No, my name is not Shakti

Published on May 9, 2011 by      Print
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By Kimberly Johnson

Recently I asked a group of teacher trainees to guess my daughter’s middle name.

5 of the 20 responses were Shakti.

Oh. No. People. You do not know me.

Much respect to those of you who have changed your names, had them changed for you, or just like Sanskrit names; I would NEVER give my daughter the middle name Shakti. If you are thinking about changing your name, stay tuned for some advice below.

For the record, my daughter’s name is Cecilia Johnson Vieira. In Brazil, a child gets the mother’s last name for a middle name and the father’s name as the last name. (That’s the minimum—sometimes there are 4, 5, or even 6 names) My last name is Johnson, so her middle name is Johnson.

My name is Kimberly Ann Johnson.

Pretty plain. It works to my advantage to live abroad to up the exotic factor. And I chose well. Washington, Jefferson, and Wellington are popular names here. My father-in-law thinks my daughter’s name sounds like the name of a movie star.

I love yoga—actually doing yoga, that is. But I am not about to paste a name on my daughter that no one will pronounce correctly to demonstrate and call attention to the fact that I am a yoga teacher, although she is one of the few people I know who could actually pull it off.

Which leads me to the recent resurgence of name changes in my vicinity.

If you’re thinking of changing your name, here’s a few things to keep in mind.

  1. There is a limited Sanskrit vocabulary in circulation. This is why you see a lot of Shaktis, Shantis, and Anandas out there. Don’t be so obvious! After all, you are trying to demonstrate your yoga chops, so be unique. You don’t come across that many, say, Sraddhas, for example.
  2. There is a marketing component to having a yoga name. Just be real about that. It’s a little more exotic, Indian, intriguing, “yogic” to have a Sanskrit name. It shows you are in-the-know and really serious about this whole project. I mean, no lightweight is going to go to all the trouble of changing their name, right?
  3. Admit that you want attention. You are up for people outside of Boulder and San Francisco asking you what your name means on a regular basis. Maybe you even enjoy correcting their pronunciation?
  4. Changing your name might trick you into thinking you made a big change inside. But you might still need therapy, and some of your old nagging ways might still be hanging around. Although I am sure it is a big decision, changing your name is a lot easier than changing your habits. But no one’s saying you can’t do both.
  5. Go easy on your friends. It can be confusing. And awkward. They might stutter. And think, “Now, is she someone different?” “Do I have a new friend?” “Is that you or a contrived version of yourself??” (Thanks to Ellen Boeder for this one.)

I have been in a lot of potential name-changing situations.

Here in Brazil I have been called Kimberland, Kimbee, Kimber-lie, King. There have been many more blank stares where mispronunciations might have been. My own daughter pronounces my name Kim-barrrrrr-lee. I have traveled with some spiritual folk in the ashram scene. Hell, I even had a guru.

But there must be something in my aura, because in all the potentially name-changing situations, no one has gone there. And I haven’t either.

About Kimberly Johnson

Kimberly Johnson is a yogini nomad who recently put the earth boots on for motherhood. After a lengthy love affair with India, she was relieved to fall in love with Brazil—and a Brazilian—and now lives in Rio de Janeiro with her 3-year-old Brazilian daughter. She leads retreats on the most beautiful place on earth: Ilha Grande, an island with 100 beaches and no cars; leads teacher trainings; and tries not to pronounce Sanskrit with a Portuguese accent. Rearranged by childbirth in every way, she travels, teaches, and learns about what yoga has to do with womanhood.

Visit Kim online at:

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  1. Matthew says:

    Awesome. I really think the only reason you should change your name is if you are a performer/artist or in witness protection, as there are perfectly good reasons to do so in those cases. It just seems so pretentious to me to change you name in yoga, as it doesn’t denote anything other your level of pretense, rather than your level of commitment to practice.

