Traveling across the southwestern states, I've visited a hundred archeological sites built by pueblo peoples. One curious fact has to do with names given to them. Toozigoot, a ruin near Sedona, Arizona, is a Comanche word meaning “crooked waters.” Nearby is Montezuma's Castle and Montezuma's Well, attributing Aztec origins to ruins that pueblo peoples constructed. In New Mexico, Santa Clara Pueblo is the name given by Spanish invaders and Coronado State Park is dedicated to the village that conquistador's expedition camped at for a winter, eating all their precious stores of grain.

Navajo people call themselves Dine', not the name given to them by the Spanish. Other Spanish names include Mesa Verde, which roughly means “green table,” and describes the location, not the extensive, cliffside ruins. Anasazi is what we call the ancestral peoples who built stone cities all across the desert southwest, which is a Navajo word meaning “ancient peoples” or “ancient enemy.” The irony is that we take the word of the most recent immigrant, arriving about 50 years before the Spanish, to name the oldest inhabitants, well established 3-5000 years ago.

Careless as it may seem to accept names for places and peoples from those who know them least, doing so is characteristic of our culture. On the one hand we ascribe names in utter disregard of either obvious or inherent nature. On the other, we gain power over the unknown by giving it a name, which is in itself an act of ownership. Things as distant and far beyond individual ownership as a star can be sold to the highest bidder who gives it his name or a loved one, so we do comprehend the power lying within the act of name giving.

Names are very important in how we see ourselves, who we become, who we are allowed to be. Unlike cultures that allow choice in who we are called, we north Americans are given names and carry them to our graves, for the most part. Therefore the word representing the vision of our parents for who we are both individually and as a future ambassador for the familial lineage, is what we live and die by. The only solace is that we do that to our children, as well.

In one of the programs I designed to help clients transform themselves into who they want to be, recognition is given to the importance of the name we go by. Some changed their names as a result of the work. But more importantly, we redefine self concept to represent who we are as spirit beings, coming here at this time as humans, often with missions or specific reasons that compel us to both discover what they are and accomplish them. That even includes reconnecting with our spiritual origins, as that provides important information, as well as spiritual connection.

The vast majority of us never ask the question, “who am I” and “why am I here,” because by the time we are old enough to wonder about that, we are fully engaged in acting out the roles and life plans our parents and culture so vigorously programed us for. One reason for that is we lack the prerequisites for making that sort of decision, no matter how much wishing or visualizing we might do, so it just works out better to be as we are told. Those in my program acquire foundational components that prepare us to say in five words or less who we are without including family name, marital status, gender, occupation, profession, or physical attributes. The final requirement is that it be flexible enough that we can change it anytime we so choose.

One attribute I like for myself is a word coined by a professor of philosophy back in the 1960s. One day he looked around the room and said, “you are all questors,” meaning we were looking for deeper answers to things. It has been a powerful liberating factor to take permission to be on a quest for truth, not chained down by what I have to do to satisfy utilitarian concerns, as defined by others.

To be able to self define requires several sets of challenges be met first. We need to be connected to ourselves in ways that are relatively rare when we look at what lies beyond cultural belief systems, including human and spiritual levels. What prohibits self connection are powerful prohibitions that get spoken as being: self conscious, full of yourself, vain, self-absorbed, stuck up, narcissistic, conceited, irresponsible, etc.

If we are allowed to know ourselves sufficiently, the second challenge has to do with becoming separate from who others want, wish, demand, and legislate us to be. Family names, given names, traditions, gender, social class, skin color, and family traditions require us to accept personal attributes in order to be supported, accepted, and valued. Rejection of family/cultural precepts further defines us as misfits, outlaws, loners, black sheep, and so on. My mother called me stubborn from early on, which had mixed connotations, not as bad as being rejected, but not fully acceptable, either. I logged many hours in human potential therapies in the 1970s to find support for discovering and defining who I am, therefore can affirm that considerable resistance can be brought to bear to discourage this path.

Boundaries are necessary if we are to defend our choices against the inevitable attacks of our peers as we grow up. Assigning nicknames seems, like naming children, to be another way to gain power over others, and like calling them derogatory names, difficult to repel. Lacking boundaries, we fold when our self-generated attributes are assaulted. But with boundaries we are able to defend our choices, with or without a fight. By winning these battles, we gain sufficient personal power to name ourselves, and make the name stick. This phenomenon crosses every cultural precept, but can be supported as it is by some traditions in which adolescents outgrow child names and must go on a spirit quest to discover ones true nature and name that describes it most accurately.

In the industrialized societies of us English speakers, individualization is discouraged most savagely, truth be known. If we aren't a cog that fits into the social machine we stick out like a sore thumb. Being different means we don't become marriage material, fit to propagate the species. Employment potential and career path require that we meet objective standards in the forms of degrees, test scores, licensing credentials, and other objective criteria that substitute for actually being good at doing something. Even physical attractiveness gets culturally defined, with certain models defined as beauty and others ugliness.

A small percentage of us ever reach a place where we are actually capable of naming ourselves, and even fewer choose to do so because the cost is so high. But for those who have developed to the point of becoming unique individuals, it is the only game in town. It's the prerequisite for doing what we personally came to this life to do, or be who we came here to be. Paying the price means that everyone else will listen to, if not accept or respect, the choices we make. Control freaks leave us alone, which may be worth the price of admission in itself.

Most importantly, the universe, by whatever name we choose to address it, also notices. Hopefully, if no other group supports our choices without condition, the universe will, because therein lies the greatest power we will encounter in our lives—and probably in our after-lives as well.

Author's Bio: 

Gary Robertson is author of "Genuine Being, Resolving Ego," which explores the natural progression we all experienced as children and still encounter daily in ourselves and others. He works with individuals interested in resolving what are called ego issues on the way to discovering who we really are and why we came to this lifetime. He writes and gives talks on a variety of topics in the personal development field. You can find out more about him and his work at The book, Genuine Being can be found at