Sunday, March 9, 2014
Even if you're not magickally inclined, you probably have a picture in your mind of what a person named Raven looks like. A woman with long, flowing, jet black hair. Perhaps she's a bit of a goth girl (like Raven in Teen Titans), or perhaps a hippy. That's probably the stereotypical image that a lot of people have.
It's really not hard to see why this name is such a favorite in Pagan circles. This jet black bird has played a role in mythology throughout North America and Europe. Also, it's just an awesome animal all around.
The raven (pronounced "RAY-vehn" for you non-native English speakers out there) is an intelligent and curious animal, having one of the largest brains in the bird kingdom. They are highly adaptable and eat almost anything. They can mimic human speech like parrots. Ravens usually travel in mated pairs, and are devoted to their families. They horde shiny objects like jewelry, pieces of metal, and shiny stones, possibly to impress other ravens.
There is a wide variety of depictions of ravens in mythology and culture. In most Western societies, the raven was considered a bad omen, due to it's diet of dead animal carcasses and it's all-black plumage. A raven was the bearer of bad news in Edgar Allen Poe's classic poem "The Raven."
The Norse god Odin has two ravens named Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory), who fly all over the world, observing everything.
Personally, the name appeals to me because of Haida/Tlingit mythology. The Raven is described as a cunning trickster god who loves to change things up and enjoy life. He's also a bit of a horny bastard. In one story a fisherman beats Raven to a bloody pulp and throws him down a latrine when he discovered him locked in an intimate embrace with his wife.
But the most known and retold story is "The Raven Steals the Light," in which he conspires to take the stars, the moon, and the sun away from an old man hording them in boxes. Raven transforms himself into a single hemlock needle that floats down a stream and into the old man's daughter's basket. The daughter becomes thirsty and swallows the needle, and in nine months Raven is born in human form. While in the form of a boy, he cajoles his now-grandfather to give him the boxes, until he gives him the light. Whereupon he instantly transforms back into his true form and flies away.
If we let conventional opinion have any say in the matter, Raven is a feminine name. According to social security records, Raven has charted as a girls name since 1977, and it has never left. It's highest year was in 1993 at #139. It's popularity has dwindled since then, it is now at #543. It is worth stating that this name was particularly popular amongst African Americans, Raven Symone is a famous example.
This doesn't mean that boys named Raven are completely unheard of. Raven even appeared on the social security listings for boys between 1997 and 2002. It's best year was in 1999 at #812.
Ravena and Ravenell are sometimes accepted as variants, but neither one of those have ever charted. Not that I'm aware of, anyway. There's also Draven, if you want to be generous.
As I said before, this name is pretty common in modern Pagan circles and a few of those people have achieved a level of notoriety. Raven Grimassi is the nome de plume of a Wiccan author who help launch the Stregheria tradition, which he described as "the witch sect of Old Italy." And he's a man. I've met him actually, he's very nice. Another well known Pagan is Wiccan author and lecturer Silver Ravenwolf.
I think there is a little bit of a cultural divide between Pagans and non-Pagans in regards to this name. When talking to other name enthusiasts I found out that when most people picture a Raven their first thought is the color (raven can be used as a more poetic term for "black".) I'm willing to bet that most Pagans like it because of the bird and all of its mythical implications.
By the way, all of these dozens of witchy Ravens that I'm talking about are adults. I have yet to meet a child from a Pagan family named Raven. I'm not sure why that is. Perhaps the name is a bit tired. Perhaps it screams, "Hey I'm a witch!" a little too much.
But that is exactly why I love this name for a boy. I would argue that it's fresher and cooler for a boy. There's a bit of a rock star edge to it. And I always love to bend gender expectations.