What’s in a name?

We are all given name’s by our parents. Some of us like these names, others would really have preferred their parents had been a little more inspired, but these are the names we grow up with.

My given name is David Smith. You couldn’t get more ordinary than that. I was going to be called Philip Ian Smith, until my parents realised that every time I was asked to initial something I would be writing PIS. I’ve got to say I’m thankful for that forethought!

My middle name is Martyn. I really like that name and for a while thought of doing as many others have done and using my middle name as my first, becoming Martyn Smith, but I didn’t do that in the end. Middle names are often people our parents name us after. Sometimes one of the parents, or a Grandparent, or favourite actor/musician/footballer. I was named after Old Man Martyn, a plant nursery owner from the village we lived in in Devoran, Cornwall. He gave my Dad his first proper job, so my parents honoured him in me. I like that story.

I also like David. As a child you can be David, a teenager/youth/man Dave, then in older age back to David again. Smith, although I was called Smugger by some at school (which I hated), I’ve also learned to love, realising that there is a magical and respected ancestry within it. Were my ancestors Blacksmiths? Goldsmiths? Silversmiths? I don’t know, but somewhere in my past I had an ancestor named xxxxx the Smith, and I like that, a lot.

So we have our given names. Then we somehow obtain nicknames. I had a few at school but none stuck for long. Angus was one due to my obsession with AC/DC and I like that one, but it didn’t last long.


In Pagan circles many people take different names. Some public, others secret, only used in magical space. I found the name Damh quite easily. I was open to the idea of a Pagan name and one day I bought a copy of the Druid Animal Oracle by Philip and Stephanie Carr–Gomm. Now the image of the stag and Herne have always deeply moved me so when I found the stag card with it’s Gealic name, Damh (pronounced Darv) I realised I’d found my name. The thing is Darv/Damh is so close to ‘Dave’ as to be almost interchangeable. So I took the name of my Power Animal, the stag, yet kept the link with my given name too. Perfect.

Damh the Bard was born.

Over the years I have also had a few magical names that I have only ever used within the privacy of my Druid Grove. These names changed as my life-flow changed. For instance, when I needed to feel freedom the Seagull came to me, and for a very difficult period of my life I took one of the names of the Gull as my magical name, as the bird taught me to fly free, to survive. When I had learnt that lesson the animal left me, and I gave up the name. Similar things have happened at other times, when I needed the energy of a particular animal/God to walk very closely with me. Taking a magical name has a deep and real effect on our lives.

Some people scoff at some of the names people take within the Pagan community. I try not to. If somehow the Path has led a person to take the name Raven Morrighan (if a Raven Morrighan is reading this, I’m not referring to you by the way), so be it. Having lived with the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, consequences of taking a magical name I just always hope that they have done their homework and deeply considered the name, before taking it as a mantle.

Words and names are powerful things.

What’s in a name? If you take one, you will see.

20 responses to “What’s in a name?”

  1. Thanks for this Damh… I occasionally get asked, when druidry comes up in conversation, if I know that ‘Dam’ bloke… And of course I’m always getting asked about my name. Another reason for starting that blog… xx river

  2. Named my daughter Freya (Norse Goddess) Emily (Pink Floyd song) King. FEK or FEKing. She loves it but it was by accident lol

  3. Speaking as someone who changed his surname at 18, I can appreciate the feelings behind choosing a special name for oneself. This was then shortened by a good friend to Avey, which i like mainly because of the person who shortened it. So there we are. Names are good badges to live with, or to change as we change. Thanks for the Blog, Blessings.

  4. I love my name 🙂 When I was young I was always called’ Margaret’, but it never felt like ‘me’. Over the years I tried to get folk to call me Meg, but because everyone always knew me as Margaret, it was difficult for them. Eventually I moved across the country and when meeting new folk I always say I’m Meg. It works, it feels like ‘me’. 🙂
    I don’t have a ‘Pagan’ name. On websites or similar, I’m Tuatha, or Tuathabheag 🙂 It’s difficult to put the meaning into English, but sort of means a little north 🙂 Not very understandable if you don’t know Gaelic 🙂 People I’ve spoken to who have Gaelic understand immediately know what it feels 🙂
    I’d like to chose An Cailleach 🙂 I have an incredibly soft spot for her. When I was learning Gaelic, one of the first words I wanted to know, was owl. Believe it or not, it’s Cailleachoidhche! Old woman of the night 😉 Coincidence? No.The only reason I don’t use that is it’s her name, and I’d feel as if I was a poor copycat 🙂
    By the way,Damh, Morrighan… your song inspired me to write a story about her 🙂

  5. I feel a bit rectified … I saw you preform in Kitchner, Ontario last summer. Not speaking Gaelic, I asked a young lady for directions as to where your gig was being held inside the hotel. She looked at me blankly as I pronounced “Darv the Bard” As the silence became a bit unbearable I started to wonder if I had mispronounced your name. As it wasn’t registering with her I also started to think of other possible reasons for her unresponsiveness. Had the guy who I had found your music through given me the wrong name? He did know a smattering of Gaelic and he is a fairly smart fellow, a physicist to be exact. He was of Irish decent … maybe the Irish pronouncement of “Dahm” was different than the Welsh. Maybe my interpretation of what he said said had escaped me. Then as if through a fog … “the bard” registered with her … a long “ohhhhh” was emitted from her lips. “You mean Dave the Bard?” Now, I was the unresponsive one. Eventually, I mumbled “yes” to her and received directions to the show. I have been referring to you as Dave ever since. But, today I read that it is “Darv”! So, I was right … and she was right! The commonality being “the Bard” … anyway … it was a great show.

