What is in a Name (?): of Roses, Storm-breakers, and a Jung Man

What is in a Name (?): of Roses, Storm-breakers, and a Jung Man

Big ocean wave breaking the shore“A rose by any other name… “ is not a rose actually, it may look like a rose, smell like a rose, draw blood as a roughly grasped rose is want to do, but, you will grant, it simply cannot be a ‘rose’.

A passage (a footnote to be precise) from Jung’s essay on synchronicity[1] made quite an impression on me when I came across it a few years ago. It has to do with that very strange phenomenon, we encounter at times, where a person’s name bears an uncanny resemblance to their destiny or personality.

We find ourselves in something of a quandary when it comes to making up our minds about the phenomenon which Stekel [2]calls the “compulsion of a name”. What he means by this is the sometimes quite grotesque coincidence between a man’s name and his peculiarities or profession. For instance Herr Gross (Mr. Grand) suffers from delusions of grandeur. Herr Kleiner (Mr. Small) has an inferiority complex. The Altman [old man] sisters marry men twenty years older than themselves. […] Herr Freud (joy) champions the pleasure-principle. Herr Adler (eagle) [champions] the will-to-power. Herr Jung (young) the idea of rebirth, and so on. Are these whimsicalities of chance, or the suggestive effects of the name, a Stekel seems to suggest or are they meaningful coincidences [as Jung is suggesting]?[3]

The more I reflected on this passage and the relationship of names to destinies the more interesting the idea seemed. This post is an attempt to articulate some of my thoughts about our relationship with our names, and the ideas that have occurred to me in this regard.

The influential act of naming or being named

I agree with Stekel[4] , on this count at least, that there is a persuasive power associated with your name, or with the name that I use to address you. This is part of the manipulative force of being given a secret name or simply a nickname. If upon our meeting each other I confer on you a ‘nickname’ this naming act exerts an influence on you. It could be a wholly different name i.e. the conversion of Neil Franks into “Frankie knuckles”, Doctor Martin into ‘shoes’[5], or (to a lesser degree) simply by pronouncing your name in a specific way or addressing you formally: Sir, Madam, or Mister, or Missus. Whatever it is, any name change will have an influence on you and, in a sense, a power over you. This influence is not inherently positive or negative, it could be either; but it subtly alters your sense of self.

Your sense of identity is tied up with your name.

The significance of a name

  • The great 17th century, German polymath, Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, held a very interesting view of names. To phrase it rather roughly, he held that an individual’s being, everything we can ever know about any particular person, everything they ever did and everything they ever will do converges in their name. A proper name in other words “picks out a complete concept”[6], in your case that concept is you.

  • It is a long held tradition that initiation into a new order brings with it a new name. We see Simon being renamed Peter on becoming one of Christ’s disciples. This seems to have become something of a Christian custom. It is traditional for the Pope to takes on a new name on his appointment to the highest office in the Catholic Church; most recently Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francois.

  • In the Old Testament after Jacob wrestled with the Angel of the Lord he was renamed Israel. Also it is a significant feature of Judaism that G-d’s name is never spoken, and that to know His name is be in possession of something both sacred and numinous.

  • In the Mormon faith every “worthy” believer upon reaching maturity goes through the ‘endowment” ceremony. During this sacred (and highly secret) initiatory ceremony the believer is given a new name[7]. This name has a tremendous significance in the Mormon faith, particularly on the day or resurrection when God will call the devout to Himself using their secret names. And, controversially, husbands will call their ‘faithful’ wives to them

  • The act of assuming a new name or changing ones name to a “nickname” is very common, and with this name change there is an accompanying sense of a change in identity.

  • There is in Africa a proud and long held tradition of naming a child in accord with their perceived value: Precious, Gift, Blessing and so on.

  • Names and naming have a power, when we name someone we grant them (a) certain identify. This can confer status, humiliation or simply a different sense of identity.

