"...Lies the seed, that with the sun's love, In the spring, becomes the rose" Bette Midler

A rose by any other name, still smells as sweet.  Shakespeare

And so what could naturally be related to this, “A woman by any other name is still a woman.”

It’s been exactly two years since I started using “Zarah” versus “Sarah”, and I’ve been reflecting on my name, and why I felt it was part of my journey to change it. I remember when I used to teach high school English, and getting kids to “get” Shakespeare was such a challenge. The language, the cadence, the intricacies of the rhyme scheme. And yet, this quote was easy to explain. The idea of the lack of importance in a name. What is, simply is. And how often, words get in the way.

I bought a pendant with the letter “Z” last week at a market, and it got me thinking about the notion of names and identity. It’s not like I’m not “Sarah” anymore. It’s just that I’m also “Zarah”. To relinquish my given name completely doesn’t resonate; it was my great-grandmother’s name, on my father’s side of the family. Apparently, when my mum went over to my grandmother’s to celebrate the news of her pregnancy, my Nanny handed her a glass of Scotch and water (her fave libation) and clinked my impending arrival by saying, “Here’s to Sarah”. Neither knew whether I’d be a boy or a girl, but apparently a boy’s name wasn’t even mentioned. They just knew a girl was on the way. After her drink, Mum went back home and called her own mother, my Nana, and asked her what she thought about the possibility of the name Sarah. To this, my Nana’s response was, “I’ve never met an unkind Sarah.” And so it was. And so it is, as I value kindness and particularly “loving kindness” within my Hakomi therapy practice. It’s one of the pillars of the modality.

In my studies at university, the name Sarah was immensely popular; I think there were about six of us in our small residence alone. Apparently 1973 was “The year of the Sarah.” When we introduced ourselves, we had to specify, if it was Sarah “with an ‘h’” or “without”. Clearly, the Sarahs “with an ‘h’” felt ourselves to be superior, for the Sara “without an ‘h’” seemed incomplete. I think it was more of a longing to belong, and kindredness in spirit to be connected to each other by a name with the same spelling. This is one of our inherent needs: to belong.

This university was comprised mostly of private school students from the Toronto area. Most of my peers had known each other for years, so it was pretty cliquey. From the get-go, there was a feeling for me of not really fitting in. The parking lot looked like a fine car dealership: BMW, Porsche, Audi and the like. I had my steed parked outside too; a red Nishiki mountain bike. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to attend a school in France for my third year, and finally felt like I belonged, outside of a conservative institution and in the land of different languages and meeting a new artistic and diverse community.  

After my mum died when I was 32, my life changed dramatically. I quit teaching high school, and went on to study jazz and did my Kundalini Yoga teacher training in New Mexico. It was there that I was given a new name: Amarpal Kaur, which means, “beloved and loyal friend”. This meaning and the essence of the name rang true in a lot of ways. I was definitely loyal to all my friends, and felt loved by them. What never really felt true for me, was the actual name. The fact that someone else who I never met chose a name for me. I was intrigued by how the name was chosen, by using numerology, but that’s about it. Also, when I told people my name, it didn’t really roll off the tongue, and I often had to repeat it. It just felt clunky and like it was never really mine. And so, I never really embraced it, nor chose to be identified by it. I released a mantra album under the name, because I thought it sounded more “spiritual”. Later, when I wanted to have all my albums on Spotify/Apple Music etc. under the same name as “Sarah Calvert”, I found I couldn’t do this, which proved to be frustrating. When I was performing, I never used my spiritual name and there were times when I felt I never truly fit into the Kundalini Yoga community. Most people who were really and truly “on the path” had changed their names and only used their spiritual names, so again, I had this sense of not truly belonging. Many years later, after several scandals involving the Yogi Bhajan, the “master” teacher of this yoga, was revealed, which devestated the community. I later reflected on my reticence to adopt my spiritual name. It just didn’t feel like me. It’s one thing to have a parent and ancestor give you a name, but to have someone else I’ve never met give me a name felt odd. I now see that I too was and am truly “on the path”, and see that it’s my path, and that I’m the one at the helm. No gurus for this gal. I’m my own guru. We all should be our own gurus.

Speaking of gurus, when I lived in India at an Osho ashram, I decided (very last minute) to become a “sanyasin”, whereby I partook in a ceremony, which also granted me a new spiritual name, “Ma Yoga chita”, which also felt like it resonated insomuch as I was a yogini and yoga teacher, but to be honest, it never really stuck either, and I never used it. I always went back to “Sarah”.

