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Pagan Family Naming Customs:

A Plan for Justice

by Sword Meadow

Looking into the future, a good priority would be to examine the non-Pagan customs that Pagans follow. Because we Pagans have been raised in a patriarchal nation's culture, social patterns that are designed to eradicate women's social power are so familiar to us that their underlying destructiveness can remain unrecognized.

The current custom of family naming is the most obvious example. In American and European cultures, there is a social myth that families have only one name. We speak of the "O'Learys, " for example, tracing their heritage from Ireland, or the origin of the name O'Leary, and so forth. But, to call a family the O'Learys" is to identify it as "Mr. O'Leary's family." Mrs. O'Leary's heritage is obliterated, just as the name and heritage of EVERY woman who EVER married an O'Leary male has been suppressed.

Whenever the O'Leary family is named, it is identified as an Irish family. The fact that Mrs. O'Leary is Italian is completely lost in the public presentation of the O'Learys. Her Italian heritage becomes a joke, or a little fact that perhaps one of her children insists on acknowledging, "No, I'm half Irish. My mother is Italian." While half of the family heritage is rooted in one culture and half in another, very different heritage, the family is identified as Irish and only Irish in every naming situation.

This may not seem important because of the value that we are taught to place in identifying a family as a unit by name. "Oh, there 90 the "O'Learys," we say. But, the naming custom exacts a price from every woman involved. I have had the experience of being told that I don't really belong to my father's family because I will change my name when I marry and my children will have a different name. And more than once, I have heard a woman being told that she was not really a member of the family of her husband -- because she was born under another name.

So women become mere carriers of men's names, having only a first name of their own and bringing it only from situation to situation as they assume one manís name after another. First, they are their father's daughter, then their first husband's wife, then if they divorce and remarry, they will take their second husband's name, and so forth. I know a woman who must keep her first husbandís name because it is her professional name, but she has remarried -- and what of the name under which she was born, by which she is known to her oldest friends?

So, a woman's presentation of herself socially is broken up into incarnations, demarcated by her legal status in relation to men. While a man will carry his name and be that person for his entire life, a woman is told that her birth name is only a Preliminary Placeholder, to be replaced by her real name, which is a manís.

This sorry tangle of oppressive custom is a holdover from the social enslavement of women: times when women were believed not to have souls; when women did not have any legal existence. So, the only name available to the children was the father's; when a man and wife" were considered to be one under the law and that one "was the man." And, of course, it springs from the idea that a man will not Support children unless he owns them Socially by their sharing his name.

How can Pagans create a new naming Pattern that will honor women with the respect that we give to the Goddess and honor men with the respect that we give the God?

  • First, we must question the value of the idea that a family is a unit because it Shares a name. A family is a unit because it grows and lives together. It is as easy to say, "There go the O'Learys and the Ritaccos" as it is to call the family by one name. We must look to quality of relationship as a sign of family ties.

  • Second, I propose that Pagan women could declare that their family name is their own and not a word on loan from a man. A Pagan woman would be born with one name, and would stay with it until her death, just like a man.

  • Third, I propose that the first child in a family should receive the mother's family name. I make this 5uggest~~~ because even though the father plays a most important role in Supplying half the genes and initiating the process of procreation, it is the woman - S body that nourishes, protects, and bu i lds the baby. This primary role is worthy of acknowledge~~~ in this way. The Second child would receive the father's family name, the third the mother's, the fourth the father's, and so on.

So, to return to the O'Learys and Ritaccos as an example: When Gina Ritacco marries Shaun O'Leary, their first child would be named Maya O'Leary Ritacco, and would be known in daily life as Maya Ritacco. Their second child would be Susan Ritacco O'Leary, and would be known a Susan 0'Leary. When Susan O'Leary grows up and marries Arnold Tanner. Their first child would be John Tanner O'Leary (John O'Leary) and their Second would be Marsha O'Leary Tanner (Marsha Tanner). And so forth, down through the ages, with every generation recognizing both sides of the family through a sharing and acknowledging of names.


I believe this to be a workable system, and one that effectively counters the hurtful, socially degrading system that we have inherited from patriarchal religions and cultures.

Indeed, Pagan ideas of justice suggests that a family should carry both parents' names.

I am going to close by sharing a naming ceremony that was shown to me in a dream long before I had heard of Paganism;

I dreamt that I sat with a number of women in a large circle. Behind our chairs stood men, who witnessed the ceremony. One woman had a new infant, and we passed the baby from one womanís arms to another's, each woman pronouncing a name that the baby might receive. So, I held the infant and said, "Any" then passed her to the woman beside me, who said, "Margaret." The little bundle went around the circle for some time, but finally ended up in the mother's arms - She rose, smiling and holding her child, and pronounced the complete name, both first and last, that would be the girl's name from that time on.

This dream was one of joy and playfulness, and the sense that a new woman had joined the circle. It was understood that she would take years of help to grow up and join us as a companion, but that her presence was already with us in its fullness. The ceremony could, of course, be adapted the children of a husband's naming. The men could sit in the circle and pass the infant from one set of arms to another, sharing in the playful game made of the joyous event of naming and welcoming.




"Woman and Child" illustration, Copyright © 1991by D. Murray.

"Baby" illustration, Copyright © 1991by P. Gilman.

Copyright © 1991, 1999 by Dawnblaze. All rights reserved.
Revised: 04 Jan 2002 06:13:26 -0500

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