Taking on a Magickal Name is not simply a "new agey" Pagan practice, doing so is actually, as old as human culture itself. In Ancient times, when all societies were 'primitive' tribal peoples, there were many cultures who gave their children a 'mundane' name, for the tribe to use, and a magickal or personal name, known only to themselves and whatever beneficial Spirits that watched over them.
Even today, many indigenous peoples hold strong taboos about names, often, because it is believed that if another person knew a true name, they would not only have power over the one whose name they held, but they could also steal that person's life force, and possibly their spirit.
This was considered especially worrisome to the tribal Wytche Doctor (Shaman, Skeelie, Medicine Man/Woman, etc) as they were considered to hold not only the power of their own life force but also that of the whole tribe. To control them, was to control the power of the tribe.
To ensure this was impossible many Tribes taboos included the Shaman giving up their names upon receiving the power of the Clan, so that not even their parents could hold power over them. The Shaman was then given a title which was considered to hold no power over them as the name did not 'belong' to them, but rather to the position they held. The Shaman would then during their first vision quest receive a new name from the Deities/Spirits, this name was never shared with anyone. It was also a symbol of the fact that they were beholden to none but the Gods, in times when the whole clan was beholden to the Chieftain - the Shaman stood on equal or higher footing.
There is however another reason to take on a Magickal Name and for this reason many Pagans will actually have more than one Magickal Name, the second name is often referred to as a Craft Name. A Craft Name is the name most Pagans are known by within the Pagan Community (such as my Craft Name - Rohanna Ravenswing). This name is taken first and foremost to imbue us with a particular energy with which we associate (my Craft Name was given to me by my Lady Morrigan during a vision quest, it is the name that resonates with Her power and the name by which I act in Her stead as High Priestess).
However there are some who take on a Craft Name for other reasons. For those who still live in an area where they have to hold secret their beliefs for fear of retaliation they may take on a Craft Name to protect their identity (imagine having a newcomer arrive in your Coven who breaks the rules and speaks about their experiences outside of the Sacred Space and in doing so reveals someone who is still in the broom closet - having a Craft Name can prevent mundane names from being revealed). And for some they take on a Craft name to simply separate their mundane life from their Magickal life.
So as you can see a Magickal Name is not some passing fancy to make oneself sound fantastical nor to glamorise oneself but rather a serious undertaking. It is wise to take your time in selecting both a Magickal and Craft Name as the energies within the name will become a part of you and your Magickal practices.
So you understand why you're taking on a Magickal and/or Craft Name, but how do you choose? Well there are many ways and methods and some dos and don'ts, but ultimately choosing a Magickal/Craft name depends on many factors of which it is up to the individual practitioner to sort through and decide for thierself, which they will take into consideration.
In some Coven's the High Priestess will 'gift' new Initiates with a Craft Name that is used within the Coven, this also becomes a symbol of belonging within the Coven, as the names usually all resonate with the Coven's ideals and practices. For example within our Coven, our worship is based around The Goddess Morrigan, and so if I was to 'gift' names to my Coveners I may choose names that resonate with Her energies such as Dark Mistress, Battle Raven, or Morgan. (However within our Coven members actually choose their own names)
Some Pagans believe a Magickal Name should describe your present strengths or interests, reflect qualities you would like to grow into, or embody what you perceive to be your Magickal Self.
Pagans maight use any of the following as inspiration for a Magickal Name:
One practice I see more and more often with Solitaries and one which I personally would passionately advice against is using the name of a Deity. Name yourself according to the energies associated with them but please do not give yourself the name of a Deity. There are several reasons for this, first and foremost is repect - to take a Deities name is disrespectful, plain and simple, and when you take from the Gods in such a manner they are often not pleased.This is because very few of us mortals can live up to the power and purity that such a name represents.
Secondly if you do choose to take on a Deities name, you take on all the properties of that Deity, and while you may think that Aphrodite is a lovely name, and a wonderful Deity - it must be remembered all Deities hold both 'positive' and 'negative' aspect, She may be a Goddess of love, but if you are in a commited relationship do you really want to be drawing lovers from all around you?It is acceptable to use an alteration of the name such as Morgan for the Morrigan, as these names do not impart the same energy as the specific name of the Deity.
