What’s in a name?

In Nepal when a child is born into a Hindu family it remains nameless for the first 10 to 12 days of its life. Bestowing a name on an unborn being seems strange and, for some, unthinkable.

A child receives his or her “title” during Namakaranam, the name giving ceremony. In this ritual, in the presence of the parents and close relatives, the priest whispers the child’s name into his or her ear for the first time, initiating the small being into its nada, or sound vibration, and the energy it carries. This ceremony is the fourth the child has already been part of (rituals accompany conception, pregnancy and birth) and one of the possible 16 rituals that will see it through the various stages of its life, including death.

Namakaranam marks the arrival of the child into its family and the beginning of its dharma, or life calling. The child’s name is chosen according to its Vedic birth chart, or horoscope, in which the Moon’s constellation- each endowed with a syllable- denotes the sound by which the name should start. Once this information is given, the family–more often than not the parents as well as the elders of the clan–pick the name that they feel is appropriate for their little one. Having observed the child for the first few days and throughout the pregnancy, the family will often choose a title that best suits his/her character.

Whether we are born into a culture in which such rituals exist, or come from a background of fewer customs, there is nothing haphazard about a name. Parents, family members, or guardians ponder with great care what epithet to give a new being, understanding that this calling will accompany the child throughout the rest of its life.

Name is sound, shabda shakti. It is an energetic vibration that carries within it a certain quality of consciousness. A name grounds us. Like the coordinates on the map of life, name denotes a space and place for us in the immensity of the Universe.

Name imparts a primordial sense of identity. Before we are old enough to collect experiences, degrees or titles and before we have anything to call our own, we have our name. And that name is a designation for all that I perceive that I am, up until that point: a body, a member of a family, an array of traits, a personality, a Spirit.

So, what happens when we change our name? Our identity shifts. Our path takes on a new meaning and direction.

Some of us will change our name when we marry, adopting the last name of our partner, thereby outwardly marking the merging of families or clans. Others of us will choose to change our first name at a point in life. This is common occurrence in spiritual rites and initiations, whether in formally recognized religions or in lesser known or unorganized wisdom traditions. For some this name remains only used in the circle of the spiritual community; for others it replaces their birth name.

A change of name is a rite of passage that marks the beginning of a new path; one that comes with a commitment. This may be a commitment to a marriage and its implications, personal and social. This may be a commitment to a spiritual path, with certain precepts and values to observe or nurture.

When I took initiation and asked my spiritual teacher for a name, I did so as a commitment to my spiritual path. I yearned for direction and clarity on my life course. I yearned to know my dharma; how best to apply myself with qualities I knew I had and the qualities within me that I had yet to uncover. I did not ask for a spiritual name to become a yoga teacher with some funky Sanskrit name. Teaching Yoga was actually low on my list of possible “professional” pursuits at the time. Asking for a spiritual name was no small thing, no cute little ritual to tick off of my “cool and different things to do” list. Quite to the contrary. It was a baptism. The beginning of my marriage to Self and Spirit, as my spiritual name would symbolize the energy or consciousness I was here to awaken and embody.

Truth be told I was hoping for a very subtle name; one that would slip off of the tongue easily and not be too noticeable. For, you see, I thought I was subtle. In fact, I thought many things of myself. Least of all did I ever think of myself as what my spiritual name signified. When I received my new appellation as YogaTara I was not only surprised but rather horrified. YogaTara. What? A name that begins with “yoga”? Are you kidding me? Good God. A name that means the Star, Shakti (divine feminine form) or Buddha of Yoga. The light in the darkness. The initial excitement of receiving my name was quickly smoked out by feelings of embarrassment and trepidation.

YogaTara is not a name that slips off the tongue easily. Nor is it subtle. It has taken me time to accept my name. Learning to carry it, to accept its energy, is part of my personal growth. My name is part of my sadhana, or spiritual practice, and brings me great focus. It is a constant reminder, to remain mindful, to align myself with Spirit and my path. More and more I use my spiritual name not only in my line of work, but also in the other circles of my life.  It seems fitting. For as I walk upon my path, there is less and less separation between the spiritual and material, the mystical and the mundane. It is merging, dancing into one-ness.

My name is YogaTara. Thank you for calling me so, for every time you do you join the choir that sings my spirit back to itself.

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