A name is the blueprint of the thing we call character. You ask, What’s in a name? I answer, Just about everything you do. – Morris Mandel
I was born Paul Christopher Pritchard. I like the name. It suits me well. It’s a good catholic name and I was, for the most part, a good catholic boy. But it was given to me, it helped shape me and I, of course, took on a lot of the prescribed ideology of what it means to be a good catholic. I guess my name is somewhat of an ‘auto-pilot’ governing my life. I cannot be separated from that name … it is who I am.
Or is it?
A name represents identity, a deep feeling that holds tremendous significance to its owner. – Rachel Ingber
Like many people reading this article, I was born with an insatiable curiosity. Sometimes in my youth it would appear to others like an ignorant frustration or dissatisfaction. Yet I knew, deep in my core that there was a bigger experience waiting for me. That I was ‘meant’ to be or do something other than the life and family I had been born into. I wanted more. More of what – I didn’t know. This hunger for something else, anything else, was, of course, painful at times. It led to a huge crisis of belonging.
I would find song choices that reflected these moods, art that depicted my longing to explore, novels about adventure and faraway lands. I imagined being anything other than me. I invented names for myself, my favourite was Sebastian Flight (pretentious and no doubt inspired by Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited). In my teens I must have appeared ungrateful and precocious. My yearning not to be ‘me’ was strong. My desire to belong to someplace, some tribe, some far away mythical or constructed land was all-pervasive. I wanted to step into my wardrobe, and like in The Tales of Narnia, find myself in an exotic landscape. Far, far away from ‘me.’
Of course, my inexperienced and uncultivated mind could not possibly have written this article. The luxury of maturity, vast experience and education bound with hindsight affords me the language and the expression of what was happening to me. In short, I was having an identity crisis or what some might call a ‘spiritual awareness-awakening.’ I really had no idea what was going on except that I experienced a strong feeling of being caged. A wild untamed wish to break free and explore who I was (am). I recognise now that I was screaming at the top of my lungs, “I am not just this body! I am more than the sum of my name, my birthplace, this family, this working-class harness, this enforced limitation.”
Names are an important key to what a society values. Anthropologists recognise naming as ‘one of the chief methods for imposing order on perception.’ – David S. Slawson.
As soon as I could, I left home and started my ‘self-enquiry’ through fashion, ridiculous hairstyles, clubs, music, sex, alcohol, movies, travel … you name it … I tried it all. All in the pursuit of losing myself to find my authentic self. Through prolonged feelings that something was wrong with me, I found a higher form of self-enquiry: that of therapy/analysis. It changed my whole perception of ‘home’ and identity. My focus switched from finding myself externally through varying geographical landscapes, foreign cultures, languages, and people to a more internalised and simpler sense of ‘self.’
You have to be willing to go to war with yourself and create a whole new identity. – David Goggins
It wasn’t easy (and sometimes it still isn’t) finding a lot of what I thought of as running towards was actually running away. A lot of what I thought was ‘new-better-different’ was simply avoiding complex pain and trauma. It was equally excruciating and liberating. It was sobering and a lot of humble pie had to be eaten. I was in many ways as lost as ever … but something had changed. A clear recognition that this was between me and Existence (substitute whatever word you use here: God, Spirit, the Divine etc.) It came to me very clearly in a lucid moment and I wrote in my journal:
‘Others taught me to open my heart and let God in … I have now discovered that I need to open my heart and let God out.’
This conversion moment turned me into a ‘seeker.’ A spiritual devotee … a disciple of Life and a follower of many spiritual teachers, masters, and gurus. I learned so much and I suffered sweetly through this whole time. Being at war with my egoic-self is paradoxically the most exciting and enriching time in my life and also the most barren and fallow. I realise that they go hand in hand. The death of the ego (false and limiting sense of self) for me has been a long and continuing process.
Some want to attain enlightenment as if it were an external goal. I realised it can only be found within – it’s a process of remembering who I truly am. Not cultivating or forging a new me. It’s about taking masks off – over and over and over again, peeling off the veils of illusion, until what is revealed is a non-dualistic Truth. What does that look like? I still have no idea really but the discovery is getting lighter and lighter day by day. The less I push and pull, the more I have a glimpse of the essence of that non-fixed version of myself in the world; in flow and at ease … more at ‘home’ with myself.
In some spiritual traditions taking a new name is part of the process of disidentification with the old you; the old weight and burden of an old ‘un-chosen’ identity. The part that represents the invisible conditioning that takes place from the moment we are born. Of course, that identity is also laden with wonderful attributes and benefits – it’s never all bad. But taking on a new name shakes things up. It’s a great experiment in re-defining, re-choosing or rather a conscious choice in who and how we want to show up in the world. I was given the name Jyoti whilst following Osho. It means ‘the light of God.’ I like the name. It suits me well. It’s a good spiritual name.
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet. – Shakespeare.
I never asked my family or old friends to call me Jyoti. I still write professionally as Paul C Pritchard. Many people call me Pauly. Some call me Jotes. Some people call me Jyoti-Paul. I love the variations … I answer to those names because it’s useful. Because of this great experiment, my name has no bearing on who I am. Again, that is between me and Existence. And with the brilliant philosophical words of Bob Marley, I too can say I don’t know my name yet either.
Bob Marley isn’t my name. I don’t even know my name yet.
And in that regard, I have completed my experiment. I realise that I am not Paul C Pritchard or Jyoti. Both are necessary acts of nomenclature that support me through this journey of life. It’s not important what my name is … it’s not important what you call me. It is how I am in the world that matters. How I show up in kindness, love in action, an expression of conscious right action, a spark of creativity, a gesture of generosity etc.
How blessed to be in an endless discovery of who we are … Existence is a multifaceted, multidimensional, multiversed mystery … Bring it on!
What are your strongest experiences in moving away from the old preordained identities you were given at birth? We’d love, as always, to hear your views and ruminations about this theme and this article.
Much love and appreciation for who you are as well as the name in which you inhabit.
Team UPLIFT (AKA Ross, Briony, Ashleigh, Shaa, Cass and me – a name I call myself)