Your name as a symbol

There is clearly something to this phenomenon. The wide spread cross cultural presence of this ‘significance of the name’ can be interpreted from a Jungian perspective as an archetypal phenomenon[8]. And in so considering it, we can inquire as to what its phenomenology is. The most significant features seem to be:

  • Your name is associated with your destiny, everything you have ever done and everything you ever will do.

  • There is an essential relationship between you and your name[9].

  • Being initiated into a new order, a new way of life is frequently accompanied by a change of name, typically (but not only) with the bestowal of a name given by and associated with the new order, group, church, cult etc.

  • A change in name can bring a change in destiny. So this idea is evident where in certain traditions after some bad luck has been suffered the person will change their name.

  • You are called by your name (called here in the sense of called to your higher purpose).

  • Your name confers a belonging. Your surname associated you with your family lineage; a new conferred name associates you with the group that gave you the name.

  • In some profound sense, in other words, your name is an individuating force.

Your relationship with your name (amplifying its symbolic significance)

The above considered, it is worthwhile reflecting on your relationship with your own name[10]:

  • Do you like your name?

  • How do you introduce yourself, do you say your name with a sense of pride, purpose or it a mumbled apology?

  • What is the etymology of your name, where does it come from, what does it mean?

  • Have you ever wished for, or called yourself by, a different name?

  • If you have ever toyed with renaming yourself, what is the significance of this alternate name, origin, meaning, and how did you come by it?

  • What does your unique name stand for in the world: what is its mission or value statement; with what impulse in the world do you associate it?

My advice here would be if you don’t like what you find to seriously consider how you might re-imagine or re-symbolise your name. In an important sense what is being suggested here is that there is a significant link between your name and your destiny. Remember that the gift of post-modernity is the freedom to re-invent who you are (as un-Jungian as that may be).

Two other suggestions:

  • Do not allow yourself to be given a nickname or some alteration of your name that you do not wish to have. Consider carefully what the implication of your being re-named is. Also consider why that person is renaming you; are they trying to redefine who you are and of so what are they attempting to bring out?

  • Be aware of how you, in turn, address others, particularly if you are prone to use”playful” name changing habits. Become aware of what effect you have on others in addressing them in a particular way.


By way of illustration let me share a story about my son Ruarc and his relationship with his name.

His name, of Gaelic origin, refers to (or means) a sea storm or champion. Ruarc, much like his name, has a stormy disposition. I remember well how one day at the tender age of five or six he took on his mom in a head to head confrontation. Now you would have to know his mother to appreciate just how daunting that would be even for an adult man. Nevertheless pushed to his limit, he started shouting (screaming possibly) at her with a force way, way beyond his age of physical size. So passionate  and powerful was the tirade he dealt her that she had little choice but to back-off, finally sitting back down onto her bed as he advanced on her, until they were standing so close to her that their foreheads touched, as he continued to tell her off! [11]

He became fascinated from about the age of six with a character in a movie called ‘Alex Stormbreaker’. One day on an outing he told me he wished to be renamed. His full name is Ruarc Alexander Farah. When I asked what he wished his new name to be, after some thought, he answered, “Ruarc Alex-Stormbreaker…Zander-Farah”! Well I laughed until the tears streamed down my face. I know it was callous but I simply couldn’t believe the way he had worked this name into his. For his part, furious at my laughter, he initially burst into tears and then shunned speaking to me for the entire drive home. He still has not entirely forgiven me.

It is interesting to consider that he chose this character, this name, Alex Stormbreaker (remember his own name means sea-storm or champion). He did not know this and he still doesn’t, he is only seven at the time of writing.

Is this not an interesting choice of nom de plume?

At the moment at school he is generally called Ruarcie (or simply Rocky). It is as if his proper name Ruarc (that is Ruarc the Stormbreaker) is a second personality that is still too big for him to step into. He is just a little boy. But one day he will be a man, and then he will no longer be Ruarcie but will be (or could be if he steps into his power) Ruarc[12].

The name Ruarc, you could say, represents his potential; and at some level he feels this, even at such a young age.

Finally then, consider the future in your name. What is its destiny? To where and for what purpose are you called by virtue of your name? It is your name after all, something worth caring about, worth cultivating, and worth speaking into the world. It, like you, has an inalienable and very precious value; if you haven’t yet realised that then now would be a good time to do so.

