Tuesday, July 6, 2010

My Name: Karen Ashley Greenstone

In 1997, I changed my name legally from Karen Marie Heller to Karen Ashley Greenstone. In this post, I will explain the reasons for and the significance of this name change.


During this period, I was quite taken with the idea of changing one's name to reflect one's inner state. I had read about people who changed their names or added a name to mark a new step on their spiritual journey. A person may take a new name upon being baptized as a Christian or upon being initiated into a Pagan tradition. A person may add a name as the result of a Vision Quest. Sometimes, a person may mark entrance into maturity by putting aside a childhood name and taking his or her full given name; for example, Teddy becomes Theodore, or Lulu becomes Louise.

In addition, my sister Marie Ann Heller had changed her name, a few years previously, to Maria Cimini Sangria. She liked the ring of Maria Sangria, and she wanted to honor one of our great grandmothers (our paternal grandmother's mother), whose maiden name was Maria Cimini.

In my case, I also disliked my last and middle names. Heller sounded quite a bit like Hell, and my father and his father before him had been very angry people. I felt that I was descended from and named after a long line of rageful, hellish Heller men from Hell. I wanted to get rid of that association.

I knew that my middle name, Marie, was given to me in honor of Mary the Mother of Jesus. My mother, whose name was Irma Mary, named all her daughters after the Blessed Virgin Mary: Karen Marie, Sandra Marie, Marie Ann, and Janet Marie. My mother gave us the French form of the name, Marie, because she thought that it sounded more chic than the English Mary. I didn't care to be named after the Blessed Virgin Mary. I felt that the Blessed Virgin Mary was too docile. I didn't want to say yes, yes, yes to God all the time, as Mary did. I was, in fact, getting fed up with God and God's demands.

Finally, the name Green kept coming into my mind as a name for myself. And then the name Green began to combine with the name Stone, making the name Greenstone. This just came to me as a result of meditating on names. Because of this, I decided to do the legal name change. I knew that I also wanted a different middle name, but I found that nothing came naturally to my mind as Greenstone had. So I began to work with possibilities and soon decided to go with a tree. I considered such names as Hazel and Willow, and finally settled on Ashley, for the mountain ash, or rowan, tree.

Eventually, I engaged an attorney to file the necessary court papers for me, and the name change became legal. Of course, it takes some time to change all one's documents to the new name: social security card, driver's license, personal checks, credit card, and more. So there was a period of time when I needed to sign my old name sometimes and my new name sometimes, depending on which documents I had changed. In other words, I might have become Karen Ashley Greenstone with my personal checks but might still be Karen Marie Heller with my credit card.


GREEN: Growing, stretching, moving, creating - like a green plant.

STONE: Being grounded in the now, enjoying this spot on my journey - like a stone.

Thus, Greenstone does not mean a stone which is green but the idea of green combined with the idea of stone. Green means moving creatively along the path of life, and stone means being present now to enjoy where I am at this moment and this spot on my journey.

ASHLEY: Living, protecting, blessing, flourishing, connecting earth and heaven.

I have named myself after the mountain ash, a tree of life, protection, and blessing in folklore, a tree that connects earth and heaven, for the roots reach deep into the earth and the leaves reach deep into the heavens, with roots and leaves connected by the trunk.

And that is the story of my name change.


  1. I enjoyed reading this. Thank you for sharing. I especially connect with the being present now, in this moment, and continually stretching and growing. I see both of those in living color in your life.

  2. Yes, thank you for sharing this account. I knew that you were Karen Ashley Greenstone because you had chosen to be Karen Ashley Greenstone, but not why you made the change or what the names fully meant.

    Having gone, more or less successfully, from being Anne to being Annie, but not so successfully from being Anne to being Ilka, which is my middle name, I know that taking a new or different name is not something that just happens, but is its own journey, for you and for the world around you.

  3. Thanks, Annie. Do you prefer for people to call you Ilka?

  4. While I never knew you personally (although we accidentally shared an email address for a short time), I am, as the only other "Karyn/Karen Greenstone" on the web, fascinated to read why you chose this name - not many people stumble upon such a gift. I will wear my name with even more pride as I move creatively along my own path, present to enjoy every moment.