What’s in a name?
Tue 9th Feb 2016
You may well be aware that my birth name is not Narayani. It is Frances, but I have never really felt like a Frances, and I was only ever called it for a short period in my life, otherwise it was only when I was in trouble. Before Narayani, I was generally known as Frankie. For many people the idea of changing a name may be strange or unusual. So I thought I would share the story of how and why I changed my name.
I began my yoga journey in the Sivananda Yoga Centre in London. I was hooked instantly, it felt as if finally I had come ‘home’. At last I was a square peg in a square hole, after spending much of my life trying to fit into a triangular one. I had been in religious schools all my childhood, but had decided I could not be a Christian aged 11 because my Religious Studies teacher’s answer to all my questions about God, was ‘because the Bible said so’. I wondered why it had never occurred to her that the Bible might be wrong. In prayers in the morning, it felt to me that when we were doing the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ everyone, including the teachers just mumbled along without any sense of passion or devotion. It was religion by rote and it didn’t work for me. So I committed to being agnostic from that moment.
When I arrived in the Sivananda Centre and found myself in Satsang for the first time, not only did the chanting almost blow my head off (a story for another time), but the philosophy made sense to me in a way that no philosophy had before. Within a year I had signed up to do the Teacher Training, which proved to be one of my most life changing experiences to date. During the course, there was the offer of a new name. The intention was that you take a name of a deity to be reminded, everytime your name is called, of the infinite divinity that rests within you.
To be honest I did not think about it too much, when it came to the time for mantra initiation almost everyone took a name at the same time, so I did too. I had actually been initiated a few months earlier and at the time had not been ready to take on a new name, but during the training I just went with the flow of the group, like fish in a shoal of water heading down water to the sea. It just felt right so I went with it.
For the first few years of having my new name, I only used my new name – Narayani – when I was in the Sivananda Centres. Outside I was known still as Frankie. My website was “Yoga with Frankie” and I was more than happy with it being that way.
Then two things began to happen. I had never been a girly girl, and so was more than happy with a unisex name. Everyone assumed I would be a boy until they met me and discovered otherwise. In fact I was completely disconnected from my femininity in almost all ways. I had never had a relationship beyond a few months and was dominating, a tad aggressive and very driven. I am not really sure what I was driving towards, but fear had me driving anyway. My role models where all men or other driven women and I aspired to be independent and capable in everything. So much so that, although I really wanted a relationship, there was no space for a man to enter. Around this time it had begun to dawn on me that actually this was making me ill, both physically and mentally and I needed to connect more deeply to my feminine self.
The second thing that happened was I started to play with a really talented tabla player. I was rather in awe of him, I had been singing kirtan for about 3 months and suddenly I was playing with one of the most talented musicians I had ever met. He felt I should use my yoga name for Kirtans, saying one day “what would you rather go to – chanting with Frankie or Kirtan with Narayani”. I decided he had a point and Narayani became my professional name. During this time I found myself moving in new circles and was being introduced by my new name, so I decided to ask my friends to call me by it too.
Narayani is one of the names for ‘Lakshmi’, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. She is a beautiful benevolent goddess. During this period of integrating my name, I felt an inner shift, a stepping into my more feminine self. I began wearing skirts and grew my hair. I started a long journey towards being more at ease with myself. I worked hard to free myself from the need to be important and successful and to step more into the flow of Life itself.
This was all about 8 years ago. But it was not actually always that fluid and easy. The time in my life when I had been known as Frankie was one of the hardest periods I have had. Sadly one of the side effects of this stepping into my new name, was that I managed to cut myself off completely from my past. This is not unusual with people who change their names. When I heard the name I would cringe as I wanted to leave Frankie behind, I shied away from my behaviour at that time and wanted to forget it. My family never stopped calling me Frankie but everyone else did. The problem is you can never walk away from your past. The pain and shame that I wanted to run away from, just kept following me like a shadow in the evening sun. So my next journey was to embrace Frances and Frankie and learn to love her again. This took the form of some deep inner work that continues to this day.
Gradually I feel very little attachment to any of my names and more and more am enjoying using them all. I am Frances Baker in all things legal, I am Narayani in my friendships and my professional life and I am Frankie to my family and I am increasingly happy with it being that way.
Recently I looked up Frances in the name dictionary and it means: Free One. How apt, that that is what I long for more than anything. What a blessing that my parents gave me that name, even if it is only used occasionally!