Do names matter after death? Yes they do, and not only names but residential or other places linked with them matter too. In January this year the BBC carried a story titled ‘Why do names matter so much?’ in which  Jonathan Savage wrote , “Names matter whether you’re talking about a street, a country or a human being… there’s power in choosing a name, power in changing it, and—as both religion means almost nothing. His nickname— Pele—means everything because Pele was considered and mythology tell us—power in guarding it.” He went on to point out that Brazilian footballers traditionally go by nicknames. Edson Arantes do Nascimento by many to be the greatest ever football player. But do nicknames matter in the other world? If they’re as well known as Pele, they do, but if they’re as common as say “Pappu” or “Bablu”, their identification significance is reduced.

Savage wrote, “The Egyptian goddess Isis gained complete power of the sun god Ra when she learned his true name. So what we call things can border on the magical. Names matter.”

Scanning media stories new and old and other literature reveals that the “Do names matter?” theme seems to have a permanent, universal appeal. The Week for example, wrote that names matter to a remarkable degree. “Though we don’t choose them, our names are badges bearing information about our class, education level, and ethnic origin … The Romans had the expression nomen est omen, or “name is destiny.” A Live Science story was titled “Does Your Name Determine Your Destiny?” “The idea that our names are intertwined with our destinies goes at least as far back as the book of Genesis in the Bible, when Abram saw his name changed to Abraham, which means  ‘father of multitudes’ in Hebrew.”

In recent years, apart from people, brand names too are being chosen with exceptional care. Nicola Watts, formerly Global Market Research Director at Cadbury, explained, “Customers build brands, not companies. They give brands value by developing perceptions and expectations for those brands. Your brand name is a short cut to these associations.” Obviously, names matter a tremendous lot in life. But why do they matter after death? There are many important reasons, the chief being a reliable form of identity or memory linked to the soul’s journey. 

Just a few weeks ago, the approximately 3,000 year old Egyptian Screaming Mummy was put on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. At least 20,000 visitors visited the screaming mummy when it went on display, Egypt Independent reported. Part of the reason for the rush was news that experts may have finally solved the ancient “Screaming Mummy” mystery which had a male seemingly dying in agony.

“The gruesome mummy of Unknown Man E, also known as the ‘Screaming Mummy,’ has long puzzled scholars,” Egyptologist and former antiquities minister Zahi Hawass told Al-Ahram Weekly. Hawass said DNA tests have confirmed a leading theory that the mummy was likely Prince Pentewere. He was sentenced to die and likely hanged for his role in the assassination of his father, Ramses III, who ruled in the 12th century BC. The screaming mummy was unusual for more than just the look of suffering on his face. “He was not even mummified, but was merely left to dry in natron and then had some resin poured into his open mouth,” Al-Ahram Weekly reported. The mummy also had no grave marker, which according to custom at the time, would deny him a role in the afterlife. Yet the mummy was found buried with other members of the royal family.

“Two forces were acting on this mummy,” Bob Brier, an archaeologist at Long Island University who has examined the body, told The Sun. “For some reason, there was an attempt to make sure that he didn’t have an afterlife, and in another attempt, somebody cared about him and tried to override that.” Not having a name or grave market seems to impede the soul’s journey after life partly because it becomes difficult to for ancestors to maintain links with a person who has no name. It was perhaps to overcome this problem that the practice of posthumous names began. According to Wikipedia, “The posthumous name is commonly used when naming royalty of China, Korea, Vietnam, and Japan…A posthumous name should not be confused with the era name…Posthumous names are in use to this day in Japan.”

When people approach me to try and get in touch with the soul of a loved one, my first question is to ask the name of the deceased person and other identity markers such as place of residence or death. Don’t forget, in simple terms just as we have a vast population of living beings on earth, there is a vast population of souls inhabiting the other world and to track a nameless spirit with other life or death circumstances also shrouded in anonymity can be a very difficult task. Names or other links, such as son or daughter of so and so are important too for making ancestor offerings, remembering or offering prayers for the dead. Significantly, cases where a dead person has come back to life again underline the great importance of names because invariably it has been a case of mistaken identity, with the messengers of death carrying away a person by the same name as the person whose time had actually come. But them, as a friend asked, one has different names in different life times—isn’t that confusing? It would take too long to explain here, but this multiple life times, multiple names factor is dealt with through ‘era names’. 

After death, all that remains as a marker is a name—a certain book, poem or other work by a person named Tulsidas or Mark Twain, a road or other landmark named after so and so and the same applies to performers in films and on stage, etc. Even a photograph has to have a person’s name. After death, amongst the most important “things” you carry with you are names, your own, those of loved ones, of loved places and perhaps also those of people and places one didn’t love. The inescapable fact: names matter after death as much as they do in life. Your body perishes, but along with your soul your “era name” lives on.  One of the many memorable lyrics of John Lennon of Beatles fame reads: “We all shine on…like the moon and the stars and the sun…we all shine on…” Like the moon and the stars and the sun, our names too shine on after death.

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