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Can Your Name Shape Your Destiny?

Since ancient times, people have believed that your name can shape your destiny. But can it? And if so, can knowing the hidden power of a name help parents pick a “better” name for their baby?

Several distinct schools of thought hold strong beliefs about the significance, and power, behind your name. There is the “psychological” camp, the “religious/spiritual” camp, the “sound” camp, and the “mystical” camp. All four overlap in many ways, but there are real differences between them.

The psychological school, which has some interesting research to back up its claims, holds that your name subtly influences how people see you, and this affects how they treat you. In turn, this influences your self-image and self-esteem, starting as a small child. In its simplest form, a child with a “weird’ name, such as Elmer, may be continuously teased in school, and this will hurt Elmer’s self-image and future development. By contrast, “Alexander,” named after the great emperor, may be empowered by his name, because other people unconsciously respond to him with a certain level of respect.

 Robert Needlman, MD, has written an interesting discussion of this psychological approach. The research implies that boys with unusual first names tend to display more emotional disturbances than boys with more traditional names. But, as Dr. Needlman points out, it is important not to overstate the case. Are the boys in question more troubled because of their names, or because of the parental support structure which gave them strange names in the first place? Nonetheless, there are many instances where “desirable” names are shown to lead to greater success. A recent report from the School of Business at Arizona State University shows that the names of top CEOs in Phoenix come from a disproportionately small group of  names, implying that certain names are more likely to lead to greater success. The three most successful names in the study group were Robert, John, and Steve. The big question, of course, is why?

Moving from the secular to faith-based beliefs, many religions and cultures place enormous importance on given names, and, often, on the naming ceremony. In the Jewish heritage, Ashkenazic Jews believe that the name represents the soul of a person, and hence can influence an entire life. Because of this,  Ashkenazic Jews refuse to name a baby after a living relative, for fear that the two souls would have to share a name, thereby shortening the life of the older relative.

Another well-known belief among certain cultures is that possessing knowledge of someone’s true name gives you power over that person. Thus,  in some African societies, a baby is given one “everyday” name, and another, secret name, so that evil spirits will not be able to harm the baby.

In the Book of Proverbs, 22:1, it states that “a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.” What does this mean? Many biblical names have both literal and spiritual meanings, and for many parents, a biblical baby name is believed to bestow the spiritual gifts on a baby, for their entire life. The  biblical name Ariel literally means “Lion of God” in Hebrew, and its spiritual meaning is “Powerful Leader.” Religious parents who name a child this way are hoping the child will grow up to be a strong leader in society.

It’s worth noting that among virtually all of the groups that believe in the power of names, the power is more of “potential,” rather than certainty. Thus, a name that means “happy,” or “blessed,” such as the Hebrew name Asher, does not necessarily mean that the child will grow up in that way, but, rather, that those personality traits are embedded, like talents, in the one with that name. And like talents, such gifts can be nurtured, and grown, or ignored, and destroyed.

In the mystical realm, there are several ancient belief systems which hold that your name has innate power and meaning, and that by knowing this meaning, you can harness the power in your life. Symbols play a prominent role in these philosophies, although at least one camp believes that names contain hidden vibrations which help shape the owner’s personality.

The Kabbalah, the ancient mystical philosophy of the Jewish religion, bases its philosophy on the Tree of Life and the interrelationship among all things. These interrelationships,  known as “correspondences”, include numerical values from the Tree of Life, and are combined with mystical meanings of the letters of the alphabet. This ancient Hebrew system of letter and number analysis is known as “gematria”. A Kabbalistic analysis of a person’s name offers deep insights into the personality and spiritual traits of the name-bearer. By knowing the hidden significance of your name, you are “empowered” to fully develop those attributes that lie within. Your name, according to this philosophy, is a key to understanding.  

Numerology is the systematic study of numbers and their interrelationships, and since ancient times many cultures, including Greek, Hindu, Egyptian, Hebrew, and others, have developed complex symbolic number systems. The Greek philosopher Pythagoras, who believed that a numerical system forms the essence of the universe, is considered to be the “father” of numerology.  Numerologists assign powerful meanings and characteristics to each number. Like the Kabbalah, numerology offers you a key to self-discovery, through a deep understanding of the symbolic meaning of your name.

Runic systems, ancient European sets of symbols, also assign powerful meanings to each symbol. Using the runic “alphabet,” also known as the “Futhark,” you can transpose your  given name into a group of runic symbols, which in turn, when properly understood, paint a full picture of your personality and attributes.

One fascinating belief system about the  power of names is the belief that the very sound of a name, repeated endlessly through the centuries, helps determine what that name “means.” In his scholarly book The Secret Universe of Names: The Dynamic Interplay of Names and Destiny, Roy Feinson argues that the sound of a name itself, the very act of language, evokes a particular emotional response in those who hear it. Furthermore, Feinson claims, the act of speaking contorts the facial muscles in specific ways, which in turn affect the emotional response of the one to whom the name is being spoken. An entire scientific analysis accompanies this discipline – an analysis of how our names, which are an integral part of our language, become part of who we are, both on a conscious and unconscious level. Feinson tracks various paramaters showing how certain names, and name sounds, can affect our lives in many ways.

Finally, there is the “harmonic vibration” school, espoused by Pierre Le Rouzic in his book The Secret Meaning of Names. Le Rouzic argues that names contain hidden vibrations, which are an embedded aspect of a person’s character. The vibrations begin before birth, as the child within the mother’s womb “speaks” to the mother. For this reason, Le Rouzic says, it is mothers who best understand the nature of the child they are bearing, and it is mothers who should take the lead in naming the child. The vibrations of a name are also connected to specific colors, animals, plants, and so forth.  All come together to form “character” types that can accurately describe a child’s future personality and character.

Can anyone say, with one hunderd percent certainty, that a baby’s name will affect his or her entire life? Probably not. But prospective parents may want to give some weight to the various schools of thought about the significance of names. All of these belief systems are based on deeply-held, ancient, time-tested philosophies. They are the result of centuries of thought and reflection. Even if you don’t subscribe fully to any particular camp, there is much to learn, and think about, in all of them. For parents who make up new names in order to be different – they may want to think twice about what they are doing. If your name is truly entwined with your destiny, then naming your baby is a serious responsibility.


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