Does a New Religion Mean a New Name?

It’s pretty common when someone converts to a religion to take a name that lines up with the new religion’s traditions. Even though Hinduism doesn’t always support the notion of “convert” you can still see a number of non-Indian Hindus who traded names from other traditions for Hindu names. Ram Dass, for example.

You know me as Ambaa, but I am not called that in real life.

I’ve said before that I don’t want to disrespect my parents by rejecting the name they gave me.

On the other hand, I am going through life with a “Christian” name, which doesn’t seem entirely appropriate as a Hindu. It seems like going by a Hindu name would be a way of showing pride in my religion.

Sometimes a guru will give you  a name. I’m not sure if it’s right to select your own name!

What do you think? Should converts adopt a name appropriate to their new religion? Where should they get their name from?

About Ambaa

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • Melisa (Meenakshi) Coto

    This is something I have struggled with as well, especially with the stories of Hindus with western names not being allowed within some temples in India. I came to the decision to either take a Hindu first name and keep my western middle name or take a Hindu first and middle name that both have the same first letters of my western names.
    I spoke to my priest about obtaining or choosing a Hindu name and his response was that he would choose a name for me if I preferred, but why not take advantage of the fact that I am an adult getting to choose the name that represents my love for God and take the time to meditate, study and commune to derive the best one.
    I take my Hindu name (legally) in a few months!

    • HARRY

      @ Melisa Or should I call you Meenakshi ?

      Having western name doesn’t stop you or get you rejected from any temples that I have known so far. Yes, there are cases where a dedicated temples which are male or female only will have restrictions, but even they are not restricted on name bases or even religion.

      HARRY

      PS Otherwise I would be the first one on the list. :)

    • Ambaa

      Wow! I like your story. It’s nice to hear about a personal experience with this issue.

  • Seeker

    This is a good issue to raise. My instinctive reaction when I see a person who has been brought up in white-bread America adopting a name from another culture (such as Ram Dass) is really negative; it strikes me as superficial and not genuine. However, logically I can see that a person who decides to take a name from a different culture could be doing it because of sincere spiritual reasons. I think what colored my view is growing up in the 60s and 70s when people took names like Shanti just to be different from the mainstream, not because of any real values.

    • Ambaa

      I’m pretty much in the same place as you. It feels “off” and weird to me. On the other hand, I know women who had children in the 70s and named their white kids Indian names. So sometimes there are blonde, white girls named Shanti and it’s their given name!

  • HARRY

    @ Ambaa

    Hinduism does not insist you change your name when you adopt the faith, unless you want to become a Sanyasi (monk) ( Sadhu). I will tell you why later on.

    I have said this numbers of time before, Hinduism does not convert people to their belief. You become part of Hinduism by your own choice. If you don’t want to believe in it, it’s your choice too. One must seek for it’s own salvation by their own choice.

    Sanyasi has to give up his / her name is because this is the only way they detach them self from sansar ( Society / World ). This is a kind of rebirth for them. Thus change of name. If you are an adult and you want to adopt Hinduism you do not need to do this unless you want it to of your own free will.

    Gurus gives name in Hinduism because they have abillity to wipe out all your past karma from being enlighten in their own right by doing so they give you new identity and a new life. This is the only reason why they give names.

    Any name which has Das at the end are normally associated with Sanyasi’s name and they only represent Vaishnava dualism concept of hinduism ( ISKCON ) and meny other simmilar concept beliefs ( Guru Bakti ).

    HARRY

  • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com Andrea

    I do not think that it should be necessary to change your name if you convert. Most religions have this idea that your name is a very sacred thing to begin with; I cannot think of a reason why that should change (unless it is a theological reason like shedding the old, adding the new – this is why some Catholics add a saint’s name to their name at Confirmation as well.)

    But changing your name entirely, particularly one that reflects the ethnicity of the RELIGION rather than yourself, can be a little tricky. In some cases, it’s cultural hegemony and forced onto converts whether they wanted to change their name or not. You don’t have to go further than slavery in the US to see examples of this. In other cases, it makes sense within the religion – if all Sikhs are named Singh or Kaur, why should a white convert also not take those names? Taking the name Singh or Kaur is about equality in the first place. But if Pooja wants to change her name to Mary because she converts to Christianity, does that sit with you as well as if Ashley wants to change her name to Parvati?

    If someone wants to take a new name because it helps them cement the values of their new faith, I can’t blame them at all for it, but I think that it should not be a flaky decision; it should come after much soul-searching.

    • Ambaa

      I don’t think I would find it bothersome if Pooja changed her name to Mary. But I’m not sure. Hmmmm. I know I have met Indians whose family has been Christian for generations, so naturally they have Christian-style names. Which again leads me to wonder if it’s appropriate for me to give my children Hindu-based names. I am not really interested in changing my own name, but I wonder about how to approach potential children’s names.