  6. Thanks Damh! yes names, always looking for one, one that fits totally with your personality or a magical name that sums up how you feel in sacred space. My name Suzanne Thomas, is a name that fits me perfectly, my parents chose the Suzanne, and I chose to take my husbands surname when we got married, Suzanne Thomas, thats me, thats my magical name, thats my true name. I waited 33 years for my true name and now I have it. Our daughters are named after Goddesses and they love the stories that go with the names.

  7. Thank you Damh, I have always thought it odd that I do not have a Pagan name, to me calling myself something that other people would find amusing would be insulting and just a tad embarassing. My maiden name was Dewhurst which was charming but had bad karmer through my alcaholic father, my marriage has brought me Donbavand which is meant to refer to ‘bird in hand’ around Lancashire in days of old…no idea what it means but birds have always touched my heart – they are often small, capeable of living through harsh times and being free to fly – i’m completely happy with my name, if only there was a Goddess called Nicola i’d be made up! x

  8. I have had my Nickname since I was about 12 “Mogsy” is derived from My First name Maurice (spelled and pronounced the French way) and apart from when I worked in a call Centre, where I used my Given Name when answering Calls, everyone including my 90+ y.o. Grandmother has called me by it. I look at yours and I don’t know why but I have always pronounced Damh as Dave (maybe it was because I knew someone called Niamh), I apologise for that and it will be pronounced correctly from now onwards. There is another thing that comes to me from your name and the Smith part is still important because you could even now be called Damh the WordSmith. Thanks for the insight Peace and Love. Mogsy

  9. If I’d had a child I would do what my parents were kind enough to do with me – allow them to chose part of their own name, as soon as they are aware of and expressing an interest. This left me growing up with the full awareness that my name can be adapted to fit me.

    At about 5 I chose my middle name having noticed others had one and I didn’t,
    when I moved into pagan circles, and on a big leap in my life it was natural to adapt it,
    I may do so again one day if I feel the need.

  10. I didn’t like my name when I was younger because it was different and, being the painfully shy kid I was, it drew attention to me and I always had to spell it out for people. But it has served me well. Being different, it has meant that people always remember me which has been useful for networking through higher education and work.
    Since finding my spiritual calling within Paganism and learning about Rhiannon from the Mabinogion, I see my name as my own little connection to Goddess. (I wish I could say that my parents had her in mind, but I think the Fleetwood Mac song is responsible!)

  11. Thanks for sharing Damh- I’m always intrigued by how people come by their pagan names. When I first started out on a magical path (several years ago before I became pagan) I chose a name and performed a self-initiation that made me feel uncomfortable and silly. This put me right off. In retrospect I think this was mainly due to lack of experience. Although I still cringe, it did point me in the direction of my totem animal.

    I never thought I’d find a magical name or role until one was offered by a god and following the advice of the local land spirits I took it. Admittedly this remains between me and them, and my close friends. It’s been immensely transformative.

    • First, thank you for sharing, for it´s not self-evident to do so.

      It is very funny, because I was amongst those who thought you were called “dam”. Interesting, though, that here in Germany, a kind of deer is called “Dam-hirsch(deer)”. The truth always finds a way, I guess.

      I can pretty much relate, because I was called “Myrk” once (Old Icelandic/Norse for “darkness” or “twilight”, especially forest twilight (Myrkwid), and not by intention. When I had to discover power and violence, I added a “Fimbul” to it, and born was “Fimbulmyrk”. Ever since that, I felt a violent urge to venture ever deeper into the woods.

      I am grateful for that. I often sit by the crossings of the deer, and they do not shun me. A name can be a gift of life, and sometimes life needs to be named to be understood..

  12. When I took up Maggie Magpie, I asked a good friend of mine (also in the Corvid Family) what he thought. Would it be, well, a bit pretentious? He told me that, a name is like a river, it flows with you. Those that cannot accept your new name, may have difficulty in recognising the differences in the person you have become from that they have always known. I decided to go with it. I’m still Fiona to many. But, there are also many who see why I have the name of a chattering mischievous magpie.

