What’s in a Name?
I picked my magickal name by necessity, osmosis, frustration, and exhaustion I guess. It has been really frustrating because, ironically, I have so many reasons to choose a new name. 1) I have studied anthroponomastics since I was a child. In other words, I’m a Name Collector. I’m totally obsessed. I used to write and compile a whole document full of names that I had found. I actually blew up my mother’s computer at one point because the file got so huge and complicated that it was corrupted and most of the data was lost. I have found many names that I love, but none that ever fit me. I have many interesting monikers, pseudonyms, passwords, and usernames as a result of my passion. But no magickal name. 2) I am still living a discrete pagan life. An alternate name used exclusively for my pagan life would be helpful as well as healthy for my spirituality. Very symbolic of my new path as well. New path, new name. 3) I know how important names can be for growth and focus; and 4) I wanted one!
A few years ago when I wanted to create my online pagan persona (for social networking and online witch schools), it seemed it was the time to establish my new name for the pagan community. As with so many others out there, I was in-the-broom-closet regarding my family circles. So, a magickal name was important for anonymity and empowerment in terms of my self expression. But no name came to me. I meditated on it (badly, admittedly), poured over name books, scoured the interwebs for interesting pagan and nature-based names…still nothing spoke to me. I really wanted to join and explore pagan sites, forums, online shops, sign up for newsletters, and meet other pagans. But I felt the need to create a boundary line between my mundane and pagan online presence.
Did I have to wait for a name? Can I just choose one? Can I change it over time? These and many other questions rattled in my brain. Different people will tell you different things about choosing a magickal name. In the end, I decided to follow my intuition regarding this issue based on the most important lesson paganism had taught me: empowerment. Names are never just bestowed upon us. They are both given and accepted. There is no law that says you cannot gift a name to yourself. After all, even if bestowed by another, the name bearer him or herself still has to accept it, wear it, and own it. As a solitary practitioner, a self-naming was both practical and necessary.
Eventually, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I stared at one pagan sign-up screen after another as the cursor blink, blink, blinked, at me—prompting me to fill out my Name. I thought about all the names I had already thought of and chosen in different online networks. I had a plethora of other names I used, names that I loved and felt close to. But I had never felt close enough to Own them, Claim them, Live them as I felt it necessary for a pagan name. Well…necessity is often called the Mother of Invention—she should also be titled the Mother of Decision Making. I took a leap, and chose a name. The name of a goddess that I have always loved.
The Titan goddess Mnemosyne is a first-generation deity in the ancient Greek pantheon. She is the daughter of Uranus (Sky) and Gaea (Earth). Like her fellow Titanides, she is among the first gods in ancient Greece to represent more complex attributes than their Protogenos parentage. As her name suggests, Mnemosyne is the goddess of memory. Her pantheistic claim-to-fame, heralded in Hesiod’s Theogony, is as the mother of the Muses (according to the later greek mythos which gives us the nine muses that most of us are familiar with: Calliope, Polyhymnia, Thalia, Melpomene, Terpsichore, Urania, Erato, Euterpe, and Clio) by Zeus, with whom she spent nine consecutive nights on the mountain of Pieria. Her lesser known attributes are history, language, time, philosophy, and as keeper of the sacred waters of memory (referred to as The Mnemosyne).
Her associations with language, time, and history make perfect sense as memory plays an important role in each. For example, the oral tradition (the earliest form of historical documentation) requires memorization, a profound understanding of language, and an organized record of events. Arguably, without memory there would be no language, no history, and no storytelling (the highest form of art to the ancient Greeks, hence the passage of artful guardianship to her daughters). Her philosophical aspect also links to memory, as wisdom can be said to culminate from history (knowledge), language (reason), and time (age). A poignant example of Mnemosyne’s role as a philosopher lay in the Greek concept of “knowing thyself” as a pivotal aspect of reason. Without memory, we would be unable to build a sense of self and learn new concepts based on the knowledge that came before. Our consciousness would remain infantile.
Keeper of the well-spring of memory in the Underworld, Mnemosyne also plays a pivotal role in the cyclical process of birth, death, and rebirth. According to the ancient Greeks, dead souls were geven the choice to drink from either the river Lethe, or the Mnemosyne. The Lethe erases all memory and grants the traveler a clean state, but it carries with it the burden of rebirth. The Mnemosyne preserves memory and is said to lift the burden of rebirth and grant the traveler access to Elysium, the eternal resting place of heroes. In this way, Mnemosyne (memory) appears to have been credited and revered as a keystone for human awareness.
