What's in a Name?

Ernest Clark

Strange how a dream, or an impression you get in a dream, will sometimes stay with you all day. You feel a sort of sadness, a sort of nostalgia for something you have lost or forgotten — you know not what.

This happened to me not long since. In my dream I met a friend of former days, and he called me by an old nickname I had not heard since my boyhood. Somehow his voice came to me with startling clearness, and it was just as if he were calling, not to my every-day self, but to a self that was deep within me. The old nickname, the memories of childhood, and the voice of my friend, worked a magic for a fleeting instant. It left me awe-inspired, as if I had come very near something inexpressible in words; and I brought it back with me upon awaking, and there it was with me all day.

The thought that grew out of it was that that part of me which was really guiding my life, was there invisible all the time, watching and observing, and knowing the meaning of everything that happened to me, whether it was what I called good or bad fortune.

Well, if that's what it was, that deeper Self of me, it is a curious thing that you can feel it behind the scenes, and yet be a stranger to it. But there it was. The odd nickname and the voice of my friend had set a long-forgotten chord vibrating, and for the moment I knew that there was something majestic back there behind the scenes, something that was really and essentially me.

Come to think of it, there is something odd in a nickname. True, it is a term of endearment, but it places you. You get it spontaneously from your schoolmates because of some characteristic that is all your own and nobody else's. It is usually more your own, more an expression of your self, than your given name. This calling of nicknames is a universal thing. We even give nicknames to plants and trees: Jack-in-the-pulpit, Dutchman's breeches; and to animals: Bruin, the bear, Reynard, the fox; and nations have them too: John Bull, Uncle Sam.

Names grow, like Topsy. Years ago I became acquainted with a traveler through many lands. This man had spent many years in Burma, and never seemed to stop talking about that wonderful country. Eventually we both found ourselves there. I have forgotten his family name, but there is one name we all knew him by: Burma. Everybody called him Burma, and I feel sure that he is still known by that name.

But I keep remembering that dream of mine. Who can say whether what I have told you wasn't a glimpse into some higher state of being, a memory of something I had known and then forgotten? Call it a picture-gallery if you like; and that when we sleep we sometimes go visiting these picture-galleries in which many true things are recorded.

Of course the kind of sleep I am talking about is the true sleep, the deep sleep; not the chaotic sleep that brings confused and meaningless images. We must use discrimination in all things. When we think about what happens in sleep, we realize that we can only touch the fringe of its mysteries.

There is something more to be said about names. There is an old belief that for each man there is a name that is his own true name, and that goes with him all his life. Origen, the old Church Father,
seems to have taught that men's souls were created before their bodies, that even the celestial bodies had souls, and hence, conceivably, an immortal name for each man, or each celestial body. Great Sages like Jesus and the Buddha have had a spiritual name that they came into because it was their birthright. Just so there might well be a true name for each man, one that we may find when we are properly in tune with our higher Self.

(From Sunrise magazine, May 1952; copyright © 1952 Theosophical University Press)

At any moment in every life the hour of revelation may be at hand. It requires no epoch or special season, nor the beginning or end of any outer cycle. In regions within ourselves where intellect is not, but imagination has full scope for its greatness, we touch the Infinite off and on at all times, and stand on the brink of vast possibilities and truths. — Katherine Tingley

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