    Response posted on May 9th, 2011 , 9:12 am Reply
  2. Patrice *SHAKTI* Bacal says:

    LOVE this article Kimberly! I thought I must respond because my middle name IS SHAKTI!
    : ) My parents didn’t give me a middle name so I took my own almost 20 years ago. At the time, I was just discovering yoga and when I heard the name for the first time, I just thought it was beautiful. Then I discovered the meaning and there was a deep resonance for me, so I took this as my middle name. I thought, this is exactly what I would dream myself to be: an embodiment of the creative power of the sacred feminine essence, an expression of the cosmic mother who is my home.
    At the time it was only a dream to embody all of that, and now it’s an everyday practice. I recently played with the idea of calling myself Shakti and asking friends to do so. My women friends seem to enjoy calling me that (most of the time) to help me invoke that energy and also to participate in what I call my “life artistry”. For me, it’s not about getting attention. I actually feel uncomfortable about the uniqueness of this name at times, but find value in that discomfort. Can I live into my own creativity even if it means that I need to feel discomfort at times socially? Maybe the conversation explaining the meaning of this name and why I took it for myself will be inspiring to others or, even better, open the door to more intimacy with that person by revealing what’s important to me.
    There are so many meanings of the name Shakti and all of them are deeply resonant with who I know myself to be deep inside, below my personality. Am I willing to announce to the world (by having this name) that I know myself even if I have yet to embody who I am fully?
    But here’s the most important point to me: My parents chose the name Patrice because they liked the way it sounded, it had little meaning to them in terms of who they thought I was, or what qualities they saw in me. I think it’s sad that in our culture names are not given to empower someone, but rather, to help them fit into the mold. As you know, sound is vibration and carries meaning and real healing power. I am glad to now have within my name, an ancient sound vibration that calls forth who I truly am. It may sound like spiritual babble to some, but to me, this is a true empowerment through vibration, and a daily reminder of what I am growing into.
    You’ve started a great conversation and got my wheels turning sister! Thanks again for sharing your thoughts into the world.

    Response posted on May 9th, 2011 , 9:14 am Reply
  3. Chrissy says:

    I love this! I could never change my name…it has been my constant through both the joys and pains of life….so much so that I hyphenate my 2 last names….(my kids do not however), because I honor my, past, present and future….that and my Dad coughed up a lot of ca Ching for my degree so I figured that I would make the big guy happy ;)

  4. stacey says:

    i live in boulder. and i know a lot of individuals who have changed their names. i have changed my name and changed it back, let’s see, 3 times? no! four! lol!

    first it was meira. after the saint, mother meera. why? as a kid i never liked the name stacey. i wasn’t a spiritual kid nor was i a yogini. i simply thought the name stacey was lame. so in my early 20′s after quitting my last 9 -5 job, leaving my boyfriend, selling or giving away all my belongings and moving to italy, it seemed right to change my name too. i picked meira because i felt a deep devotion to god at that time and i wanted to embody the feeling of she who is not and deep devotion. to me, it made sense at the time.

    it didn’t last long because honestly, it felt dumb to take on a new name while living in a foreign country. i needed and wanted the familiarity of stacey ginsburg.

    couple years later, decided to change my last name. this time, because i wanted to honor my grandfather on my mother’s side of the family. i became stacey valentine (his middle name and his father’s first name). i liked the ring to it. i never identified as a jew w/ the last name ginsburg and wanted to choose my own name because it felt disempowered to have been named a name that i never really loved. but when i moved to start a waldorf inspired homeschool in northern california, i learned there is a stacey valentine porn star. i didn’t want people googling my name and confusing me with a big breasted blonde super porn bunny. so i shucked off the name once again and returned to stacey ginsburg.

    during graduate school several years later i changed my name to ayla ash. ha! i did! and i meant it! i was writing a coming of age memoir in the house where i grew up in a small town in the middle of nowhere and that i’d moved away from when i was 17 and needed and wanted distance from the name and the energy of the words ‘stacey ginsburg’ so that i could see more clearly and write the story without getting too lost inside of it.

    when i later said the name aloud ‘ayla ash’ after moving from there to santa fe, i realized it sounded like eyelash, and i thought it was silly. back to stacey ginsburg. i felt more power in my name after having let it go for awhile only to return to it.

    you’d think it would end there. it didn’t. i took my mom’s maiden name, pricco, a year ago, and with that, took the name anastasia because it is the name that stacey comes from. in writing my memoir, i so fully explored my stories, my father’s stories, my mother’s stories, and it felt healing for me to wear my mother’s name. i didn’t want to completly cut off from my dead ginsburg dead, so i took anastasia –because i lived in russia, because he was of russian ancestry and because it is the name that stacey comes from.

