Thinking About – What’s in a Name?

Thinking About – What’s in a Name?

If you head to the far south west of the country you will eventually arrive in Cornwall. Travel further onwards and you will come to a left hand turning between Truro and Falmouth that leads to the small village of Devoran. Just opposite the school is a corner house. That was where my Dad and my Uncle used to run the village store.

Across the road was the Post Office, and further along the road was the village pub. I think the school is still there, and the pub seems to be thriving as a gastropub, but the Post Office and the Village Store have gone.

So let’s travel down to the pub now – no we aren’t going in…

Across the way there is a narrow road that takes you down to what was a tramline. You are very close to the River Fal now. A wide stretch of tidal water this little village overlooks.

What’s the point in all of this, you may rightly ask?

Ok, not too far now.

Don’t head down to the Old Quay – for now just walk a little way along the Tram Road. On the left you will still find C B Martyn Folage. ‘Old Man Martyn’ gave my Dad his first job when my family moved here from Carshalton. I was yet to be born, but this job helped my parents settle, and I’m sure helped me arrive in this world. As a way of honouring ‘Old Man Martyn’ I was named after him. My middle name, Martyn, has been something I’ve been proud of since I understood the meaning of that story.

“What’s your middle name?” I’d be asked.

“Martyn,” I’d reply, “with a Y”.

It was a link to my beloved Cornwall that I carried with me when we all moved away when I was very young. About 25 years ago I went back to the Folage, met up with the descendants of ‘Old Man Martyn’ who still owned the company, and told them I was named after their Great Grandad. They were touched by the tale.

Names have power.

When I first joined the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids in 1994 I took my fresh pack of Gwersi to the bank of a pond on Ditchling Common and sat there in the sunshine. I opened the pack and one of the first things I was asked was to consider what the Druids and Druidry meant to me. That was 24 years ago and if asked the same question now, I think my mind would still go to those same images that floated around my head back then. Druid. Five letters can mean so much.

Martyn was a great middle name. But David Smith? My parents told me that I was originally going to be named Philip Ian Smith, until they thought about me initialling cheques later in life and realised PIS wasn’t that great. So David Martyn Smith it was. I was ‘Smudger’ at school, or ‘Smiffy’, and I couldn’t help wonder why people added a syllable to a one syllable name? Dave was ok though. I’ve always been happy being David.

As I became a teenager and got interested in magic I started thinking about a magical name, but nothing came to mind. My years within Ritual Magic moved into Paganism, and then to Druidry, and I once more began to be open to a Bardic name. Then on one visit to Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm’s Grove they showed us a new oracle deck they had been working on. It was the Druid Animal Oracle, a set of cards I still love to this day. Since the days of Richard Carpenter’s ‘Robin of Sherwood’ series I have always loved Herne, and the deer as an animal. Card after card I looked through, enjoying the artwork exquisitely painted by Will Worthington, when I came to a card that took my breath away. It was a Stag, bellowing the call of the Rut. Beneath the picture was one word, Damh. My given name was, Dave. The Gaelic name of the animal that had walked with me for years, Damh, pronounced ‘Darv’. The cards had given me my Bardic name, and it has stayed with me ever since. This was way before I began writing any Pagan songs. The name just travelled with me on to the stage.

In many magical traditions it is said that the magician should keep their magical name secret. Shared only with those with whom they work their magic. Damh is my Bardic name, like Ross Nichols had Nuinn, a name he wore openly, so there is no secret about it. I do have a magical name and that is indeed only shared with those within my Druid Grove, and that name holds altogether different meanings and associations. But mostly, even in those more private magical moments, I still use Damh as my name. From the moment I first used it (it was on an internet email list called UKPML – UK Pagans Mailing List) it felt absolutely right. Those four letters summed up who I was. Of course the spelling was a little strange for people to understand, and I had no idea at the time that my music would be heard around the world, and that I’d bring that name with me wherever I travelled, with all of the different ways I’ve heard it pronounced over the years. But that’s what happens when you choose (or it chooses you) a Gaelic Bardic name.

Of course, names can be seen as labels, and I know that there are many who wish to shed labels. I’m not one of those to be honest. I have no wish to shed the label of Druid. I am intensely connected and still very much in love with the Forest Path. I acknowledge that there has never been any unbroken spiritual lineage of teachings back to the Iron Age and before, and I’m absolutely fine with that. I’m not trying to be an Iron Age Druid. I don’t live in the Iron Age. What I, and most Druids I know do, is take inspiration from that distant past. Honour the points where Earth meets Sky, where Sky meets Sea, where Sea meets Sky, and where all three meet. I find comfort in the old stories, I see the Gods of those tales within the land, I hear their voices in the sound of the wind, the call of the gull, and the wave on the shore. None of this is trying to live in the past, it’s trying to understand living in the now, using spiritual methods and tools we are remembering. So I am more than happy to use the name Druid to describe who I am, what I do.

Other labels? Father, husband, musician, entertainer, Bard, Pendragon, magician, friend, there are many. We all have varied roles to play in life, and these names can help identify where you are, and what you are doing. Like different hats you put one on, and take one off. With some, they are always on your head, no matter what, and others are worn with them.

Do you have a magical name? How did you receive it? Do you find names restrictive, and do you wish to shed those labels?


13 responses to “Thinking About – What’s in a Name?”

  1. I find that it depends on the name and who by, whether there are negative (or positive) connotations and how it is being wielded.

  2. That should have read ‘and who it’s given by’.

    I also meant to say how much I enjoyed reading your post. The South West, especially Helford and Lizard way, has always featured in a large way through my family’s life.

    Craft-wise I’m probably best described as solitary eclectic, definitely focused on the natural cycle of life.

