identity. And I hope that returning to it was honouring to my ancestors. But my first name? Ugh…

Names are a funny thing.  I may not like my legal first name, but it’s the truth of who I’ve been for 35 years, with all my baggage, joys, frustrations, and wonderful discoveries of what life is about. I’m Naomi Catherine Jacobs: sociologist-in-training, teacher, aspiring writer, tea-lover, devoted wife, crazy cat lady, occasional singer… and druid-in-training.

Pleased to meet you.

11 thoughts on “N is for… Names

  1. Pingback: What’s in a name? – part 1 | The Druid's Cosmos

  2. Thank you for sharing this.
    For a lot of my life, I wanted to be Susan – yes, sensible Susan from Swallows and Amazons; beautiful Susan from Narnia, Susan who never had to spell her name for anyone. I settled for a succession of nicknames through the years; then, about 4 years ago, someone told me a story that has stayed with me, and i’ve used my real name ever since. The moral of that story was that every time someone calls me by my true name, they called me by its meaning (“beloved”). By the ripe old age of 27, I reluctantly agreed that this was nothing to avoid, and I became Angharad once again: archivist-in-training, lover of a humanitarian, sister of a troubador, aspiring druid. Pleased to meet you :)

    • Awesome story, and I think maybe I should learn to embrace the meaning of Naomi as ‘pleasant’ a bit more :) My sister’s middle name is Angharad, and she’s never liked it much, but I love it – so beautifully Welsh-sounding! And what a lovely meaning.

  3. I’ve never been able to find / been given a pagan name (although I have been given a role by a deity).

    I know some people use the names of their totems or guides (ie. Bobcat, Gordon the Toad) and I’ve considered ‘Pegasus’ ‘Rain Hound’ ‘Eiddew’ (Welsh for Ivy) and even my old nickname ‘pig’ or ‘miss piglet of Penwortham.’ But as yet none of them quite fit…

    • Yeah, I don’t really ‘do’ animal guides, so I didn’t have one of those to go for. My approach to my spirituality is very myth-focused, so choosing a mythic name – at least for now – seemed good :)

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