What’s in a name?

Posted on Nov 3, 2018 in Spiritual living

Semele - consuming fire and new lifePeople often comment on my name, usually asking where it comes from and wanting to know what it means. It’s become a good ice-breaker and conversation-starter when I meet new people, which is one aspect of its magic perhaps. Because names do possess magic and power, as every wise child will tell you. In many folklore, magical and mystical traditions there is the idea of a “true name” which somehow expresses and encapsulates the nature and being of a thing or person. So it is that throughout myths and faerie-tales we find instances of beings who can only be defeated, overcome or controlled once knowledge of their name has been obtained. It’s how Rumpelstiltskin’s gold-spinning racket is foiled, and how Isis seizes dominion over gods and men. The hobbit Bilbo goes to amusingly inventive lengths not to reveal his real name to Smaug, obviously sensing the leverage that would afford his dragon opponent.

When you’re on a journey of self-discovery and development, there can come a time in your life when you feel that you’ve outgrown the name your parents gave you. It’s as if that name belongs to someone altogether different, a person that no longer even exists. There is a deeply-felt desire to reflect who you have become in how you are called and what you answer to. About 15 years ago I reached that point and it was incredibly empowering and liberating to undergo the process of seeking out my new name.

Intuitively, I knew I wanted to keep the same initial. (As an aside, this turned out to be really useful when I came to change my name legally as my bank accounts and signature didn’t need updating but that wasn’t my thinking behind it at the time! I thought I’d mention it just in case that’s useful information for you). So I began to research names beginning with S, at the same time meditating on how to interpret my essential qualities and soul gifts through an epithet. I had recently set up my spiritual guidance and healing business, which my Higher Self had guided me to brand Triple Moon, so that was also at the forefront of my mind. I looked to see if there was a name beginning with S that had links to the moon but the the obvious Selene just didn’t feel right. Then I came across Semele in Greek mythology. The sound of it on my tongue resounded like a bell straight away and I remembered that I’d been given a music tape a few years back with a beautiful song on it from Handel’s opera of that name. Very interesting!

The more I researched the origins of Semele the more I liked it. While some linguists took it to be a variation on the previously mentioned Selene who was an ancient Greek lunar deity, others believed it to be of Thraco-Phrygian origin, derived from a root meaning “earth”. These associations were just perfect, and absolutely aligned to who I knew I was – both human and divine, a woman wanting to apply the mystery and magic of the spiritual realms within the practical context of life on earth. I just adored the idea of her being an embodied lover of the divine (personified by Zeus as king of the Greek pantheon) who insisted on seeing his full glory and was consumed in a blaze of fire and light as a result. What a way to go!

I was a little nervous about telling my parents, after all I didn’t want them to feel any personal rejection in my letting go of the name they’d given me, but my anxiety was soon replaced with surprised delight. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before, but my Mum informed me that I’d just combined my birth names of Sara and Melanie, “and so you’ve finally resolved the argument” she said. To my amazement, she explained that when I was born she and Dad had argued extensively over whether Sara or Melanie should be my first name and Dad had won (as he usually did).

I decided to try the name on for six months and see how it felt before committing to it fully. Within days it felt like I’d never been called anything else, and even I was amazed by how quickly everyone around me adjusted to this new mode of address. It just felt completely natural, comfortable and familiar so six months later I made it legal with a deed poll.

Here’s where the mystery deepens, because it seems to me that as the years have gone by I’ve grown more and more into this name, with the links between the myth of Semele and my own inner journey becoming more obvious and appropriate. For example, Semele spent time in the underworld, home of the dead, before being given her place in the immortal heavens and I’ve gone on to work with the earthbound spirits of those who’ve passed over, helping them to find their way to eternal light. (I can also hear some of you sighing in relief as you realise I didn’t choose to be named after someone whose story consisted only of an untimely death!)

Semele was worshipped alongside her son Dionysus who is, among other things, the god of spiritual ecstacy, ritual madness and theatre (including music and dance). He is seen as an intermediary between the living and the dead, a liberator who stands outside the usual conventions of society and frees his followers from self-conscious fear, subverting the oppressive restraints of the powerful. His cult was closely associated with trees, and one scholar has suggested that the original meaning of the name Dionysus was “he who runs among the trees” or “runner in the woods.” All of these themes have always been or have become intrinsic to my work with clients (having first applied it to myself) as well as to the ways I connect to joy in my personal time.

Over the last weeks, as part of my circle work, we’ve all been tasked with writing ourselves a name which represents our greatness. We start by collecting feedback from those friends who know us well, and then tweak those words and phrases into a short sentence that feels right. I’m still in the process of honing mine, but currently it’s something along the lines of:

“Bear Woman who watches and walks the Celtic lands showering fae magic of wisdom and new life.”

Now here are the lyrics from Handel’s aria about Semele, given to me on tape several years before I even had the first thought of changing my name, and which I looked up again today because I was writing this article:

“Where’er you walk
Cool gales shall fan the glade
Trees where you sit
Shall crowd into a shade
Trees where you sit
Shall crowd into a shade

Where’er you tread
The blushing flowers shall rise
And all things flourish
And all things flourish
Where’er you turn your eyes
Where’er you turn your eyes
Where’er you turn your eyes”

Don’t you think, even though I know it’s ever-so-susceptible-to-magic me saying it, that’s a pretty incredible comparison?

If you’re someone who feels as if what you’re called just isn’t who you are then I would encourage you whole-heartedly to explore the option of choosing a name for yourself. Just as naming a fearful foe or a threatening shadow robs it of its power over you, naming the greatness of who you truly are can allow you to claim the fullness of that radiance.

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Semele Xerri

© Semele Xerri is a psychic intuitive guide, healer, animal communicator, and Reiki Master Teacher. To find out more about her and her services, go to her Work with me page.

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