Hello, my yoga name is…
I wonder if Ram Dass knows or cares that my juvenile ex-boyfriend still thinks it’s hilarious to pronounce his name “Rammed Ass?” Back in my Yoga Enchantment Era, (a period coinciding, curiously, with the same time that I lost my sense of humor), I cringed at the thought of him trotting that one out in front of my yoga friends. (He didn’t.) I was a newly minted yoga teacher, and those were the days when all things New Age-y seemed only new minus the age-y. As my secular friends are happy to attest, I took my burgeoning role seriously, begging them to let me balance their chakras with a blend of asana and crystals. (It works!) I briefly considered sending away for my own spiritual name. It would be a natural progression, right after mastering Scorpion.
Somewhere along the way, however, I stopped associating spiritual names, advanced asana, and esoteric healing practices with the connection that I sought. Because, I learned, they’re not required.
As the 3HO Foundation, the organization behind Kundalini yoga and a wanton contributor to this name-changing business, states: a spiritual name “reinforces and accelerates your progress on your path to your highest destiny.” Sounds rad. Who wouldn’t want that? Further, “the sound [of a spiritual name when spoken], together with the meaning… reinforce[s] our spiritual base, and [helps] us to live in more meaningful and conscious ways.” All good stuff. Change the name and you help the individual transcend. Except that when I look at the Masters who’ve led the way towards spiritual trancendence, they didn’t change their names. It’s not like Jesus begged Mary to call him Govinda. And Gandhi, who was famously quoted as saying, “My life is my message,” basically answered the question posed to him with a “let the work speak for itself” rationale. If your intention is transcension, perhaps you’d have better luck with conscious action than a new name?
There are, however, cases where it seems reasonable to adopt a spiritual name. Particularly, when the one you were given sucks. A few years ago I went to kirtan with a friend. The featured artists were a husband and wife team birthed from the loins of Santa Monica. Curious, I asked my friend what the wife’s white name was. “Delores,” she said. Delores? Uhhh, that’s bad. I suppose it’s okay to change your name once it’s parodied in a Seinfeld episode. Similarly, Krishna Das, whom I hold alongside John Lennon in admiration, was born Jeffrey Kagel. Kagel. See what I mean? (Full disclosure: My middle name is Jean. It’s the blight of an otherwise acceptable name. I’ve only stopped short of changing it because new paperwork wouldn’t keep my father from calling me “Vanessa Jean” just to get on my nerves.)
Ultimately, the decision to change your name is your business. Don’t confuse my reasoning with giving a shit though, because it’s not like you’re out there ruining lives with it. Like Leslie eloquently pointed out, if it means something to you, go with that. Just know that that if you really want to transcend, it’ll take more than a spiritual name. It’ll take some crystals, too.