Until we speak again,



[1] ‘The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche’, Collected Works of C. G. Jung, vol. 8.

[2] Wilhelm Stekel (1868- 1940) Austrian physician and psychologist, one of Freud’s earliest followers.

[3] Ibid, p. 427, fn. 12.

[4] Which is not to deny the synchronicity Jung is obviously pointing to in this passage.

[5] i.e Doc Martens (get it?); both of these are actual cases.

[6] The Cambridge Companion to Leibniz, p. 246.

[8] A universal, transpersonal pattern.

[9] To be honest this is not completely clear to me, the Libnizian idea of how a name picks out a particular. My name is Stephen Anthony Farah but with the advent of the WWW (well FB to come clean) it has come to me attention that I am not the only Stephen Farah. I have not found another Stephen Anthony Farah yet…still it is fairly obvious that many people have the exact same name. So the question then is what is the implication then for this naming essentialism when names are duplicated?

[10] First and last name, both are significant.

[11] Once he finally stopped of course and left the room my wife and I laughed until we cried, whether from pure mirth at this vision of him we had witnessed or whether from relief that it was over I cannot say.

[12] And may God grant that this comes to pass.

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Comments (6)

  • Gidieon de Bruin Reply

    It is good to know and interesting.

    April 29, 2013 at 11:12 am
  • Tabita Jordaan Reply

    I would like to find out what the meaning of my name is and the destiny behind it

    April 29, 2013 at 12:19 pm
    • Mapula Reply

      I would like to know what my full name have for me. Abegail, Mapula Ramasika.

      My first name is Abegail, I used it most of my life and I things it had positive effect in life, as now I use my African name Mapula (my 1st preference and it seems not to work for me).

      But I love both my names even though I prefer to be called Mapula.

      Kindly advise

      April 29, 2013 at 7:48 pm
      • Stephen Reply

        I am no expert on names, despite the impression you may have taken from the blog. So I can offer no advice on any particular names only some thoughts as to the effect of names and naming in general.

        Abigail/ Mapula my only advice would be to say that each of those names carries its own destiny; you need to look inside yourself and decide which of those destinies the one is closest to your authentic self and which you care most about. However whichever one you choose the other can continue to live alongside your public persona as a friend of your soul so to speak.

        April 30, 2013 at 6:30 am
  • Ingrid Reply

    Naming is not given enough emphasis sometimes – I was Inky Bruynse as a child, and have been Ingrid for work, and am still partial to my Inky as a private part of my person. I have not taken a married surname, first because i am still the person I always was – the taking of another surname seems as if the identity of “me” would be removed in some way. So despite the difficult surname (that always needs to be spelled 🙂 has remained with me, through a marriage divorce and new marriage.
    Naming my sons has been so carefully chosen, and yet I have been so at the whim and flow of the collective – I thought cameron was an unusual name, based on his celtic clan name and my Conor showing the irish side of the heritage – then I found that both were one of the most popular boys names of that year. Their second names have been African – Kgomotso meaning “comfort” as a second name, which now amazes me because he is becoming a medic and has already provided such comfort to those around him. Placing the first name as europeans and the second as african correct place for the emphasis for the african heritage (where the “real” name was).

    I have been called “MaMomo” mother of my eldest, Kgomotso, and it binds my identity as a mother, and recognition of this new phase moving from maiden to mother and when I am a crone, I wonder what my name will be?

    May 23, 2013 at 5:55 pm
  • Lewis Lafontaine Reply

    The quotation purportedly appearing in Dr. Jung’s “Sychronicity” [CW 8] of:

    “A rose by any other name… “ is not a rose actually, it may look like a rose, smell like a rose, draw blood as a roughly grasped rose is want to do, but, you will grant, it simply cannot be a ‘rose’.

    Does not appear anywhere in all off Collected Works Volume 8 either written by Dr. Jung or in a Footnote.

    October 14, 2016 at 3:30 pm

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