As an artist, I relate to the artistic energy of the Muses. I have always felt like, as their mother, Mnemosyne embodied All of her daughter’s traits. As though she were the source of their power and gifts. She is the keeper of the river of remembrance. She would guide the chosen dead to Her river, the river/pool of Mnemosyne in Hades. To drink from Her waters was to remember who you were in all your lives. To remember yourself. (The other river was Lithe—the river of forgetting. Dead souls that were to reincarnate were guided to drink from Lithe to forget their former lives. To be born again without memory. Tabula rasa.)
Coming to paganism was like discovering a part of myself I had forgotten. Like I wasn’t just learning, but remembering as well. So much of it fit who I already was. Who I had always been. And who I wanted to be. Each book I read, each lesson I learned was like, all at once, taking a crash course in a previously unseen world of magic, and like coming home to where I had always been but didn’t know it. It sometimes feels like remembering. So I thank Mnemosyne, and honor her gifts—her daughters and her memory—by taking her name. I hope she doesn’t mind.
“Mars (Greek: Ares) is the god of War. The planet probably got this name due to its red color; Mars is sometimes referred to as the Red Planet. (An interesting side note: the Roman god Mars was a god of agriculture before becoming associated with the Greek Ares; those in favor of colonizing and terraforming Mars may prefer this symbolism.) The name of the month March derives from Mars” (Read more about Mars facts, pictures and information by Nine Planets).
“Astrologically, Mars is seen as THE EGO in action, the aggressive planet which causes divisions and splits between mankind but is the giver of courage and physical energy. The risk taker with an idominitable will to succeed. The purveyor of the seemingly opposing paths of creation and destruction. In Mars we find great physical energy and the symbolism of fighting, argument, hostility and hot-headed action” (More at Weboteric).
My pagan surname name, Mars, came almost a year later. I felt very secure in my first name, and not a little pretentious with just a single name (Madonna, Cher, Beyoncé…Starhawk), but I couldn’t think of anything to pair with Mnemosyne. One day, after a splendid prompting by Oraia Sphinx on her podcast Media Astra Ac Terra, I started thinking of my favorite planets and astrological signs. Jupiter and Saturn have always topped my list, but then I thought of the ruling planet of us Aries babies: Mars. As soon as I thought of the Red Planet, I knew it was the one. It made so much sense as I have needed a little more fire in my life (and if I’m honest, it also reminds me of one of my favorite female characters: Veronica Mars). As Mnemosyne has more than three syllables, it flows really well with a mono-syllabic surname. It seems a general guideline in naming that a short first name blends well with a long last name, and vice versa. If you are ever having trouble, experiment with that combination (however, it’s just a prompt).
I heard/read from other cultural traditions, and a few pagan authors to boot, that new names can be taken at each new life stage. When a major event happens in your life, it is customary in some cultures to adopt a new name. You may have several names in your lifetime. You can also have different names for different situations. Some of you have already listed them. Some have private magickal names, they also may have coven-only private names, and then public magickal names. Some witches adopt different names for different magickal tasks.
All of these names are a different part/side of you. The name only reflects the wearer. Since no one can be summed up in one name, it makes sense to me that we would adopt others. But even those names do not, can not, nor will never be our true/whole selves. I guess what I am trying to say is (for those who are still searching for names) is Don’t Panic. The name doesn’t wear you. You wear it. If it doesn’t work for you, then take a new one. Take 5. You are larger than a 2-3 syllable word. Nothing will be perfect, it just needs to be a part of you. Just make sure that the name suits you well: as you are now, or who you want to be in the future, or both. Be honest with yourself. And above all, make sure that you like it!
I am really happy with my pagan name. It just feels right.
Bibliography for the Mnemosyne Essay:
Atsma, Aaron J.. Mnemosyne: Greek Titan goddess of memory; mythology; pictures: Mneme. Theoi Greek Mythology, Exploring Mythology & the Greek Gods in Classical Literature & Art. http://www.theoi.com/Titan/TitanisMnemosyne.html (accessed October 18, 2010).
Mnemosyne: Greek Goddess of Memory and Mother of the Muses. Goddess Gift: Meet the Goddesses Here. http://www.goddessgift.com/Goddess-myths/g-mnemosyne.htm (accessed October 20, 2010).
Parada, Carlos. Genealogical Guide to Greek Mythology (Studies in Mediterranean Archaeology, Vol 107). NY: Coronet Books Inc, 1993.
Turner, Patricia, and Charles Russell Coulter. Dictionary of Ancient Deities. London: Oxford University Press, 2002.