Names are powerful. They can offer us a sense of identity. They can be used by others to manipulate, either positively or negatively, for example people will intentionally forget someone’s name to try and impose a sense of importance, or more positively a lover may give their partner a pet name.
Giving someone, or something, a name can create unique and unbreakable bonds. There is a (rather morbid) family myth where my great-Gran allegedly said you should never name a child until after its second birthday because until then they’re not really yours. Presumably the risk of becoming too attached to a child through a name wasn’t worth the risk with such a high infant mortality rate!
Unsurprisingly, a person’s name is also considered highly important within the Bible. Ancient Israel placed a lot of importance on a person’s name which often gave clues about their family lineage or status with God. The Old Testament see’s the wandering Israelites naming key landmarks and sites of importance on their way to the promised land, some of which are still named to this day (according to the text) and in the second Creation story Adam is given the important task of naming all the animals. It’s not just the people of the Bible who are naming things though as God famously names everything as it is brought into being at the start of Genesis.
Scholars have argued that the act of naming things shows dominance over the thing being named. But with that dominance comes a duty and care. Just as God cares for Creation humanity (should) provide care for other animals and parents for their children.
God also spends a lot of time renaming many of the other key characters. Abram & Sarai become Abraham & Sarah and Jacob becomes Israel. Jesus famously renames Simon to Peter and Saul is given the name Paul after his blinding conversion. These renamings have a different significance to being named at the start of life or at creation. It seems to signify a massive life change. People receive their new names when they start down a new path and take on a new identity.
God’s own name is also highly important in the Old Testament.
13 But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’
Ehyeh asher ehyeh, meaning literally “I will be what I will be”, has been argued to be the origin God’s Hebrew name; Yahweh. This name is so sacred it is forbidden to be either written or read and so is abbreviated to YHWH in the text and read as Lord whenever it is encountered. The third commandment forbids using the Lords name in vein. Whilst often being confused as forbidding blasphemy it is actually calling for people to stop commanding things to be done in the name of God as the Divine Name was considered too powerful for humans to invoke on petty disputes.
Moving to Jesus’ name and we find almost the opposite. Rather than being a forbidden name Jesus was actually rather common in first Century Palestine and so there is nothing remarkable about it. The title of Christ or Messiah though is important. Meaning chosen or anointed one this title was meant to set Jesus apart from all others who had come before or after him. Paul in his letter to the Philippians states that after Jesus’ death and resurrection God has given Him the name above every other name. A Name so important that “every knee should bend in heaven and on earth and under the earth” upon hearing it. That’s how important Jesus’ name has become.
Finally moving onto one of my favourite passages in the Bible, (seriously it gives me chills down the spin whenever I read it and is the sole reason behind this blog piece) Isaiah 43.
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
Chapter 43 in Isaiah talks about God looking after and protecting all those who He knows by name, as well as all those who know His in return. The knowledge of names here is a two way process. As well as God knowing ours we can know God’s and in that knowledge we are loved and protected.
Sadly it’s not just the positive use of names that can be found within Scripture. Many female characters are not given names due to their perceived lower status. Eve for example is not given a name until much later in the story and Jesus is constantly meeting unnamed women. There are also passages about people having their names cursed or removed from the book of life and so someone’s name can be used against them as a negative as well as positive sign of their status and identity.Names, and more importantly titles, hold a very special significance in the world of BDSM. Titles like Master & Mistress, slave & submissive, Dominant & little all hold important and unique meanings for those who use them or apply them to other people. Much like biblical names they convey a person’s status in the community and often have to be earned.
A submissive will go through a period of consideration before they are allowed to label themselves as a Dominant’s submissive whilst a Dom/me who applies the title of Master or Mistress to themselves without first showing that they are a responsible and thoughtful dominant will often be ignored or ridiculed.
The receiving of a new title, like when the disciples where renamed by Christ, is often the mark of a new start in life. When a new relationship is started that will change the lives of those involved it is often marked by creation of new names and titles. These titles often come not only with respect but with a lot of trust. By calling someone Mistress not only would I be paying the woman respect but would also be voicing my trust in her as Dominant, much like Thomas’ sudden realisation with the risen Christ “My Lord and my God!”
