Pagan names

Pagan names June 20, 2011

Let’s be honest. Pagan names are weird. They are the source of much mockery, from both within and without the pagan community. For some reason we feel the need to name ourselves BlazingRaven Night Hawk’s Daughter or Moonray Celestina Wolf, or maybe just Thorson, which is like Madonna, but less obvious, right? But now some of us are having kids and they need names. What’s a pagan to do?

First off, all names have meaning. Do we pick Jim, because it was our favorite uncle’s name? Do we pick Sarah as a middle name because that’s a tradition that’s been passed down for four generations? Do we name our child Alexus, in hope that our aspirations will come to fruition in our offspring’s life? Or do we pick Jack, because it’s fresh but also really safe? Perhaps, Mary to reflect our Catholic upbringing? What if we decide to honor our pagan tradition?

There are so many choices and so many reasons for those choices.

As of this writing I know only handful of kids born to pagans while they were practicing paganism. Some of the names are obviously pagan, when one knows the parents’ traditions, but almost all can function in the wider world without sounding that note. My own children’s names are not pagan at all.

When pregnant this past winter I got obsessed with baby names. There are several really good baby name blogs out there and I read them faithfully. I’m also a right snob about names (and most things generally, if I’m being honest); I have very strong opinions about names and spellings. I wanted to balance sound, aesthetic, and spelling with two other qualities: meaning and whether it would suit a child equally well as an adult. I like names that are uncommon but not weird, which is of course a matter of opinion.

If we had a boy I really wanted to name him Bran – it means raven in Welsh, and we’re living in Wales. I thought honoring this place would be nice. I love ravens. Bran was easy to spell and pronounce and uncommon. Bran is also a Welsh deity. My husband said no way.

If we had a girl I was debating whether to put some version of Mary in the name. I do a lot of academic work on the Virgin Mary and she’s been a very important figure in my life. Her icon has been the single most consistent item on my altar. Do I use Mary straight up? What about Mari, the Feri ‘version’? Mair, the Welsh version (pronounced My-ear, more or less) would reflect her birth place, but would be unpronounceable by most English speakers.

Other spiritual names I considered for a girl included:

Cora – a sweet name, reflecting one of the founders of the Feri tradition. I chose against this as I’d never met the woman, and felt that the name would be pretentious of me, seeing as how I’m not even an initiate of the tradition.

Sophia – Long a favorite name of mine; meaning ‘wisdom’ in Greek, also one of the names of the feminine divine. It seems like the perfect choice for our family. My husband really wanted this name, but I said no because it seems to be an incredibly popular name these days, and I know many Sophias, most of whom I’m not crazy about.

Awen – The Welsh word for the indwelling of inspiration of the Druids. A lovely concept, reflecting our place, not too hard to spell or pronounce. But husband said no.

So I thought some more about Mari/Mary. It didn’t yank at my heart. I didn’t get that tingle that said ‘yes, this is the name.’ In the end, I didn’t even sit before my altar and ask what She thought. I figure if a person is about to be named after a deity, that deity ought to be consulted. I wouldn’t dream of naming anything after Kali without her express consent!

In the end, we chose Astrid, which means ‘divine beauty’ in Old Norse. It’s pretty, uncommon but pronouncable, and most importantly, both my husband and I could agree on it.


This is my story. What’s yours? What did you name your children and why?

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