    i liked being anastasia pricco. and you know what, it did feel different from stacey ginsburg, and i liked that. i had people tell me that ‘just because you change your name doesn’t mean you are different’
    and others who said, you never seemed like a stacey ginsburg to me

    so whatever. i did it because it felt right. and i don’t regret it for a second.

    after having a baby almost 3 months ago i’m back to stacey ginsburg. why? it’s home. i feel my strength here now more than ever. so i am reclaiming it. i need to take a new name once in a while in order to take on the qualities of my birth name with greater acceptance. it’s a bit like traveling to a foreign culture and seeing where you come from a bit more clearly. i also used to love changing the color of my hair, and yes, i do feel different when i do. oh, after changing my names, i still went to therapy. i realized that just because i have a different name it doesn’t mean i’m perfect or better or more able. but when i have changed my name it was to honor that i felt very different inside and i wanted to wear it in my name too.

    i don’t think we should be limited to wear only one name in this life. we don’t get stuck wearing only one pair of shoes. we outgrow hairstyles, shoes, color preferences and more. so hell, if you want to change your name, do! it’s a fun experiment in identity and relationship.

  5. Adan says:

    my name is adan, spanish for adam – which is english for adan ;-)

    i live in the u.s. so i don’t need extra challenges with a sanskrit name

    re mis-pronunciations, i give people latitude on my name, and i give myself latitude on anything i need practice pronouncing ;-)

    btw, anyone notice how closely sukasana sounds like “your house” in spanish – su casa

    personally, i like that association when i’m in that position ;-)

  6. Maira says:

    Keepin’ it really real as always Kimberly! Loved the post!

    Response posted on May 9th, 2011 , 1:10 pm Reply
  7. Laser Night Sky says:

    Given that my parents gave me the name Nancy Sue, I had to change it, and Laser Night Sky was the best thing I could contive, er, think of at the time… and one needs to have a sense of humor about these things…

    Response posted on May 9th, 2011 , 5:25 pm Reply
  8. Charissa says:

    Patrice, if sound is vibration and carries meaning and real healing power, what could possibly be wrong with your parents falling in love with the sound of “Patrice” (beautiful name, btw) and gifting their new child with a sound they fell in love with? Seems a little sad that you regret a choice your parents made for you in their joy.

    Response posted on May 9th, 2011 , 9:05 pm Reply
  9. Joslyn Hamilton says:

    My mom gave me a weird hippie name that I never really resonated with and think is difficult to pronounce (not to mention to get a Starbucks barista to write even phonetically correctly). When I was younger I wanted a “normal” Brady Bunch name so badly. When I went to sleepover camp I told everyone my name was Jackie. I also threatened to change my name to Margaret for years (my paternal grandmother’s name, so lovely and traditional!). In the end, I stuck with Joslyn. As I have gotten older I have embraced the fact that I will never be an Amy or a Lisa or a Mary — not in name and not in spirit. There are mysteries yet to be discovered in my own name (it’s from France — a place I’ve never been) and I look forward to a long journey with it.

    • Matthew says:

      I wanted so much to change my own name as a teen, to separate myself from family. Matt Black. But then I realized I was being a pretentious twit. So I decided to change it to Matthew Teague, making my middle name, my last name. Then I told my dad, and he cried. So I didn’t. End of my story.

  10. Kimberley Sopinka says:

    I think you are just awesome and have just enjoyed your writing, and your tweets. Have been following you for a few months.

    Cannot tell you how many people have used Shanti, Shakti, Ananda and many other names ….love your article….

  11. Sunshine Deal says:

    I love my name and always have, well, except for a brief period in the 5th grade where I didn’t feel very sunshiney so I went by my first name. I have 4 names: Charity Rebekah Sunshine Deal, so I’ve never felt the need to change it, but I can understand others wanting to change theirs, as a rite of passage for instance, or even adding an extra one. I get asked a lot if it’s my given name, a nickname or if I’ve changed it.

    Someone recently asked me if they could call me Sunny and I said no. At the time I said that if you had a name like Sunshine, why would you want to shorten it? I relaized the other day that the reason I’m not fond of nicknames is because I had several growing up. Put any word in front of shine and I probably had it as a nickname. From my younger cousin and brother when we were kids I got butt-shine, pest-shine, etc. Moonshine was pretty popular and then a boy in the 7th grade called me Moonbeam and stole my little heart.

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