A Classmate from the University of Santa Monica, where we studied Spiritual Psychology, emailed me the other day to ask my opinion. The question she asked was, “I remember in class, that [one of the leaders of USM] said changing your name is a big thing. I was wondering what your thoughts are about me using my middle name. I have never felt comfortable about my name. But of late, my middle name just seems to resonate with who I am becoming. Me, not what everyone else feels I should be, but me, the person I truly am.”
Wow, I found this to be an interesting question! Partly because I well remember what was said in class and also remembered another classmate caught a bunch of grief when she changed her name in our second year, but she tamped down the criticism since she only changed to another common nickname variation of her real name. I also found it interesting that this classmate directed this question to me; I cannot remember if I ever told her that I had changed the pronunciation of my last name or if asking me was simply another amazing coincidence in my life!
Whether this question or any question about a change that any of us might be considering, I think the key to the answer lies both in the timing of the decision to change and the origin of the solution. When addressing the timing, I told my friend that her decision now is different from when we were in class. The Master’s program at USM includes many deep personal process sessions, much more that you would find in a typical graduate psychology course. I feel anyone truly taking in and practicing what we learned at USM and beginning a journey towards greater authenticity must feel as though they are a becoming new person.
However, even over a two year period, that journey is still very new, and we were still embracing and deciphering all we learned. Any decision in our lives that is not well thought out can be erroneous, hence the timing factor. We have all been victims of saying or doing something in our past that we wished we could take back! Parenting books stress the ten-second rule before disciplining children, and that rule works equally well in any situation!
The bigger the decision, the more time we need to tease out any unseen motivations and, equally important, unforeseen consequences. I have not found anyone that likes the adage that if an action or decision is correct, it will be correct in a few weeks; usually, when we make up our minds, we want to jump right in! However, it is sage advice, and so we need to give ourselves time to allow the solution to percolate and think about and feel into any unforeseen consequences.
The second factor is the origin of the decision; unless we are taught to rely on internal support, we tend to want external support. This process starts in childhood seeking our parent’s praise (or, unfortunately, to escape their wrath) and is magnified in middle school when we so desperately want to fit into a group; we learn to be someone we are not just to fit and be accepted.
We don all types of social masks, each an inauthentic self, to ensure we are not ostracized, and this external validation becomes a template for the rest of our lives. Hence, another reason behind being told in class not to change our names; the decision is probably externally based. Changing something outwardly, such as our name in society, if not internally based, is an effort to garner or force support from others to bolster our decision. I do not think we were told in class to never change something eternal about us, such as our name, but to consider why we wish to do so. One of my favorite quotes is from Hamlet. “Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Before going to USM, I already knew I was changing and so celebrated that change by taking the pronunciation of my last name back to the original Scottish, as opposed to the phonic pronunciation. I did not know anything about internal/external focus or being true to myself, but I instinctively took the time to feel into the decision and then acted. This was somewhat easy for me as I traveled to the west coast to attend graduate school, so everyone out there knew me as “Coburn;” the tougher time came later when I moved back to where I grew up and had to re-educate all my old friends and acquaintances!
Since ten years have passed, I do not believe my classmate is making a hasty decision, and her explanation showed she was relying on her internally based, body led (as opposed to being brain led) understanding and told her so. One example of a body-based, as opposed to a brain-based decision, is being in a big city late at night and having to go all the way around a large block to arrive at your destination. There is a dark alley that will cut your time in half, and so your brain, being logical, tells you to take it, while your gut is doing back flips because of not knowing what might be lurking in the darkness. In this case, the body’s knowledge is probably “smarter” than the brain’s! I feel anytime we follow our heart, despite the good intentions or “help” of others, we are on the right path for us.