by Leah Leach
My intention is to help make what I have learned in Buddhism approachable to all levels of readers regardless of faith or practice. I also cultivate the intention to share this wisdom with all beings.
Prince, Puff Daddy, and Queen Victoria and I have something in common…
We’ve all changed our names.
Prince changed his name into a symbol to mess with his record contract. (His real name was Prince Roger Nelson.)
Puff Daddy had a lot of jokes made about his name changes, but I dig them. Puffy, to P. Diddy, to Diddy, to Sean Jean, to Brother Love. The last one was apparently just a Twitter joke he did.
Queen Victoria was named Alexandrina Victoria of the House of Hanover. She chose her royal name to be Victoria. And so… Queen Victoria, queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India.
As much as I wish my journey was about music or royalty, my journey of changing my name is one of self-empowerment, family connection, and community connection.
That’s me, Leah L., hugging my Great Grandmother. It’s 1985. I’m obsessed with movies and wearing a Care Bears shirt and a cheezy grin.
At this point, I still liked my name. I was named after a little old lady who come into my mom’s work. It was a Bible name too, something that was important to my parents.
Around the time I heard the bible story and how ugly the character of Leah was, I soured on my own name. It didn’t help that, in the story, Jacob didn’t want to marry Leah, but she’d pop out his kids.
Great, my namesake is an ugly baby factory.
Good thing I didn’t learn this story in a kid’s bible class with kids I went to school with…oh wait I did.
There was also a Star Wars character with a similar name to mine. She kissed her brother. I was made fun of A LOT on the playground.
I also don’t know why I would go by Leah L. I didn’t even meet another Leah until I was an adult. There was NO ONE to get my name confused with for decades.
First name change.
As much as I promised myself I wouldn’t marry someone with the last initial L, I did. Not only did I marry someone whose last name started with L, but now there was only one letter difference from my first name to my last name.
What can I say, I really loved this guy. (Still do BTW!)
Married life was a new start with a new name, and it was just wonderful. Changing my name on government paperwork was a headache, but it got done – eventually.
Josh and I met at a video store and had a movie-themed wedding. Not only was I still obsessed with movies, but I had the same cheezy grin.
Second name change.
In 2005, I was really struggling with trying to make a go at filmmaking and writing. I knew deep down a lot of it was my own self-esteem. I was my own worst enemy.
I was reading Power of Myth, an interview with Joseph Campbell by Bill Moyers, trying to re-spark my creativity. Joe talks about a tradition in India when a man wants to change his life, he changes his job, the way he dresses, and he changes his name.
Wanting to start over, I started using the stage name Kate Chaplin. I took inspiration from Katharine Hepburn and Charlie Chaplin. These were two icons for me that I knew I would never live up to, but I would try every day.
Starting out was amazing. Kate Chaplin had no failures, no rejections. It was a clean slate for me to finally start believing in myself.
Being Kate Chaplin for over a decade was exactly what I need to get to work. I made 18 films, published 4 books, and hosted a multiple-award-winning podcast called Kate’s Take.
The name allowed me to switch into creative work mode and switch back to mommy/wife mode. I used to joke it felt like schizophrenia or borderline personality disorder, but that was only to cut to the joke before someone else did. I saw Prince and Diddy get made fun of for their name change. I saw people’s reactions when they learn that P!nk’s real name is Alecia or Lady Gaga’s real name is Stefani.
I wasn’t keeping my stage name or my real name any secret; it’s just when you introduce yourself to someone new you have to choose. You can’t go, “Hi, my real name is Leah Leach, but I go by Kate Chaplin for movie stuff.” You just read the room and pick which way they are most likely to Google you.
Choosing a stage name was an extremely empowering thing for me because it gave me permission to start over, creatively.
Dr. Leah Leach
Back to basics with a twist.
In 2017 I was awarded an honorary degree in Metaphysics from the Universal Life Church. This honorary title couldn’t go to a stage name; it had to be a full legal name. Also, I retired from filmmaking a year previous. (Short version – I said what I needed to say in film.)
I posted on social media that it was, “time to get to know who Leah is again” and went into some serious self-reflection and self-work.
Throughout all my name changes, I have been a practicing Buddhist. I first took refuge (privately) at the age of 15. There was no big ceremony as I didn’t have a Sangha (temple/ community).
I learned Buddhism from books and from visiting Lamas.
I kept my religious choice and practice quiet for many years. When I would be asked to join a Christian church I would politely say, “Thank you, but I’m a practicing Buddhist.”
Common comebacks were, “I went through that phase,” or “you know you’re going to hell?”
I mentioned, I kept my religious choice quiet, right? This is kinda why.
During the 2020 COVID pandemic, I was looking for books for the Gal’s Guide Library that focused on feminine inspiration in religion. I bought Wisdom Rising: Journey into the Mandala of the Empowered Feminine by Lama Tsultrim Allione. Before checking the book into the library lending system, I read it from cover to cover.
I had to have this book in my life. So I ordered myself a copy.
This book led me to the Tara Mandala Sangha, to meet Lama Tsultrim Allione, and to a new name.
On September 10, 2022, I took place in a refuge ceremony hosted by Tara Mandala where I took the Upasaka Vows, the Sacred Vows, and the Refuge Vows. I was then given a dharma name.
Lama Tsultrim is the first western woman to become a nun in the Tibetan-Buddhist tradition. She meditated on my picture until she came upon a name. She named me Riwo Rinchen which means mountains of jewels. When she gave me this name she was swift to point out “not just 1 jewel or 3 jewels but many jewels.”
Dharma names can be used as much or as little as a practitioner wants. There is a chance that with more teachings there might be more names or titles, and then you’d have multiple ones to choose from.
I’m still deciding on how I’ll use the name.
The power of that day wasn’t in the name itself. It was in the path it took to get there. The 30-year path of spiritual striving to be a good person, to focus on compassion, the loneliness of being someone’s “only Buddhist friend”.
The power of the day was the acknowledgment by a community that I belonged. That I was welcomed into the circle. That my karma led me to people like me. A naming ceremony was more about being seen and feeling like, “I’ve arrived.”
What I’ve learned through all this is that I didn’t actually arrive anywhere new. I didn’t physically change. A name is a mental shift.
And that choice is always yours.
TINY BIT OF HOUSEWORK
I am a student of the Magyu Lineage (Mother Lineage) under the leadership of Lama Tsultrim Allione of the Tara Mandala Center.
I’ll be going into more detail in further posts and at Tara Circle meet-ups at Gal’s Guide Library. If you have questions email me at email@example.com