When I was Orthodox, a rebbetzin-friend said that I would feel more authentic once I changed my name, started going by my Hebrew name rather than my English name.
I remember recoiling and wondering, why do I have to change my name to be more authentically Jewish?
Of course, she didn’t say that I had to – only assumed that I, like so many other ba’alei teshuvah, or newly religious Jews, would do so in time.
I never did of course and I ended up leaving Orthodoxy altogether. But I have long wondered about the wisdom – or idiocy – in changing one’s name to reflect the evolution of one’s life.
I assume that most people go through an inherent evolution of who they are and what they believe, to varying degrees, throughout their lives. Different phases – college partying, first job, graduate school, second job, advancement in one’s job, eventual wedding, parenthood, mid-life crisis/revelations – are not usually represented by changes in identity, right?
I’ve noticed that there are people in the yoga world who do the same thing – advance to a deeper understanding and observance of tenets of yoga wisdom, and assume a new name.
What is in a name? Do we really change who we are because we are called something different?
I don’t even think I would respond to Leah, my Hebrew name. I’d wonder who was being called.
The more spiritual I am, the more I get to the core of ME – and that defies a name, really, right?
Isn’t it the same in any context? There are people who partied hard in the ’60s and ’70s and then changed their path toward healing and healthfulness and inspiration and divine wisdom. Beautiful. Brilliant.
But the tumult of the past leads us to the peace of today. Plain and simple. We are the sum total of all of our experiences.
There’s no need to shun the past or pretend it didn’t exist or we are not that person. I know stringently religious individuals today who still go by their English names. They are one and the same, only better for all the steps they’ve taken in this life to get where they are today.
I won’t bore you with details of my sordid past. Let’s sum it up by saying insecurities led to some unwise decisions and my life didn’t really start until I was 37 years old.
Fine. I accept that. I am who I was then and that’s what made me who I am today.
I was named Lynne at birth. I was named after my maternal great-grandfather, who was revered in my family. The name Lynne means pretty. I never felt it until I gained confidence, so maybe my path was to realize the meaning behind my identity.
Maybe. Or maybe it’s just a name so we know how to differentiate one person from the next.
Who we are is deep inside. The surface qualities vanish, but the soul stays the same.