  13. Having the first name Martyn was a problem for me at school, the teachers never seemed to spell it right and didn’t seem to care if they spelt it wrong. It always irritated me, it was as if they were saying “So I spelt your name wrong, so what? If I was that bothered about you as a person I’d spell it right!” I like the spelling, it’s different. Throughout my life people have ‘given’ me names, while I was at my second school people called me Frank, because apparently I looked like a Frank. At the garden centre where I work, people in the nursery department call me Bruce because I once mentioned my middle name was Lee and as for my surname, Draper, well it speaks for itself. For some reason I’ve currently chosen the online nickname Dirge, not sure why it just feels right.

  14. That is very kind Tyler!!! Thank you…I think sometimes you ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’ – I am familia with Nike, what a silly sausage I am. Well it is a good job I look after the birds…Many Blessings x

  15. fascinating post, Damh! my grandmother used to do medical work at a hospice & one day, as she was leaving, someone had left two twin cats (long-haired, white ones) outside the door, abandoned them there & left a note. They were v healthy and beautiful, but no one else wanted them at the time, so she brought them home and later gave them to me. She had a great Scottish Gaelic sense of humour at times & named them both ‘Maeve’ and ‘Morrigan’ , as a joke, as the cats were so beautiful, fluffy white, etc. My mother immediately wanted them either ‘taken away or put down’ (?!) but as I agreed to feed them/take care of them, she agreed, but only if I kept them in my room &/or in a tiny closet at the end of the hallway nearby. As she also forbade any music to be played in my room, after they would go to sleep, watch telly, whatever…I would put a towel under the door, play some music, and the two cats would always move up to the edge of the bed & curl up to go to sleep; so, ironically, in spite of their names, they were a v healing influence way back then! I did use those names as ‘middle names’ for a bit, then, got married, name changed, etc. Names are interesting, all around, aren’t they! My brother’s named Dave, but just apparently changed it to ‘David’ quite recently, I heard…

  16. I disliked the name Maria when I was growing up because is marked me as part of an ethnic group that people made jokes about. I look back at that and laugh, because even if I’d been named the longed-for Julie or Kathy, my curly black hair and dark eyes would have given me away. I don’t know why I thought I could have fooled anyone.

    I think it’s a name I needed to grow into — after all, the Blessed Virgin is the closest thing Christianity has to a Goddess. I’m the last in along line of Maries, Marias, and Marys, and my two grandmothers (Marie and Mary) were Catholic and very devoted to the Blessed Mother. My parents, on the other hand, felt the call of fundamentalist Protestantism. But I never forgot the Catholicism of my early childhood and the Virgin Mary sort of became my “gateway drug” into the Goddess movement and then Paganism. Oddly enough, as a Pagan I feel more connected to the long line of Marias, Marys, and Maries who worshipped the Blessed Mother than I ever did before. I still honor her, even as I have come to know other Goddesses and Gods.

    Much to my surprise, about a year ago my youngest sister gave her beautiful baby girl my name as a middle name. So the line will not die with me after all. I like that.

  17. Damh,
    I suppose we all have different aspects (universes) inside us that emerge when appropriate to natural flow. I now, years after writing the below, have many more given and taken names with much greater good intentions behind them:

    On this kind of day

    Like a day skating down the edge
    of a mercurial sidewalk or
    driving a labyrinthine roadway in a metal car
    with your tongue

    Like a balded goddess in a DeKooning painting, naked,
    enthroned for three hours, tattooed all over, radiant onstage,
    singing in the light of a projector—
    sometimes weltschmerzian, old,
    sometimes regal when she can manage it
    sometimes letting things glow as they will,
    like the moment when Scalagug, Mordred
    and Liwi all agreed and raised their voices as one,
    and their quickening flow thrust out in its balance
    and became her, used her body for good,
    for pure gesture, clean, clean saying what they had to say,
    what they couldn’t say for decades, decades, tens of years

    Like thinking the world’s going to crack like a bunch of bones

    Like a morning explosion
    at the Shell station with your mother watching you—
    a little earthly psychologist figuring it all out,
    you try to say what you tried to say for decades, decades,
    to the speck down there in the plunge of the universe—
    out the back of your head,
    revolving in your chest,
    tumescing within the portals of your labial flesh, warm and dark pink.

    Like oozing to a man, “Light my lips . . . “

    Like taking the short cut across the park and murdering the grass
    with your footprint, your every move on earth a terrible sin,
    each shaggy tree a black hole of flesh telling you so,
    sucking the passerby into time’s collapse . . .
    matter’s collapse!

    Like a morning explosion that started in her brain,
    charged her arms and palms to rack her black leathered
    fingers arched back back . . . exquisitely,
    surged to lurch out her chest.

    Riding as high as the black sky,
    she splayed against its membrane, that black skin
    and wanted, yearned, wanted a desire, yearningly desired . . . what?
    The shredding of every fibrous strand of every bodily muscle to its snap and beyond?
    The straining of every joint to one second after its limit?
    O what am I to do with this kind of moment
    where death is loud, loud in the air
    and God’s ravishing beauty is everywhere?

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