Understanding Wiccan Names
Wiccans use special names, often termed "magical", to allow for a certain type of distance to be gained, and then maintained, as they practice their faith. There are many reasons why this is done but, they center around the idea of trust.
Use of a specific name by certain persons inside the religion can often indicate a relative amount of trust gained by the user, or the amount of trust granted to any person that is allowed to ever become aware that the name even exists. This often creates a type of hierarchy that may make sense only to other Wiccans.
Each practitioner may have several names but, there are those who maintain a more linear approach to the general public, and their fellows for obvious reasons involving clarity. Names, and naming conventions within Wicca are not complex but, can be perplexing. This especially true when they come with an expectation of assumed etiquette of which a person who is unfamiliar, might still encounter. Many and various are the names of Wiccan practitioners. Each group often has it's own naming convention that may or may not have anything to do with the group. Some individuals may, at times practice under a group name, while still maintaining a type of singular name for the sake of autonomy. For ease of use, this article will focus upon common circumstances that rites, and naming conventions of the Wicca religion tend to utilize most.
Wiccaning /Name at Birth
The first of perhaps many names a Wiccan will have is the one granted by the parents at their birth. Just as many proud parents often choose the name of a baby before it actually is born, so to for Wiccans. This first name is usually the legal name of the baby, and the rite is in part to announce it officially to the family, friends, and spiritual community. With this name, the understanding is that the child will grow to find their own path, and in time, perhaps even chose a more appropriate name for themselves. Many parents who came to Wicca from other religions have been honored to have their children maintain their given names, whether they grow up to eventually embrace Wicca or not.
Many birth names have themes centered upon nature or, the seasons, totemic animals, and even God or Goddessess contained within them. For example: Skye, Ocean, Phoenix, Raven, Rhiannan, Liard, Hunter, Summer, etc.,etc., are names that have, since the early 1960's, gained in popularity in the U.S. Even outside the naming conventions of the Wicca religion such names have continued to garner influence and announce a new generation to the public. Obviously, some names have been, in a sense timeless, while others may have come into style with the currents of fashion, and media pushing them but, they have not gone away.
Public or, "Use Names"
These types of names are often created by the (Wiccan) person, or, if they participate in a group; given to them by the group elders, or perhaps lauded upon them for deeds that merit a name. Sometimes this name may prove be ill-fitting, and even binding in a magical way if the person was not wary enough to discern this all before the name is laid upon them. Public, or "use names" are meant to sometimes define a person by their function within a larger group, or to indicate their rank within a group without announcing it to anyone outside the group.
Use names may be a badge of honor or shame depending on the declared intent, and may carry with it the responsibility of changing or adding to such a name to show allegiance or increase the idea of a persons integrity within the group. In the case of a Wiccan who has been granted a name for use within a group to which they may have petitioned to join, a name may be granted until they have proven they deserve a better one. The responsibility in such a circumstance, would be to elleviate an undesirable name perhaps.
Names that are laid upon a practitioner may be used by all if it is a use name, and without question such names are often meant to set the new practitioner apart from the group in some way. A name such as this might be; Bumble-Bear, Lost-Dog, Epic-Unicorn, Drunk-Faerie, Glam-Fly, and the like. Though ripe with inherent insult, the names tend to offer a bit of insight of the persona, while not granting an outsider any knowledge of the person or person's, so named, rank within the group dynamic, if such may even exist.
The names that Wiccan's may choose for themselves for public use, can be almost anything. And while they are usually striking, they are often benign but, still infused with magical intent. The chosen name has the ability to speak of an individual contextually, when identified by group or individual. The name Rowan is somewhat common for some females who take on names of this type. "Rowan of Dark Water", will tell most any Wiccans, who have need to know; to which "Rowan", the name refers.
If, and when more than a single member within a group has the same exact name, it is useful to have some first hand knowledge of the person, or to be aware of Wiccan group dynamics, or ranking titles for some groups. This is not always helpful though, since the idea of certain naming conventions is meant to obscure the rank, or leave the general public without any insight as to the named person's relative importance within their group. Chosen names may share the qualities of any of the aforementioned type of names but, again have no certain rules. The main purpose is to grant a person proper reference but, without much direct knowledge or insight. Basically, they tend to increase mystery or ad an allure. Examples of such names, might include: The Wolf (From Penn's Woods), River Maiden, Elemental Dora, Blue-Djinn, Evergreen, Lilly-From-the-Lakes, etc., etc.,
These names are used in private, or even alone. The secret name is one believed to hold a great magical power, and is often only known by a very few, well trusted persons. The secret name is taken on by the Wiccan practitioner of their own accord, but some believe it to be inspired by Deity. Lacking anything more than a commonality of names, or naming conventions that might speak to the heart of such a matter, we are often left to observe the actions, of some who choose to forever keep their secret names to themselves. By doing so, they remain fully vested with the powers that may be hidden within it. Other religions have similar beliefs about certain names, especially where their Gods may be involved.
Writing about secret names used by Wiccans is no easy task since the author is of course pledged to remain silent about any such knowledge! Certain names of this sort are understood as returning to the original (Deity) owner when the human user has finally died. In such cases, there are some groups that may utter the name aloud, for the sake of closure, and finality during funerary rites but, again, not always. And it is with great reverence that a secret name is spoken, as it may take on a life of it's own as either blessing or curse, depending on how well the person used it, or allowed it to be used.
The secret name, of a person may sometimes only be known to one other person. Instances, of this type sometimes help define rank or title between members of a Wiccan group, but not always. The idea is again similar to other religions that hold to a belief that a name called upon in vain, brings no honor to the person so named. Also, the more people who know and use the name in a mocking, or vain way, will create not only a loss of prestige for the user, but will drain or make less potent, the power of the name.
Until recently the phrase, " ' You may call me...(name)' ", was quite fashionable and easily understood by most Pagans, and Wiccans when they would gather. A litany of rules, most notably attributable to Gerald Gardner about 1957, which in part addressed the secretive nature of Wicca, generally discourages the exposing of Wicca's secrets. Oddly enough, this premise was the very thing that Gardner himself, seemed to forget while allowing interviewers to expose Wicca, and it's so-called, secrets to the consternation of his close-knit, coven. This apparent lapse, many speculate, may actually be the cause of the continued rise in the popularity of Wiccan religion to date. The secrets contained with a name is just a small portion of the things that leaked out during that time. The deeper mysteries, though still cloaked in myth and magic, are closer to the surface of mundane life. Many more secrets are attainable by those who might know who, or what to call upon, and by what great and powerful name to call them.
Although the exposure of a person's secret name is their own matter, once it is out, many Pagans, and Wiccans have a special duty to exercise greater responsibility, by being so honored. The more secret names one knows, the more trust a person may generate if used wisely. And so, secret names may, at times, help to generate a false sense of security, and power within Wicca. Great care is therefore required before anyone is allowed to learn or use certain names. This idea, is most often concerned with more modern notions of personal privacy and security but, still echoes back to the era when silence was golden, and breaking it could cause one to lose honor, their freedom, or even their very life.