There is an established practice throughout history and in many areas of the world when someone is elevated to royal, or otherwise elevated status and position — they are given a new name. This name is often referred to as a regnal name, or a reign name, and is different than the given name at birth. This practice is particularly well known in the Roman Catholic Church, where the Pope, upon being elected to his position, is called upon to give himself a new name. This process goes something like this:
Immediately after a new pope is elected, and accepts the election, he is asked by the Dean of the College of Cardinals, “By what name shall you be called?” The Pope-elect chooses the name by which he will be known from that point on. The senior Cardinal Deacon, or Cardinal Protodeacon, then appears on the balcony of Saint Peter’s to proclaim the new Pope, informing the world of the man elected Pope, and under which name he would be known during his reign.
I announce to you a great joy:
We have a Pope!
The Most Eminent and Most Reverend Lord,
Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church [surname],
who takes to himself the name [papal name]. ((http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regnal_name))
Such was the procedure when Pope Benedict XVI was elected not long ago, his birth name originally being Joseph Alois Ratzinger.
But this practice is not confined to Catholicism. It has been noted in ancient Assyria, Judah, Egypt, Asia, and the United Kingdom, to name a few. When monarchs ascend to the throne in parts of Asia, they often discard their prince name, and take on a new name that they call a temple name. The reason for this is stated:
The name “temple” refers to the “grand temple” (太廟), also called “great temple” (大廟) or “ancestral temple” (祖廟), where crown princes and other royalties gathered to worship their ancestors. On the ancestral tablets in the grand temple, it is the ruler’s temple names that are written there. ((http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temple_name))
This practice has even made its way into literary and cinematic fiction, such as when Aragorn of J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings is given the new name Elessar Telcontar by Galadriel when he ascends the throne of Gondor and Arnor. Or even more recent, when Padmé Naberrie of the Star Wars series is given a Name of State of Queen Amidala, and Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader.
These are royal names, given because of a change in stature, state, status, or stage in life. More examples from the Bible could be given, such as when Abram is renamed Abraham before he becomes a father, and at the same time his wife Sarai becomes Sarah (Genesis 17).
A particularly poignant episode in Genesis 32 is when Jacob is renamed Israel by an angel after “wrestling” with it for some time during the night, as a sign of the covenant God made with him:
And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.
And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob.
And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.
And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.
And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. (Genesis 32:24-30)
Such has a similar practice been passed on in the practices, customs, beliefs, and rites of initiation of many cultures and religions around the world.
Great observation. It is also interesting that, besides the Pope, Catholics have a general tradition (I don’t know if its so popular anymore) of giving regular lay members a new name when they are either baptized or confirmed. They usually take the name of a Saint. Although they often don’t go by this new name, it is part of a long-held tradition. My mother, whose name is Maureen, was given the new name Theresa when she was confirmed (she still goes by Maureen–she is no longer Catholic, but that is beside the point). This is also common when someone enters one of the orders (to be a nun or monk, etc.).
Thanks for the additional insight. I had no idea that Catholics also gave a new name upon baptism or confirmation into the church. I wonder what they say their reasoning is for doing so.
I was recently in the company of a Navajo men who told me of the practice they have of bestowing a ceremonial name. The name is given in a Blessing Way ceremony and is to be kept secret all of one’s life. The name is only shared with a medicine man who may use it to heal you. The name is given in conjunction with a small white stone or shell that is usually worn in the hair. Upon death the name is used to enter the presence of the Creator.
Thanks Joseph for the fascinating insight! The American Indians have much to teach us. I would be interested to know if the “Blessing Way” ceremony has been documented or researched anywhere. I want to learn more about the Hopis and their ceremonies, particularly with the kiva. I believe Boyd Petersen talks about another interesting Indian practice in which an Indian priest anoints another on different parts of their body. I wonder if that is related to the “Blessing Way” ceremony. I’ll have to dig that one out of Nibley’s biography.
This is what a shot search provided . I doubt that details of the Blessingway are published.
THE BLESSINGWAY CEREMONY
The story of the creation of the Navajo people and their emergence onto their sacred homeland is recounted in a ceremony known as the Blessingway, which is the foundation of the Navajo way of life. Blessingway focuses on the story of Changing Woman, who is the inner form of the Earth through its seasonal transformations. She is the major deity for the Navajo.
The Navajo are instructed that in the beginning, First Man and First Woman emerged onto this world near Huerfano Mountain in New Mexico. One day, First Man found a baby on a nearby mountain. The baby matured in four days and became Changing Woman. Changing Woman created the four original Navajo clans from her body. Her sons rid the land between the four sacred mountains of dangerous monsters and made it safe for the clans to inhabit. The Blessingway recounts in detail the instructions Changing Woman gave to the Navajo people she created. These teachings concern history and major religious practices, such as girl’s puberty rite and the consecration of a family’s hogan. When performed in its entirety, the Blessingway is a two-day ceremony whose purpose is to obtain peace, harmony, protection, and to help realise the goal of a long happy life.
The Catholic church has a lot of ritual and practice that is pretty close or similar to LDS Temple ritual. You should check out the Investiture Ceremony for Catholic Nuns. See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcZ8H4fzB5M This is from the movie The Nun’s Story that stars Audrey Hepburn. A lot of things just by this one clip alone is enough for LDS to understand and recognize.