      • Balaji

        Give ur children Hindu name of the deity that u worship and that is close 2 u..let the surname be that of ur husband..

        • Ambaa

          Sounds like a plan to me!

          We will probably give them one Hindu name and one western name (one for first and one for middle), so if they feel embarrassed later, they will have options.

  • jerry lynch

    I agree that it should not be necessary. But if our absorption with a new path is so consuming and tansforastive, it seems indicative of new life and, thus, worthy of baptism. A new name is not only appropriate; it is natural.

    At the hindu ashram in Taos, I got the name “Sweet Pea-anada” and I knew it was perfect.

    • Ambaa

      That’s a nice way to look at it. “Indicative of a new life”

  • Leum

    In Zen Buddhism, you’re given a dharma name when you receive the precepts, but how and when you use that name is up to you. In my community, lay practitioners who have dharma names (not all of us do) use them only when talking to other practitioners. We’ve had priests who use the dharma names in all contexts, and others who retain their birth name for non-Buddhist purposes.

    I’m hoping to receive the precepts before the end of the year, and I don’t plan on using the dharma name I’ll be given outside of the Buddhist community. In part I worry about cultural appropriation (dharma names are taken from the Japanese), in part it’s simply not the custom, and in part because I’m perfectly happy with my current name.

  • badgergirl

    I was talking about this with a Hindu co-worker for fun one day, when she said, “I thought your name WAS Indian!” “Oh”, I said. :) It’s Sasha, from the Russian Alexandra, but was Saša (nickname for Satyana) in her ears. Since I love the meaning of Satyana (Truth), if I ever decide to change my name I… well, both will and won’t change it, I guess :D

    • Ambaa

      That works out well!

  • Balaji

    What does name has got to do with devotion to god?Whether u r Melissa or Meenakshi does it make u less or more dearer to God..if at all anyone want 2 change they can change their first name but should keep their surname so that they dont alienate their lineage and family..U dont need 2 change ur name just to tell or announce 2 ppl u hv accepted their religion..

  • Arjun

    Ambaa, You dont have to get rid of your old name but it is good when you are coming into the Hindu tradition to have a name that vibrates with you which then connects you into that spiritual tradition.Not only spiritually but mentally it will identify you with Hinduism.Names are like mantras and they vibrate your energy and your personality.

    • Ambaa

      “Names are like mantras.” That’s something I hadn’t thought of before!

  • http://websurf.palmoon.net/forum/member.php?action=profile&uid=122793 Petterson

    Hmm is anyone else encountering problems with the pictures on this blog loading? I’m trying to figure out if its a problem on my end or if it’s the blog. Any feed-back would be greatly appreciated.

    • Ambaa

      Not sure if this comment is for real or not, I found it in the spam filter. There aren’t a lot of pictures on my blog to begin with. Anyone having trouble with them?

  • harshal

    Stick to your Christian name. Those with Sanskritized Hindu names have been given that privilege by their parents who were Hindu. Your birth name will always be a reflection of your originality. Your birth name will denote your origin, which is Christian, an Abrahamic faith. You are a Christian irregardless of how many yagyas, pujas, aartis, etc you perform. A Non-Indian Hindu is an oxymoron. You are not exclusive nor privileged to have a Sanskrit Hindu name. Please start living a Christian lifestyle again. And stop tainting our Indian Hindu culture which predates your Christianity.

    • Ambaa

      I’m not Christian and I have never been Christian. I’ve never had a Christian lifestyle.

      • harshal

        a=d=h=a=r=m=i

        :)

        • Ambaa

          Where in your religion does it say to be cruel to other people?

          If you come to my home and call me names, I will delete and ban you. You want to believe I am not a Hindu, you go right ahead. But you’re not welcome here.

  • http://manojpontificates.blogspot.com/ Manoj

    I am an ex-Christian who moved away from religion. I have been slightly uncomfortable about my name. My middle name is my baptismal name. My last name is my dad’s Christian name. (Taking on dad’s last name as your first name is very common in South India, by the way.)

    When I went to work, companies preferred to work with the first and last name. I was actually happy to drop my middle name which I felt misidentified me.

    My last name stands. I have no plans to change it. But my discomfort stands as well. :)

    “Should converts adopt a name appropriate to their new religion?”

    Why not? I have found that having a name that references a God from another religion is a liability in some circles. Other things permitting, you should certainly consider changing it. But it might leave your parents hurt (which you also hint at). So, it comes down to weighing how much it means to you!

    Ultimately, you are more than a name and your thoughts and beliefs all define you too!

    • Ambaa

      Thank you for sharing your story! I get what you’re saying, I think “uncomfortable” is the perfect word for it.


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