Witch This, Not That: Taking a Pagan Name (I promise you’re not doing it wrong.)

Witch This, Not That: Taking a Pagan Name (I promise you’re not doing it wrong.) June 6, 2021

“That is my real name,” Sparkle Starbuck said with ill-concealed triumph. “Here’s my driver’s license. See?” –Rosemary Edghill

Recently, in yet another Facebook group, someone asked about adopting a Craft name: They had a particular name in mind, but they weren’t sure if it was suitable, and they were hoping for feedback.

It was about as innocuous a question as one could ask in such a forum, but that didn’t stop a woman named Krystal (who is, as far as I’m concerned, the Pagan equivalent of Karen) from flipping out on them.

Krystal would like to speak to your initiator. (Image via Pixabay.)

“You shouldn’t choose your name,” Krystal wrote. “You let your gods choose for you. You need to meditate on it, and they will name you.”

Other list members politely dissented, but Krystal wasn’t having it.

“Naming yourself is like giving yourself a nickname, very childish.” Then, because she hadn’t been quite passive-aggressive enough: “Choosing your own name.” [five laughing emojis] “Wow.”

Normally, when composing a “Witch This, Not That” post, I’ll put at least nominal effort into exploring the other side before offering advice, but not this time. Krystal is wrong. And odious. And probably going to find Jesus sooner than later. So, in response, we’re going to take a deep, relaxing breath and ignore the hell out of her.

The First Rule of Taking a Pagan Name is That There Are No Rules

I will own that when I first stuck my neck into the greater Pagan community, I was taken aback by the names I encountered. “I’m Eleutheria NimbusHawk Rising,” someone would say at a pub moot. “But my friends call me Mbu.”

My coven at the time had taken to calling me Evnissyen, which I shortened to Evn (pronounced “Evan,” not “Ev-nuh”), but I was always a little uncomfortable meeting people, when it was like, “Hi, I’m Evn, and… oh, okay. Very pleased to make your acquaintance, Sudden Smell of Ozone Before a Hard Midsummer Rain. What’s your Tradition?” I didn’t want to fault people for having APAP (As Pagan As Possible) names, but they often struck me as silly, especially when so many of them had the exact same cadence: two-syllable first name, three-syllable last name, accents where you’d expect them to be. It felt like everyone was trying to present themself as someone they weren’t, creating a character instead of reinforcing a liberated identity.

Then again, I was using a name that would blend right in on an Abercrombie & Fitch conference call, just so that everyone would have to take me seriously. In retrospect, I probably should’ve put more effort into figuring out who was actually playing a character.

“Hmm. I wonder if ‘Sparkle Starbuck’ is taken?” (Image via Unsplash.)

What I ultimately learned was that it didn’t matter what I thought of anyone’s name. Whether they’d dubbed themself a fanciful animal/mineral hybrid or come up with a creative new spelling of Raven, that was their business, not mine. And if I found myself reluctant to address someone with the name they’d chosen for themself, that was entirely my problem, not theirs.

This Is How We Do It, Except When We Don’t

Some branches of Paganism do encourage practitioners to take new names as a form of unbinding, and Discordianism is no stranger to the concept. According to the Principa Discordia:

Discordians have a tradition of assuming HOLY NAMES.
This is not unique with Erisianism, of course. I suppose that Pope Paul is the son of Mr. and Mrs. VI?

And also TITLES OF MYSTICAL IMPORT.

My full, official Holy Name — which you may or may not have noticed in my author bio — is Thumper Marjorie Splitfoot Forge. (I’m not big on titles, mystically important or otherwise, but I do rather like Mx, Rev., and Esq. as honorifics, so feel free to tack those on at your leisure when addressing me.) I’ve written before about the history of the names Thumper and Marjorie, and Forge comes from the Montrose Forge, the leather and fetishwear shop where I worked for close to five years, making it an appropriate surname (plus it’s easier to pronounce than Offorge). Splitfoot — an old folk name for the Devil — is a fairly new addition.

Some of my friends raised an eyebrow or three when I started going by Splitfoot, but a) I wanted something Witchy to break up all the Leather names, and b) I’ve had a soft spot for the folkloric Devil ever since I read the following passage in Witchcraft Today by Gerald Gardner:

Now the god is represented by the high priest (if there is one) and it is he who was called the Devil in the old days. I was very curious about him and asked at once when I was “inside,” by which they mean a member of the cult: “Who and what is called the Devil?” Though members of the cult never use and, indeed, dislike the term, they knew what I meant and said: “You know him, the leader. He is the high priest, the high priestess’s husband.”

So that’s the logical, academic rationalization behind my third-of-four names. But the real reason is that my friend Michael Lux once messaged to tell me about a dream he’d had, in which I’d burst into a gay bar, wearing a large, fabulous cape and yelling, “I’m MAAAAAHJORIE SPLITFOOT” while glitter rained down from the ceiling. So now I can never let go of it.

“Say hello to my little friend. Her name is Mbu. She meditated on it.” (Image via Pixabay.)

I assume some Traditions have guidelines around monikers, but, as I’ve previously mentioned, just because a given Trad does things a certain way doesn’t mean everyone else has to do the same. How you go about finding a name is far less important than finding the name that’s right for you, outside opinions (including mine) be damned.

What if my legal name is really cool and means a lot to me, and I don’t have any interest in finding a Pagan name? What then? What then?!

That’s totally fine! It’s your name, not anyone else’s. The only person who gets to decide who you are is you.

Personally, I’ve never been fond of my legal name. I’m supposed to be named for my grandfather, but after he died, there was a big controversy over whether the name he went by was a nickname or his actual name. No one’s ever been sure either way, so there’s always been this vague feeling of “my name is wrong.”

Oh, and also, Grandpa and I have the joy of sharing our name with a convicted mass murderer (no relation). He died in prison, so I guess it’s less sullied now, but I’ve spent most of my adult life like, “No, really: He can keep it.”

I learned a long time ago not to Google myself. (Image via Pixabay.)

But that’s literally just me. There are myriad ways to unbind or decondition and immerse yourself in Paganism without changing your name. If you’re down with the name you were handed at birth, then by all means keep it, and take pride in doing so. I support you 100%.

Your self-indulgent ramblings have somehow convinced me to find a Pagan name of my own. How will I know when I’ve found the right one?

All you have to do is take two easy steps:

  • Look in a mirror.
  • Say the name.

Did you smile? If you didn’t, keep looking. But if you did, congratulations! You’ve found yourself the perfect Pagan name, and I will never call you anything else.

Unless it’s Krystal.

More discord, you say? But of course! Follow Fivefold Law on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

About Thumper
Thumper Marjorie Splitfoot Forge is a Gardnerian High Priest, an initiate of the Minoan Brotherhood, an Episkopos of the Dorothy Clutterbuck Memorial Cabal of Laverna Discordia, a recovering alcoholic, and a notary public from Houston, TX. You can read more about the author here.

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4 responses to “Witch This, Not That: Taking a Pagan Name (I promise you’re not doing it wrong.)”

  1. I used to call my husband Evnissyen when i was pissed off with him – poisoning the horses! 🙂

  2. Brilliantly said and hilarious. But as far as your grandfather’s name – I was named Patricia after my Aunt Mary Ellen. It’s a thing. (My father’s favourite sister was *always* called Pat for reasons no one could remember, so he named me Patricia Ellen.) it’s the spirit of the naming in legal names too.

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