The practice of taking a new name is one in which many religions engage, and modern Witchcraft is no exception. Simply put, the magical name can be a potent catalyst for our psychic development if we approach it from a place of introspection and courage. It is, after all, a spell cast upon ourselves, and one that will alter the direction of our lives.
There are many different types and uses for a magical name. Some names are subtle, perhaps a common-enough sounding name chosen in honor of a beloved ancestor or historical figure. Others are more societally disparate, invoking drama or whimsey; names taken or influenced by ancient mythologies, the natural world, unexplained phenomena, or even works of fiction. These names move against the flow of "normal" consciousness, and so act as catalysts for magical and psychic development.
In some traditions a new initiate is given a name by which they will be known to the other members of the circle. This name might be given by a teacher or other spiritual authority within the order, and might be divined, or dreamed upon by the teacher, coven, or (most commonly) the Witch themselves. Whether the name is personally chosen or bestowed by another, there is typically a ceremony to mark this as a formal event, such as an initiation in which the person is then "officially" addressed with the new name. From that point onward the magical name will be used instead of the persons' legal or mundane one, reinforcing the reality of the Witch's name.
The advantages of taking a specialized name are both numerous and personal and there is no one right way to go about it. At its foundation, a magical name provides us an opportunity to take a more active role in the shaping of our psyches in concert with our will, better allowing us to grow into the type of Craft practitioner we wish ourselves to be. It is a potent element of the magical persona, which is the personification of our inner power, specifically our inner Witch Power.
To those outside of a magical or religious life, the notion of choosing a new name might sound narcissistic or at the very least "cosmetic," a trivial thing of frolic and frivolity. Even within the Witchcraft and magical communities there are those who regard the practice as pretentious, if not downright absurd. But there are significant reasons why the taking of such a name can be an advantage to the magical practitioner should they wish to engage the practice.
Names Shape Consciousness
On one level, the Witch's name is a sort of "anchor" for the magical persona, incorporating elements that speak to qualities that we feel are in resonance with our strengths, our lessons, and/or our aspirations. When we are engaged in our magical practice and we use a name other than the one we use in our "mundane" lives, we begin to shift our consciousness into alignment with the numinous. When we step into our circles or temple spaces and identify ourselves with our magical appellations, we make a psychic and magical declaration on the inner planes and between the worlds that we are indeed magical; that we live in the world but are not of it. Through this identification we can embody a certain degree of liminal consciousness that is required of an effective user of magic.
Over time, consistent use of the magical name will allow us to more easily slip into such states of power, and then, when our work is done, we can just as easily return to normal awareness by affirming our "normal" name, thus grounding our sense of self with the world of the here and now.
Names Have Unique Currents of Power
Beyond the basics of shifting our consciousness into a magical state, the specific elements of the names that we choose to adopt bring their own patterns and momentums of power into play. Names drawn from mythology, for example, create a psychic link through which we may draw magical force. So, someone incorporating "Aphrodite," "Venus," or "Eros" into their name might be expected to channel more of a loving or nurturing "vibration" than someone who adopts "Macha" in honor of the battle goddess, or Ares, god of war. Names drawn from the historical record can be considered in this light as well, whether this manifests as adopting the name of an historical figure or that of a personal ancestor. These names help keep us rooted in the past helping us to better remember our histories.
Likewise, names that draw from nature, such as those that incorporate names of animals, plants, stones, stars, weather patterns, and the like, act as symbolic connections to those things on an etheric level, further strengthening any spiritual allyship in which we may be engaged, or at least opening the doors of opportunity for us to forge those connections. Beyond the natural world we can also look for inspiration in fictional ones. There is no real reason that we can't adopt a name from a work of fiction if it is something in which we genuinely find inspiration. While some might scoff at the idea, I know many competent Witches who draw from the works of Tolkien in their magical work, to the extent of adopting words from that authors' invented languages into the names of covens and their members. Likewise, it is not uncommon to find elements drawn from the stories and concepts conceived by science fiction and fantasy authors, poets, and other artists. Ultimately, the origin doesn't matter so much as the power it carries. The most important part of taking on a magical name is that it both inspires and empowers the user. If both of those criteria are filled, then all else becomes minutia.
So how exactly does one go about choosing a magical name? Like much in the Craft, there is no universal method that is suitable for everyone. We all have different needs and expectations as to what would constitute our own magical name. And we will each find different approaches to be useful in our quest. But regardless of the methodologies we might employ in the formulation of our magical names, there are certain things to consider before "taking the plunge."
