Some Refuge ceremony will incorporate a naming ceremony whereby we receive a Buddhist name after we have taken refuge in the Triple Gems.
Our name can be a source of strength and it can also be a reminder of a painful past. It is a label that we identify with. For people who desires to start life afresh, the naming ceremony can be a powerful psychological milestone for “rebirth”
In that manner, we tell ourselves that the old ‘me’ is no longer existing and there is a new me with a new name. We walk out of the refuge ceremony with a new conviction to live our life differently. For example, we may commit ourselves to being sober and free from alcohol.
For some unfortunate people who are troubled by spiritual disturbances, a refuge and naming ceremony also symbolise a rebirth into a higher spiritual identity. The old self who was troubled by spirits is past and a new person under the protective light of wisdom is reborn.
Buddhist names usually have profound meanings and if we are keen to learn and achieve the meanings behind our name, it can be a practice by itself too. naturally, that leads to the ultimate question of “who am I?”
In a mass ceremony, our refuge name is randomly picked. Even if it appears to be impersonal, we should have faith that our karma lead us to our new name. Therefore, we ought to be content with it.
Some Buddhist prefers a more intimate experience and their refuge ceremony is conducted by Teachers whom they have studied with for many years. In such situations, the ceremony is private and witnessed by fellow Buddhists who are close. The Buddhist name, also known as Dharma name is bestowed by one’s teacher.
Having shared all the above, Buddhist names or Dharma name are not prescribed as necessary for taking refuge. If we studied the Pali Canon, there is no mentioned of Buddha bestowing Dharma names to those who took refuge in the Triple Gems. Therefore, it is perfectly fine for us to use our original names. Many Buddhists don’t officiate their Dharma names. As mentioned previously, name can be a powerful motivator for leading a new life. In some situations, people will officiate their Dharma names legally and be determined to live as a new person.
May all be well and happy.