Monday, June 10, 2013

The Tradition of Trail Names

You may have noticed that Sierra Institute students sometimes refer to themselves by two different names, their real name and an assumed one. Somewhere in the past history of Sierra Institute, it became an informal tradition for students to take on trail names. It has always been optional, and it has always varied considerably group by group as to how many students actually adopt a temporary name.

The basic tone of trail names is playful and, similar to nicknames, their use has a way of conveying intimacy. Sometimes a trail name arises as the group characterizes or teases an individual in a certain way. More often, a student chooses their own name.

In my own programs, I often introduce the trail name option with a more earnest slant to complement the playful approach. I liken the 9-week program to a "heroic journey" as described by mythologist Joseph Campbell, among others. In that journey, the hero leaves the known and familiar world to embark on an adventure that includes challenges and lessons and finally concludes with a return to their original community. Upon return, they bring a new and enriched self to share with others as a gift. To take on a trail name can be a way of emphasizing the "separation phase" of the heroic journey. Not only is the hero leaving family and friends, they are also leaving their established identity behind to explore new possibilities of self.

-Walker, aka Autumn Fox

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