Name Contains Power
Ancient myths of East and West tell of a power held in one’s name: to know someone’s (usually a god or some spirit’s) name was to hold power over it. This idea has been used beautifully in the modern works of fantasy novelist Ursula K Le Guin, as well as animator Hayao Miyazaki.
Think about your own name for a second: it’s so powerful that your brain can hear someone saying your name across a crowded room. Ever since you were born, people around you have been using it to name and define you: “Look at what Johnny did! What a smart boy you are,” an adoring parent might say, thereby helping the child to link his name (Johnny) with an attribute (smart.)
How powerful is it when a father sincerely tells a young daughter “Jane, baby, I love you” every day, thereby creating a lasting impression of her name linked with the reception of caring and tenderness from an omnipotent being (which all parents are to a young child)? Then the child’s name becomes a blessing that could potentially last a lifetime.
And then there are unfortunate incidents of judgments and condemnation passed onto us through our name (“Look at what Johnny did! Why do you have to make a mess of everything?” etc) whether from parents, siblings or other children. In severe cases where criticism and shaming becomes the daily ritual, the child’s name can actually become a curse that lasts a long time.
Name Contains A Mass of Emotions
All these emotions – some uplifting, some devastating – are stored into a single focal point – your name. Say your full name out loud, and you can feel the emotions contained within this powerful symbol – do you feel proud and confident, or insecure and even ashamed?
This is why it’s so important to take good care of other people’s names. We cherish the sound of our name being spoken with love, by those closest to us. We also feel the pain upon hearing our name being used in a blaming, critical or belittling way. And then there is the case of no one calling our name, ever – what happens then? We become invisible – there is no “me” – that’s what abandonment feels like, and the name stores that emotion too.
Multiple Naming – The “Anti Peter Pan” Custom
In some old cultures, you were given a child-name at birth, then later received your adult name when you were old enough. I think this was a very effective custom designed to help each person discard the childish identity attached to his/her name (along with any sense of insecurity and powerlessness attached to it), and become a strong adult who is part of the community.
Somehow I’m inclined to think there was less of what we today call a “Peter Pan syndrome” in those cultures…Probably there was no blaming the boss (parents), no victim behaviors. All of that was discarded with the child name.
The moral of the story (if this is true, and I suspect it is) is not so much to change your name literally in a new age way, but to realize that you can choose to adopt a different, altogether more empowering identity if you like. We’re adults now, and no one is calling us names or belittling us – you may be lucky enough to have positive people around you that actually praise you and build you up. If you’d like more help, however, here is what you can do:
Build yourself up
On good days, I actually talk to myself in an encouraging way: “Now that was very well done Hiroki, you’ve contributed in a major way” etc (I recommend doing this silently, lest your friends begin to worry.) On bad days I find that I’m tearing myself down – then I realize that being down on myself is a lot more automatic compared to praising myself – a habit I’ve learned somewhere, no doubt.
It’s also a good practice to write to yourself, maybe listing the good things you have going for you, or a list of positive traits and accomplishments to be proud of. Be like that loving father (mother) who tells the child how much she is loved, and every day. If you didn’t have such a parent, it’s not too late to become one, for yourself.
What to do
So remember to use your name in conjunction with uplifting phrases – treat your name as sacred, because it is. While you’re at it, treat other people’s names the same way – never use them without attaching it to some positive emotions.
The myth is real – by knowing someone’s name, you hold power over him/her – the power to speak blessing or curse into their life, potentially lasting a long, long time. Great leaders (including good parents) know about this power, and they take care of people’s names well.