I legally changed my name a couple of years ago. It may have seemed hasty to onlookers, but I had been thinking of changing it for a number of years before I actually did so. The very first time I thought of changing my name, I wanted to change it as a way to distance myself from my family; I felt I didn’t fit into their world and that I should just create my own. But, I knew that wasn’t the right reason to change it, so I held back my impulsive nature.
I went on to spend months and years in spiritual communities where name changes were common. There was that person would try on a new name every year, some who chose a new name and stuck with it, and others who waited for a name given by the teacher, as an acknowledgment that they reached a new point in their evolution. Although the motives or methods for changing names varied, the idea that one could call themselves something other than the label they were given at birth appealed to me. I pondered names in those years but let it go until a time when I felt more inspired.
I didn’t want to take the change lightly. I felt that it was an agreement to take on a new identity in the world. When I finally decided to change my name I was fed up with who I was! Although I knew I wasn’t yet the person I wanted to be, changing my name set into motion my intentions to change myself. Making it legal added more depth to my commitment; I had to really trust that I could adapt and change my ways before I went and altered all my identification.
Some say that “people don’t change” – but they do! We don’t have the same personality throughout life. And, it’s not just the accumulated changes over a lifetime, we are very different than we were six months ago, or even yesterday. Each moment, if we let it, guides us and shapes us into something other than we were just the moment before! It’s amazing how fluid we can be if we allow it. So, although my life felt like an absolute mess, a shred of hope remained, and I committed to a future version of myself by committing to a new name.
Of course, there were obstacles that came up around changing my name…
Would I offend my family? Am I cutting myself off from my heritage?
This was hard, especially since my first inclination to change my name was to distance myself from my family and I thought that they might see it that way. But, I knew it wasn’t my intent at the time, and I had to take into account that ultimately our essence is something far beyond family and heritage. And, although I have great respect for my ancestors, both living and deceased, I know using a different name would not disconnect me from them. In fact, I changed my name at a time when I was humbled enough to see that I could use my family’s help and was open to learning and growing with them.
Should I wait to be given a new name by a teacher or guru?
I spent so much time in spiritual bubbles I had a limited view of how things could work in the world. Although I am forever grateful for the guidance and support given by my teachers over the years, I am a type who does better with a certain amount of autonomy. Learning to trust myself over others has been a big lesson in my life. Even though I know I have to stay open to others feedback and guidance, it must always be taken in consideration with my inner knowing.
Shouldn’t I wait until I am “awakened” to get a new name?
Ha ha! Well, that may not happen in this lifetime, so I decided it’s better not to wait to make any human changes I wanted to. I can’t live peacefully if I am waiting to arrive somewhere I am not. Life is more of a process for me, and I don’t need to be a finished product to change my label. For me, it’s better to name what I want to put in my package first, so I don’t end up with the wrong things inside.
After all my contemplations, I got around to changing my name in autumn of 2014. I chose a name based on both practicality and personal meaning.
I kept Michelle because that is what people call me. I did not want to overcomplicate my life any more than it was at the time. It was also very important for me to keep something consistent in order to integrate the old with the new.
I wanted to use Leela, but struggled with how I should spell it. It is Sanskrit in origin, but it would be very impractical to use the Devanagari script. The most correct way to spell it using the Roman alphabet requires diacritical marks; Līlā is the spelling, but Leela is phonetic. I wanted it to be easy to pronounce in English, the language I speak and the primary language of the culture I live in, so I went for simplicity. I also think Leela just looks nicer after Michelle because of the continuation of ‘L’s’ and ‘E’s.’
And as for Grace, it’s easy for most people to hear and spell correctly. Although my old name of “Barabonoff” was adapted to be phonetic when my ancestors landed in Canada, people who did not grow up in an area with a large population of Doukhobors seem to get thrown off by the name. They just slur out each letter and awkwardly stumble over the length of the name. A common response I get now is “Grace, what a pretty name!” which is a much better response than the uncomfortable slurring I used to hear when addressed by my old name.
Who in their right mind would drop a name like Michelle? It means “who is like God” or “gift from God.” I know my parents didn’t put a lot of thought into my name, but I couldn’t be happier with what they chose. We are all divine in nature, and every time I hear my name it is a reminder of that!
Leela simply translates as “divine play.” It is a reminder to not to take life too seriously, that this is a just a big play, and I can be creative in how I act it out. It also reminds me to witness life from a certain distance and try not to get caught up in the drama that unfolds. Leela also can just mean “playful.” People often tell me that I am playful, and now I can be a total dork about it and say “Well, playful is my middle name!”
Grace is “God’s power or presence,” that divine influence that helps us navigate through life. Using this name is a way for me to ask for more Grace in life, it also reminds me to surrender to that which is beyond my personal will.
Something else emerged as I was discovering my new name. As most people would do when choosing names, I researched if anyone else had my new name. While ‘Leela Grace’ and ‘Michelle Grace’ are relatively common, I could not find a “Michelle Leela Grace.” The only thing I found with the three names was someone’s blog post talking about herself and her two roommates: Grace, Michelle, and Leela. That idea of these three roommates inspired me to think of my name as three characters, which somehow ended up fitting with the three feminine archetypes of Mother, Maiden, and Crone.
Being my given name, Michelle is the most stable aspect of me, what grounds me in life. She is responsible and seeks knowledge and growth. She is the mother aspect of the goddess triad and has the ability to nurture and fulfill desires for herself and others.
Leela, the playful one, is obviously the young maiden. She is the part of me that comes alive when I am full of new ideas and enthusiasm. She sees the enchantment in life and the possibilities for new beginnings. It’s good that Leela has the other aspects to support her, because she tends to be too innocent and naive in the world.
Grace, of course, is the wise crone, a future self that I aspire to be. She has lived her life and learned from it, so she has the expertise to guide others. Grace moves through life with intention and elegance, inspiring others with her wisdom.
I find it fascinating to think about all that can be contained in just a name. I’ve enjoyed playing with myself over these last couple of years. Having the freedom to change characters has made the play much more tolerable. I’m glad Michelle’s shell cracked, so the other parts of her identity could find their way in. The parts are still trying to integrate, but at least now I’m willing to help develop their character and direct them across the stage.