There was a book with the title, “Sarah, Plain and Tall”, and whenever I heard that, I thought it sounded like me. I was tall, and I felt a little plain. I was a bit of a tomboy who loved the outdoors and sports and never wore much makeup. I’d be ready to go out with friends, and my mum would always encourage me with, “Sarah, you look good, but put some lipstick on.” Now, years later,  I’ve now become accustomed to wearing lipstick, not because my mum said it looked good, but because I really like it. It’s a fun way to somewhat change your persona. If I’m playing with my band, I like to wear bright bold reds, if I’m feeling somewhat sultry and sexy, I opt for a deep romantic rose. And so, it’s also a propos that Zarah wears lipstick, whereas Sarah didn’t.

My family have been pretty cool through this process. I do however remember my sister in a moment of fighting, (only the way siblings can, with the intention to  hurt) mocked, “Oh my god, and ZARAH.....changing your name? It’s so embarassing.” She chilled out, and also warmed to the idea and now lovingly calls me “Z”, which I adore. My aunts and uncles try to remember, but still call me Sarah sometimes, and to be honest, I really don’t care. Many of them are in their 80s, so to remember what they had for breakfast is a challenge, never mind, knowing someone for 5 decades, then having to switch names. When I told my Dad a couple of years ago about my decision, he was honest and we had a conversation whereby he confided that he thought Nanny (his mom, the woman who actually named me, after her mom) wouldn’t be happy about it. I assured him that wherever Nanny was now, she couldn’t give a rat’s ass about names, and that she’d be raising her glass of Scotch and water to me, encouraging me to keep following my bliss and calling. “Zarah” is the Arabic version (usually spelled “Zahra”) of Sarah, so it’s not really that much of a deviation. My Jewish grandmother Nana, would have had something to say about changing my name from a biblical standard to an Arabic one I’m sure, but now, she’s probably up there (or wherever) with Nanny giving me a cheers and would sing one of her fave tunes we used to sing together, “You say tomatah, I say tomah-to....you say Zarah, I say Sarah. Who gives a shit?” (and she really would say that; she swore like a trucker with her Queen’s English accent. As the queen of one-liners, (usually crass) she was hilarious.

Prior to my name change, I lived in the small hippie town Nelson BC for much of my adult life off and on, whereby people changed their names more often than their bedding. Names like Rainbow, Jai Ma, Sunbeam and such were common, as many souls found their way there and found a type of utopia where they could be themselves, re-invent themselves and live in a more authentic way. What I liked about this, was that people renamed themselves based on where they were at the time, and as a way of being sovereign. When I was there, I never felt the need. I always liked the name Sarah, and lived up to my Nana’s prophecy about always being kind.

During the pandemic, I found myself feeling like again, I didn’t belong in some groups as I chose to not get the jab (I don’t call it a ‘vaccine’ because in the true definition, it is not actually a vaccine) and was often isolated and ostercized by (very few) friends and family. I managed to avoid most of the challenges that so many faced in Canada by staying in Costa Rica and being in a small town based in nature. Just before moving there, I had a soul brother I’d met on Salt Spring Island, who always introduced me to people as “Zarah”. When I’d question him, and say, “Dude, that’s not my name.” He’d always respond with, “I know, I don’t know why I said that!)

Fast forward a couple of years to me moving to Mexico, and doing a women’s retreat examining the archtype of the crone/grandmother/abuela. We did a ceremony on the beach whereby we were buried in the sane as a way to experience our death. When I emerged from the sand, my partner said, “I just love the name Zarah.” She had misheard me, and also, in Spanish, saying Sarah and Zarah are almost the same. In that moment I had a feeling of identifying with “Zarah”. It felt more powerful, warrior-like, sassy and spicy. I had just been kicked off of Facebook and therefore Instagram, for expressing some sentiments about travel restrictions and coersion, and was also blocked from using my WhatsApp number. I’d just joined a ska and punk band and moved away from my sentimental singer-songwriter stuff. It seemed like an opportunity to really create who I wanted to be and to redefine myself. I am Zarah. Hear me roar.

I do admit I used to be skeptical of those who changed their names. I thought it was kinda weird. Now, in retrospect, I think it’s strange that some people find it strange when people decide to re-name themselves. When women get married, or at least the majority of women in the past, they often make the decision to take the last name of their spouse. If I was marrying someone with the last name Dooshendingle, I might choose otherwise. But for eons, it was deemed socially acceptable that a woman would adopt a new name, that she could not choose, and even one that she detested. And one that could possibly sound like a feminine hygene product crossed with a schlong. Can you imagine?

As sovereign free beings we have the freedom to be who we want to be, and that includes, the ability to re-name ourselves, should we so choose to do so. Aho.

Question for You: If you wanted to change your name, which name would you choose and why?
 Please feel free to share in the comments. 
As always, gratitude for your presence alongside me in this journey.


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