08 April 2004

Naming conventions

I live a life in which I meet quite a few people with totem animal names. In fact, I've been in rooms full of people where I feel a bit awkward confessing that my name is simply “Jonathan,” and the temptation to jazz that up as “Jonathan ben Ephraim” doesn't help a bit. So I was tickled by this article about people choosing silly “Raven” and “Wolf” names.

Wolves are no more noble than scorpions. They'll happily rip your face off between munching on fluffy rabbits and sweet little mice. But wolves are furry and gorgeous and they look off into the distance as though they contain some unspoken wisdom. Bitch, please. They were thinking about how nice some noble caribou would taste right about now. But this seems to be the prerequisite for liking an animal enough to name yourself after it — that the animal is adorable or fiercely beautiful, which reflects well on the namee. No one ever names themselves Salamander Mangymoose, or Swift Ostrich, or Starmanatee. Yet these are perfectly lovely animals — they just don't make you look dark and cool, do they? Yeah. I'm onto you.

Now for the record, I know a “Raven” who I figure gets a special pass because she's mostly a scientific rationalist and she chose it in spite of being blonde. And the mighty Joi Wolfwomyn also gets a special pass, in spite of her silly spelling, for going out of her way to observe in her Re/search: Modern Pagans interview that “you don't meet that many Pagans whose names are Aardvark, Piranha, or Snail.” Plus, she has enough personal fortitude and presence that she has a genuine right to name herself whatever she pleases.

But really, if you're gonna go the totem animal route, you ought to do something distinctive and unique, with very personal symbolism. Isn't that the point?

I know a guy who has it right: his name is “Fly.” He grew up as “Maggot,” but then had a transformative experience one day. Now that is cool.

Update: Thorn just introduced me to Shaggy Manatee. Nothing beats the tale of Fly, but still cool.


Anonymous said...

Clarification for you: You don't choose your totem animal. They choose you. You can either find it through shamanic journeying, or having a shamanic practitioner journey for you to find and reconnect you with your power animal. However, I think it may be strange to name yourself after it, once you know what it is, since you and your power animal are separate entities. But, to each one's own. (Your power animal is the same as your totem.)

Anonymous said...

I agree. Your totem chooses you. I call myself Raven I came to realize recently in studying totems that the reason for the name is that the raven truly is my totem. I have had it since I was about 9 years old and never knew why, but it chose me at that time. Looking back I also know how it chose me and why. Again, a long story and much too personal to share. I know you feel it strange to name myself after it, but at the time it came to me I did not fully understand what had happened. The only way I could put some meaning to it was to take on it's name. It is impossible to let go of that after all this time. I honor it when writing and sharing my poetry and give it credit for all of my work. I believe my totem is the source of my creativity.