Like most good jokes, it has a lot of truth in it.
So rule number one of how *not* to choose a good magickal name is: pick one that’s already been used to death.
Rule number two of how not to choose a good magickal name: pick one that’s unpronounceable. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times people with magickal names like Aistiranpaistinfionncoinini have gotten really annoyed with me because I can’t pronounce their name. If you must*have a name longer than ten letters, do your friends, fellow coveners and community a favor and allow us to use a nickname. “Aistir” would work for my example. It means, “star” in Irish Gaelic.
Now that you know what not to do when picking a magickal name for yourself, what doyou do?
First, decide whether or not you really need one, or if your legal first name will work just fine. Back in the 1980s (when I first realized I was Pagan) , most of us had a special name we used in the community. Even though we were on the cusp of the 21st century, we still felt the need to hide our legal identity in order to protect our jobs and our children.
If you have a career, a potential career (if you’re still in school) , children that might be in danger because of where you live or who you’re divorcing, or a work situation that could be jeopardized if people outside the community knew you were Pagan, you might want a magickal name for public community use.
Also, many groups and traditions only use their magickal names when they’re in ritual – it’s another way to move them into ritual space, just like putting on robes and lighting the candles do. For these folks, the privilege of knowing and using their ritual name indicates that you are “family” to them. The rest of the Pagan community calls them Lynn or Bob, i.e. their legal names.
If you still decide you want a magickal name, it’s best to pick one that a) tells the Pagan world something about you, b) is a reflection of your path, or c) invokes something into you that you feel you lack. A really good magickal name will fill all three criteria.
Let me explain. When I joined my first coven, I was required (as were all members) to choose a name from Tolkien’s made-up Elvish language. I was a theater major at the time, and was intrigued by the comedy-tragedy masks that not only summed up the human condition, but also in the balance implied by the smiling face and the sorrowful face. After some reflection, I chose Nienor Lailaith, which, loosely translated, means “sorrow joy.”
I was called “Nienor” in the community for roughly my first year. It definitely told the Pagan world that theater was sacred to me, which was something I wanted everyone to know. The coven I was in used a lot of symbolism from Tolkien’s works, and when I met people and used my Elvish name, there was no question in their minds what coven I was in and what path I was on.
Finally, I was twenty-two years old. “Balance” was not in my vocabulary – but I knew it needed to be. I remember thinking that maybe a nice, balanced name like “sorrow joy” would help me learn how to better juggle my schoolwork, home life, and coven responsibilities. As magickal names go, Nienor Lailaith was a pretty good one.
So in case you’ve accidentally or deliberately misplaced your copy of The Silmarillion, how do you pick a good magickal name?
Here’s what I did when it was time to retire Nienor and find something else. I took a piece of paper and a pen and started writing down every word or name that I liked from my favorite books — fiction and non-fiction — my favorite movies, mythology – Greek, Roman, Celtic, Slavic, Norse, plus plant and tree identification books, baby name books (they’re not known for historical accuracy, but they do have some names you might not otherwise think of) , animals I particularly liked, zodiac correspondences, birds, history… every source I could think of until I had a list of about thirty names.
I then started to cross off the ones I liked the least until I had two left. One, not surprisingly, was Bronwen. I liked the sound. I liked the spelling – there are several ways to spell “Bronwen, ” more if you want it to look exotic. I played around with what little I know about numerology and discovered that Bronwen spelled with an “o” and an “e” (as opposed to, say, “Branwyn” or “Bronwinn”) was a one, a number that balanced my birth number very nicely. So, Bronwen it was.
(On a side note, I legally changed my first and middle names in 1994. “Bronwen” is now my middle name. You don’t have to go as far as legally changing your name. In fact, considering all the expense and annoyance of changing all one’s legal documents, including driver’s license, social security card, medical insurances cards, etc. I strongly recommend you have at least one major compelling reason to do so. It’s really a pain to do!)
Whatever you do, don’t use one of those Pagan name generators on the Internet. They’re a joke. They’re meant to be funny. They are not for real! You’d think everyone would know that, but I’ve run into about one too many “Lavender Mermaid of the Sand” who got her “special” name from one of those sites and took it seriously. In fact, I just now played with the Pagan name generator and got Ariadne Bard Dragonfly.
Hmm. I think I’ll stick with Bronwen, thanks. But if Ariadne Bard Dragonfly works for you, feel free to take it!