What’s In Your Name?

“What is your name, and what does it mean?”

A revealing exercise was discovered with a group of people interested in living freely, unencumbered by past definitions of themselves. When a person said her own name and then said what that name meant to her, self-definitions from childhood were exposed. Usually, if not always, these definitions of themselves were negative to at least some degree. Even if names had been changed, the old name still had hidden power, and hidden power is the most insidious. Many of these intelligent, bright, aware adults were carrying old burdens of negative self-identification within them. When a friend repeated the question, “What is your name and what does it mean?” layers of excess mental and emotional baggage could be recognized and dropped.

Naming is an extremely useful aspect of human intelligence. With naming we are able to make important distinctions. Distinctions are necessary for our survival, as well as mental and emotional growth and well being. With more sophisticated naming we develop more subtle and sophisticated distinctions. But great powers often come with a high cost. As we develop our ability to make distinctions and generate names, we usually lose sight of the connection between things.

And this is a tragic loss, a loss that generates dissatisfaction, restlessness and worse.

Names accumulate meanings associated with their owners. Over time, derogatory meanings can become embedded in our self-identification. We begin to believe that we are what our names, or labels, say we are. Even if we rebel against them, our names can seem like a kind of map of our persona, a map that defines how we are separate from others.

In the willingness to inquire into one’s own name, and with that inquiry the willingness to face unpleasant feelings, there arises the possibility to see through the name. We can see that the name has no substance by itself. We can see the unreality of the name per se, while the reality of oneself remains constant.

How burdensome these labels and distinctions are finally. All along didn’t you know your name didn’t describe who you are? And yet we spend much of life trying to accept a name as the symbol of our identity, or rebelling against one name and taking another in hopes that perhaps the new name will be a true description of ourselves. Some of us take animal spirit names, we accept names from our gurus (I did), and we have secret, special lover-given names that feel more like a fit for us. But if we tell the truth, no name can contain our true identity. Once we stop trying to name ourselves, and others, there is an obvious yet thrilling discovery. We are not actually discrete from one another, or from the “mountain” or “the ocean” or “the sky” or any other part of our universe. What were important distinctions for survival and power aren’t needed at all in self-reflection.

As Alfred Korzybski pointed out eighty years ago, “The map is not the territory.” If you only know the map you won’t experience the territory. If we try to fit ourselves, and others, into maps and labels, we will miss the essential thrill of being aware of ourselves as inseparable from all life forms.

Why not try this game with a friend? One of you asks the other, “What is your name and what does it mean.” Repeat this question for ten minutes or so before switching roles. When you are asking the question, be sure to include nicknames, and even hateful names you have been called. You can discover for yourself if you want to keep carrying around any old heavy baggage associated with any name at all.

Gangaji will present her new book, Hidden Treasure: Uncovering the Truth in Your Life Story, at a series of book signing events and open meetings in the San Francisco Bay Area this month. In November and December she will hold retreats and weekends in Australia and New Zealand. Read more about Gangaji’s events and catalog of books and videos online. You can also join Gangaji in monthly Webcast / Conference Series which will begin an in depth study of Hidden Treasure in November.


irene fernandez
irene Fernandez5 years ago

My name was taken out of a name dictionary actually, I have known this since I was a child, my parents didn´t want to give us names that where passed down from the families but give us our own. My name is Irene and it means messenger of peace but my parents nickname for me was Jiminy Cricket, in grade school I was nicknamed Pale Face by the bullies at school but I love my pale skin. My ghosts come from weight issues and other stuff that thankfully are not attached to my name

Valentina R.
Valentina R5 years ago

I don't think my name has an actual meaning.

Vicki P.
Victoria P5 years ago

Thanks for the post ♥

Gerald M.
Past Member 5 years ago

Is there some constructive reason you're so uppity towards your fellow Care2 mambers, PAUL C.? We constitute a broad sprectum of abilities, education, age and experience. So it's not the even playing field you seem to want. That's right, Care2 membership does not require Mensa mambership nor IQ status. Just a few million people striving to learn and grow, mostly spiritually.
And the Name Dictionary you mention? That's where a lot of people start, just like anyone who might check out an unfamiliar word in Webster's.

Paul C.
Paul C.6 years ago

All these comments by people have missed the point. Gangaji is asking you what images and beliefs of self identification are you carrying? Are you, as a individual with a name and face, lonely, always rejected, not wanted, never get things right, are not worthy of love, a loser, a winner, better than the rest, and every other conceivable idea one can hold about who we are in our deepest and most silent thoughts.

She's not asking you what your name means eg Peter means Rock in Latin or Greek, or Stephanie means 'Youthful Servent' etc! She's trying to make you question your images and self ideas you have carried since that first insult you ever experienced at school or in the home and to this day are still there.

Wow think deeper people or did you run to your Name Dictionary?

Barbara DeFratis
Barbara DeFratis6 years ago

My Barbara is Greek for Stranger; one who does not speak the language, it is also where the word 'Barbarian' came from. Believe it or not, once upon a time, the name Barbara was second only to Mary. After all, I work at a school for a while and notice the only Barbara's were us old ladies.

Siobhan James
Siobhan James6 years ago

My name is Celtic and means "God is gracious" I used to fixate it's meaning so fiercely to my actions, however as I got older I realized that making mistakes is inevitable. I released the need to be a perfectionist and a people pleaser to simply identify with myself. I love my name it's unique and I know that God is gracious to me.

Newguest C.
W. C6 years ago

My name means "protector". I hated my name growing up because it was easy to misspell and pronounce. I guess it has grown on me a little since then.

Rebecca F.
.6 years ago

interesting, thanks

iii q.
g d c6 years ago

but perceptions can change at different points in one's life...
would the next step be to ask, "what would you name yourself, if you could change your name?"