How/Where Will You Use It?
How and where we will use the name will play a necessary role in its choosing. Sometimes a new name is sought because it can provide a certain level of anonymity, assisting the practitioner to better preserve their privacy. Such names are often only used within the coven or tradition but might also be used in public when representing the Craft in some fashion and still allowing for a modicum of personal privacy.
Some names are known only to the practitioner and to select deities or spirits with whom the practitioner may work. In this an intimacy is built from the sharing of a secret that is often kept from the mundane world.
Some practitioners may have multiple names, each that provide access to the different egregores of their respective lineages, covens, lodges, or traditions. If one is to choose a name for use in a tradition that draws from a particular style or custom, then it might make sense to allow that to inspire whatever name is being sought. Circles dedicated to ancient Greek deities might see individual conveners with names such as Alethea, Ophelos, and Pyrros, which would support the overall mythic current of the group, while those drawing from certain fantasy genres might choose the names of various characters whose qualities inspire the practitioner to aspire toward something greater or who are aligned to specific kinds of work or goals one may have in the context of their Craft.
If you are to use this name only with spirits, then this presents an entirely different set of circumstances than if you would be using it with other people in your coven. And this is different than if the name were to be used more widely, say while writing books or blog posts. Before choosing a name, consider how it will be used and who else will be using it. And be prepared: If you will also be using it with a non-magical public, you should be prepared to raise some eyebrows, at the least. The name that I teach and write under is also the name that I use with the public as is part of my personal calling to be a public resource and teacher of the Craft. I know exactly how my name sounds to those who do not understand my commitment, even within the magical community (I have the screenshots to prove it), but this, too, is part of my personal calling of being a public warlock. I need to use a magical name in public. Your needs will likely be different, and so this might not be as much of a concern.
Even Names Have Shadows
If we are incorporating elements from mythology or historical figures, seldom are those elements purely positive or helpful. Zeus and Hercules might seem to be solid choices for someone who wishes to cultivate a sense of strength into their work, but both figures exhibited negative and harmful behaviors. Zeus was a serial rapist and Hercules went mad and killed his family, so it might behoove those who wish to adopt those names to consider other elements in assisting to address those issues. Like a statement made into a sigil, names can be constructed using the sounds or letters of different words, placing them together in a way that feels right. This leads us to…
How Does It Sound?
The sound of the name, when spoken aloud, is of great importance to the magical name. The name can be used as "words of power," either chanted or intoned or otherwise engaged in a way to draw out our inner power and direct it in harmony with our will. Look at yourself in the mirror and speak aloud your proposed name. How do you feel? Does it give you a thrill or a sense of satisfaction or power when you hear it? Good! You are at least on the right track! If not, it might just be inner resistance to something that feels foreign. Give yourself some time and try again. If you still aren't feeling it, it's ok. It might be time to go back to the drawing board and meditate upon which threads of inspiration and power you wish to include and come up with something new. It should not be rushed.
Does It Draw from a Language or Culture Other than Your Own?
It has been a popular practice, largely among Pagans in the United States, to take a word or concept from another culture and incorporate it into our own work. This is problematic on many levels, but suffice to say that here one should tread carefully. There is a fine line between appreciation and appropriation, and when in doubt it's usually best to back off and do some more homework. This is especially true if you are using words from languages you do not speak. Google translate might seem amazing, but it often gets things wrong. If you can, get help from someone who actually speaks the language and avoid some embarrassment.
Weaving It All Together
Like the individual ingredients used in a spell, elements of a magical name bring distinct threads of power to be woven into a whole. In this we may play at a sort of symbolic alchemy, combining disparate elements that interact in various ways upon the psyche. Any number of elements might be included, if the result is found to be pleasing and full of personal meaning.
Once the overall name is chosen, some people will find value in incorporating numerological associations into it, either by calculating the value of the individual letters, and name-elements, or maybe paying attention to the number of letters in each part of the name, the number of vowels, consonants, etc., augmenting the spelling of the name to accommodate certain numerological aspirations. Each part offers a glimpse into a hidden potential influence that the name offers, here subtly providing such potency in a somewhat "behind the scenes" fashion.
The bottom line is that the choosing of a magical name is a journey and a personal one at that. Some will decide that this is not an expedition they wish to take, and that's fine. There are many talented and effective Witches and Warlocks who never feel drawn to choosing a magical name. But for those who are called to engage this time-honored practice, this journey is one of self-discovery and empowerment offering us an opportunity to help become the type of Witch we wish to be.