Rhainey Watts-Cunningham wasn’t always Rhainey Watts-Cunningham. For 38 years, she was Lorraine Watts Otjen (“Rainey” for short). Life was good, but “I often felt like I was being run over by people. I had a lot of giving, caring qualities — I was a counselor, in fact — but I tended to over-give, always putting others first. I didn’t have a lot of boundaries.”
While planning her wedding in 2011, and with an impending name change already on the brain, she decided to go big. Instead of just swapping her last name, Rainey met with professional name expert Maryanna Korwitts, who helped her revamp the whole thing.
Korwitts (aka “The Name Whisperer”) has worked with hundreds of women and men who want to “tune” their names to better reflect their personalities or alter the perception people have of them.
She suggested adding an “h” to Rainey’s first name and recommended hyphenating her middle name, Watts, with her soon-to-be-husband’s last name, Cunningham.
“Names have subliminal impact on people, and while Rainey signals the archetype of the caring rescuer, Rhainey gives a sense of strength and leadership,” Korwitts explains.
The new “Rhainey Watts-Cunningham” noticed the difference immediately. “That became my backbone. I started finding my voice and developed a better sense of my boundaries.” She also ended up leaving the counseling profession and becoming a feng shui expert; Korwitts also helped her rename the business from Dream Design Group to Vielibra (a blend of “life” in French and “balance” in Greek).
Clients seek Korwitts out for help naming their children, or navigating a career leap, divorce or other major life transitions, but sometimes — as with The Counselor Formerly Known as Rainey — it’s to bring out certain hidden qualities in oneself.
“Names are an energy language unto themselves and we can use them to direct and support our life goals,” Korwitts says.
Consider the nicknames for Patricia. Trish “makes her relationships her world, caringly attracting friends like a magnet while often putting herself last. Patty is an independent, self-sufficient, no-nonsense pioneer who loves proving she can meet life challenges on her own.”
Baby-name expert and nameberry.com cofounder Pamela Redmond Satran says “the older people get, the rarer it is for them to change their names, especially if there’s no legal reason such as marriage or divorce.” She does know one woman, who at 65 added a new middle initial to her fairly common name to avoid confusion with other people.
Be forewarned that legally changing your name, even if it’s just Cat to Kat, can be a major pain, requiring all new documentation — driver’s license, Social Security card, passport, credit cards and more. And you might get some backlash. (Rhainey’s mom, for instance, isn’t a huge fan.)
But if you’re looking to evolve personally or professionally, “one of the quickest ways is through a name change or adjustment,” says Korwitts.
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