Numerology and Magickal Names
Some feel that adding numerology into the mix helps to "attune" a name to you. To use the Pythagorean numerology system to assist in choosing a Magickal or Craft name, you need balance your choice of magickal or Craft name with your Birth Number.
To find your birth number you need to reduce your date of birth to a single digit.
As an example, if you were born January 1, 1970: (01/01/1970). You would add the numbers as follows: 1 + 1 + 1 + 9 + 7 + 0 = 19. You then further reduce the numbers by adding as follows: 1 + 9 = 10. Again continue adding to reduce the number: 1 + 0 = 1. This final single number is called your Birth number.
Your goal wis then be to find a name that numerologically matches your Birth number.
This is done using the Pythagorean system of equating the letters of the English alphabet with the nine base numbers:
Your next task is to find a name that matches your Birth number, so for example you researched and like the name Amber. Under the Pythagorean system, A = 1, M = 4, B = 2, E = 5, R = 9. Therefore "Amber" would be 1 + 4 + 2 + 5 + 9 = 21 = 3. Three being this name's number. But, this Name number (3) doesn't match your Birth number (1).
Using this example (Birth number 1, name number 3), you would need to add a "7" to the name to make it match your Birth number. So you could experiment with modifications to the name such as adding a "G", "P", or "Y" to it. This, though, often ends up changing the name beyond all recognition, in which case it would be best to just try another name.
Some Pagans begin with a simple name such as Amber at their first initiation, they may then add a name at each level of initiation allowing their name to grow as they do, so Amber may add Moon at her second ititation and Rose at her third, eventually becoming Amber Moonrose. Other Pagan choose a new name at each initation symbolising a new beginning.
Some Pagans may choose a new name at different times of their lives (I chose a new name when I began my own Coven) to separate them from the name they were previously known by, or to show a new allegiance.
There are those within the Pagan community who never use a Magickal or Craft name believing the name they were given at birth is the best representation of who they are and wish to be, (my birth name actually fits well with my Magickal practices as my name Kelly-Ann means 'Graceful warrior', however I chose to keep that name soley as the name for my mundane achievements) or for other reasons of their own. Choosing a Magickal name or not a is a choice for the individual practitioner, and them alone.
One thing to take into consideration is the individuality of your name, there are many Ravens, Merlins, and such, as attending any Pagan Gathering will show do you really want to be one of ten Merlins, or would you prefer to be the only Dream Walker?
Whatever method you use for choosing your magickal and Craft Names, research thoroughly the names that have made your short list. Learn as much as you can about their origins and symbolism. This will help you decide if the name is right for you. Be mindful of how the name sounds, what negative implications it may impart, and whether it lends strength or detracts from who you want to be.
Once you have chosen your Magickal and/or Craft Name, if you are not part of a Coven, you may choose to hold a ritual to 'officially' adopt your names, this is not a requirement but it may make the taking on of the new name hold a greater importance to you. If you do choose to do this I suggest your create your own ritual for doing so, rather than using a ready made ritual, as this will add to the personal nature of this ritual.
Once you have claimed your magickal Name you can incorporate it into your personal rituals with your Deities, or inscribe it into your personal Book of Shadows. Remember this name is not shared with others, it is for you alone!
Your Craft name can be shared with your Pagan Friends and you may find they will happily call you by that name from that moment on (which can be interesting if you meet in a social situation with non-Pagan friends..and they can't remember your mundane name, or have only very known you by your Craft Name), Some Pagan friends will only ever know you by your Craft name and that is fine, just be prepared for some awkward moments should you happen to be introduced in the general public.
Some Pagans will take the next step and legally change their name to their Craft Name, this is only advisable if you are publically open about your beliefs, don't mind some good natured (and in some cases not so good) ribbing, and feel it won't affect job, housing or relationship prospects! Personally I like my mundane name and honour it, as it was gifted to me by my parents who I love very much, I would not dishonour them by changing it. However as with all of Pagan practices this is something the individual must decide if it is right for them or not.
Whatever method you choose for finding your names, and whatever names you choose, they will become a meaningful and Sacred part of your practice, so never feel rushed to choose a name, and remember should you grow and change you can always adopt a new name!