  3. I have my Elven name , being Toryndaryl, given to me by the Silver Elves, and which I use only in a Faerie context. I am not too sure of how seriously I take this, but it is one of my connections to Otherworld.
    Then there is another name, given to me by my benefactor, and which is only known to me and them. I use this name sometimes in a solo ritual and at such a moment I am living from the depth of myself. I will never share this name with anyone else. So, what is the use of it then?, one might ask. I think of it as making clear to the universe that I am speaking very seriously now 🙂 .

  4. It is funny – we in Minneapolis are looking forward very much to seeing you here at Paganicon in a few weeks, and (as a Brit) I have spent more moments than I can remember telling people that your name is not Damn. Damn the bard…

  5. wonderful blog 🙂 i am unaware of what my magical name is or if i even have one…..something yet to be discovered i guess 🙂

  6. I am know as LameWolf because I am lame (use a wheelchair nowadays) and my Companion through all life’s ups and downs is a wolf. A large female timber wolf to be precise.
    How ironic then – or maybe just the Universe having a laugh at my expanse, long after I had accepted the name as mine, to be diagnosed with a condition called lupus.

  7. I have a magical name who h feels completed right. I was meditating dusk, that magical twilight time when the Awyn is close. I had been talking to one of my guides, a wolf. When I opened my eyes and looked up in the sky I was bathed in the light of a full moon. So I became Moonwolf and it feels like it was given to me. It feels right. I am very ill at the moment but before my body and brain got slightly scrambled O write a lot of poetry ,mostly about the druid / pagan path and have always used the name moonwalk in connection to it… I feel a very close connection to my magical name, it feels as if says who I am in some ways. When you write about pronouncing your name of made me smile. Years ago I phoned OBOD office about doing the course and you answered the phone. I can remember hopelessly microblogging your name and feeling like a right idiot having just told you how much I love your music. I still love yourmusic, the way it tells a story.
    I’m sorry to ramble on I’ll go now and leave you in peace

  8. I am Tesenisis, meaning daughter of Isis. Early on in my pagan journey I had found and been drawn to this name, but I felt that I must need to find my pagan name by some other means, so I kept looking.

    Nothing felt right, and I continued to go back to Tesenisis. So in ritual I meditated with the Goddess on that being my name. She gave me a clear “yes”, that it was the name she was giving me. I was and still am her daughter.

    My friends call me Tes, but in ritual I use the full name.

  9. Hi Damh,
    Just reading your post. It is strange, i totally understand what you are saying, i found my magical name in similar circumstances.
    I was born a Catholic, joined the Army, went to various contries policeing them. Times were wrong, situations bad. People died. It was against all i had been taught. My elder Brother was killed infront of me along with some dear friends.
    On returning back to Aldershot, i sat in garrison church from friday lunch until monday breakfast after asking for a sign proving this six ft man on a cross, above the altar was realy the saviour, and all loving God.
    Nothing happened.
    Why had my Brother died, why had theese other people died, for what ??
    Still nothing happened.
    I left the church, went back to barracks to be told we need get ready we going on an 6 month excersise to Norway in 6hrs.
    Long story short, after reaching Norway, i stayed with a chap called Errik, lovely guy, but he showed me peace, with everything. And took me out to woods showed me spirit of place, his whole way of life was just great. Nature spirits sky, sea earth. It was overwelming but i finally found peace within myself,
    Damh, i think you might understand when i say that i finally understood, but i felt reborn.
    I’m not Druid, but i’d like to be.

  10. Hi Dave, fancy your parents living in Carshalton – I lived there in the early 80’s! I could hear the River Wandle from my bedroom window but also smell the stench from the plastics factory! I have a magical name that I chose myself when I was initiated into my coven years ago. I never reveal it to anyone except those in the coven and my closest pagan friends. It is very personal and special to me and helps me make a connection with my God and Goddess. Bright Blessings.

  11. Beautiful post, Damh!
    I’ve always hated my given name. It seemed that whenever someone used it in my youth it was to scold or demean. So as soon as I was old enough I began using its nick-name instead and still carry that name as much as possible. But when the faeries gave me their name I felt truly liberated. It fit who I am perfectly and being that no one else knows it, it can never be used in a negative way.

  12. I was named Laura Beth at birth, both tree names of a sort. But my chosen name is Feochadan, or Auntie Thistle. I think the thistle suits me. I smell nice, I am red on top (I have Rosecea), I can be quite prickly, and I feed birds. The Spirit of the Place where I live named me “Skywatcher,” because I watch the sky all the time. If I have a secret Name, it’s because I don’t know it yet!

  13. Haa….we love the area around Falmouth, we’ve gone down from East Yorkshire to the Falmouth Sea Shanty Festival in June for quite a few years now; Devoran is a lovely village.

    When are our children were small we used to go on holiday in a 12ft touring caravan, it was all we could afford. We were quite a menagerie of children and all the family pets from fish, dog, hamster, budgie to stick insects! However, we had one other animal…of sorts. It was a polystyrene seagull that we used to hang in the doorway of the caravan….it was known to all as Albert Ross.

    Fast forward 35 years and I, too, had discovered OBOD and was pondering my druid name. We now lived on the coast of East Yorkshire and I used to walk the cliffs and watch and admire the freedom of the seagulls that hovered and swooped in the wind. My mind went back to that seagull that hung in our caravan for so many happy holidays…Albert Ross. We don’t have albatrosses in Bridlington, but we do have some blooming big seagulls! There was something about the albatross that clicked with me…they travel long distances in their lifespan, they experience so many different conditions, they face down the most difficult of weather. All these things came together as I considered my spiritual journey thus far and I adopted the name “albatross”; but it all began in a 12ft caravan with a polystyrene seagull all those years ago.

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