These names and titles are to be cherished and respected. Just because someone claims to be a Master does not mean that you can address them as such just as a self proclaimed submissive does not have to answer to the title when it is used by someone who is not their Dominant. Another way names can be used and understood in the BDSM scene is through the removal of permission to use them. Just like names in the Bible a submissive can be forbidden from using their D/s name if they are released from service by their Dominant, or a Dominant can chose to give their submissive a new name to signify their ownership. These titles and names also come with their own protocol within the scene. Dominant names and titles are always capitalised whilst submissive names tend to remain in lowercase, this sometimes even includes people’s names as well as titles.
Titles within the fetish world often carry the same definitions and weight as they do with their vanilla uses though some may have slightly different understandings. For example Mistress which, rather than referring to a woman on the side, is now the title chosen by some dominant women. Another name that the BDSM world has re-purposed is “slut”. For many in the scene it is worn as a badge of honour as well as used by Dominants as a tool of humiliation. Unlike the vanilla world it is often used regardless of gender and only during a scene under consent. So rather than a degrading sexist insult the BDSM scene has reinvented “slut” as a tool for play or a badge of honour.
The use of alternative names or titles in BDSM to donate status is probably most famously used in the French Erotic novel The Story of O where the main protagonist is never referred to by name. This helps create the impression that her identity is now tied up solely within her submission, that it is now her entire being. On the other hand it could also be read that her submissive and sexual identity is completely separate to her vanilla life and so she goes by a totally different name when she engages with this side. Either way through only identifying her as O the author is able to send very powerful messages about dominance and submissive sexuality.
In my own experience names have had many varied and powerful effects on me emotionally and socially. When I am Natalie I act, feel and even think differently than I do under my vanilla name. It is a name I chose for myself but it still holds a great deal of emotional and mental power of me when I am called by it or use it for myself. With regards to titles I used to love it when my ex-bf called me Miss whenever I dominated him. The title just made it feel all the more real to me. On the flip side being called Sir (either during play or just life in general) just makes my skin crawl and is a massive turn off for me. Two little words that have huge significance on my emotional and sexual moods.
The biggest and most significant experience I’ve had with names though comes from my D/s relationship. What really cemented the relationship between my Domme and I was not her setting my routine or when we played or being able to publicly acknowledge it, it was when she named me little one. Some may use little one as a description or a pet name for a partner but for me it quickly became an identity and integral part of who I am. She started to use it as my name almost exclusively, calling me Natalie when I was dressed and only using my vanilla name when talking to people outside the life style. It was what really made me feel like I was hers. I felt proud and grew my submissive identity until it became almost as significant a part of my life as my vanilla side all through being name little one by her. This was not one way however. One of the first requests my Domme had for me was to refer to her only as Miss, even when speaking to others. This command still really stands out in my head as it instantly set the levels for the relationship, she was in charge and it was through our names and titles that this was set, not rules or orders or punishments. In removing our names some may argue that we were de-personalising the relationship though nothing could be further from the truth. Through being given a new name by Miss, as well as being allowed to refer to her in a way no-one else does, I was able to forge a new self worth and identity and build one of the strongest, closest relationships I have ever experienced.
But what does all of this mean for our relationship with God?
I suppose it comes down to seeing God as our loving and caring dominant who has called us by name. If we understand our identity and self to be named and know by God perhaps we could understand that in a D/s way of being owned by God. God has named us in the same way the loving Dom/me names their sub to cement their relationship. Like the Dom/me though, as the One who names, God is in control and if we submit to the loving, supportive and creative dominance of God our lives can be enriched as we grow into the identities worthy of the names we have been given.
There’s a really good site that explains different BDSM titles and roles here: https://jolynnraymond.com/2013/02/whats-in-a-name-an-explanation-of-bdsm-roles/
(It’s also where I got the word cloud image from.)
 Philippians 2.10
 Isaiah 43.1
 John 20.26-28
 Pauline Réage, The Story of O, (Corgi Books, 1976)