Why do cults encourage their followers to change their names?

The Importance of Our Given Names

Names are important to our identity. We are given our names by our parents based on their vision of us as people. Parents rarely name their kid ‘Thug’ or ‘Criminal’. They want the best for their children and often name a child after a treasured family member, a friend or an inspiring person. Our names are usually important to us as well, many of us may look up the meaning of our name at some point to try and understand how it relates to us.

Why Do Cults Want to Change Followers Names?

Cults may ask their followers to change their names for several reasons, including:

  • Symbolic of a new identity — Changing one’s name can be seen as a symbolic gesture of leaving one’s old life behind and embracing a new identity within the group.
  • Control and manipulation — Cult leaders may use the name change as a way to exert control and manipulate their followers. By giving them a new name, the leader can create a sense of dependence on the group and its beliefs. For example, controlling the naming of children makes the parents more dependant on the group leader.
  • Privacy and security — Changing one’s name can also provide a level of privacy and security for both the individual and the group. This can make it more difficult for friends or family members to track down the individual, as well as protect the group from scrutiny by outsiders. When group members sometimes share names, this can add to the confusion and obfustication.
  • Breaking ties with the past — By changing one’s name, cult members may feel they are cutting ties with their former identity and the friends and family associated with it, making it more difficult to leave the group and return to their previous life. It can also lead to alienation of friends and family if the follower insists on the use of their new name.

Examples of Cults that Change Followers Names

In addition to Yogi Bhajan’s Kundalini Yoga/3HO cult, there are a number of other notorious cults that asked their followers to change their names, or at least use a special name while operating within the group:

  • The Children of God (now known as The Family International)
  • The Unification Church (also known as the Moonies)
  • The Church of Scientology
  • The Hare Krishna movement
  • The Order of the Solar Temple
  • Heaven’s Gate
  • The People’s Temple (also known as the Jonestown cult)

It’s important to note that while changing one’s name may not be inherently harmful, it can be a warning sign of a potentially harmful group if it is coupled with other manipulative or controlling behaviours.

Yogi Bhajan’s Grand Plan

3HO’s discredited leader, (bogus claims for Kundalini Yoga, business fraud, alleged sexual abuse of followers) Yogi Bhajan, assigned new ‘spiritual’ names to most of his dedicated followers for all the manipulative reasons mentioned. He claimed that these new names were chosen through the use of astrology and numerology supposedly to reflect a person’s destiny.

The general naming convention used in 3HO was 1-to-4 Sanskrit or Gurmukhi words followed by ‘Singh’ for men and ‘Kaur’ for women. Everyone was given the last name Khalsa. For example a woman might be named “Guru Simran Kaur Khalsa” and a man something like “Sat Shakti Singh Khalsa” After his death in 2004, the 3HO organization setup a ‘spiritual name’ service for new recruits to the cult. It was part of many Kundalini Yoga Teacher trainers’ curriculum to be encouraged to obtain one of these names.

Apparently Yogi Bhajan said that “special people” got the names that started with ‘Guru’ or if he named someone ‘Harbhajan’ creating a strange ranking system that was implicit in the name you were given.

Offensive to Sikhs

One issue with these ‘spiritual names’, is that were likely to offend many Indian Sikhs. Yogi Bhajan loved to throw in Hindu names such as ‘Guru’ or ‘Siri’ to grind his co-religionist’s gears. Other examples of ‘Hindu’ style names include Savitri Kaur, Ishwara Kaur, Siri Vishnu Singh. If you were really unlucky, you might get a name like ‘Christ Singh’ and offend any remaining Christians in your life. It is also worth noting that some Indians consider, as a Westerner, taking an Indian spiritual name is a form of cultural appropriation.


Sometimes husbands and wives would share the same first names, such as Guru Tej Kaur and Guru Tej Singh. So many of the arranged marriages in 3HO can be seen as a cruel joke by Yogi Bhajan in his maximum control-freak mode. He would purposefully match up partners that he knew would not get along. This would force one or both partners to become overly reliant on him for advice to improve the marriage. Things could get ugly when they divorced if they both decided to stay in the cult.

Children born into 3HO were given a spiritual name at birth. It’s worth noting how hard it was on children if their parents split. In addition to all of the usual problems for children experiencing a divorce, name confusion could become an added burden. For example one boy had his 3HO name in the summer with dad and was John the rest of the year with his mother. This could be very confusing for a young child’s emerging identity.

Name Reuse and Confusion

It probably wasn’t such an issue in the first few years, but after a while, with the churn in the cult, people joining, becoming disillusioned and leaving and possibly due to Bhajan’s general sloppiness and just ‘winging it’, there was also a high chance that someone else in 3HO had the same name already. Of course, reusing names might have all been part of Yogi Bhajan’s plan to turn his cult followers into replaceable ‘turban-shaped objects’. To this day, the two criminally-indicted Hari Jiwan Singhs in 3HO continue to cause confusion.

Funny or Offensive?

Names being names, there was always the risk that you might get a name that sounded funny or offensive in English. Guru Raj Kaur, sounds a lot like Garage Car. Guru Rattan Kaur, gets distorted as Guru Rotten Kaur. Kirtan Kaur Khalsa or Krishna Kaur Khalsa results in the unfortunate initials ‘KKK’. This might be seen as especially problematic for an African American woman.

The Cost of a Spiritual Name

Anyone thinking of taking a new ‘spiritual’ name from the 3HO/Kundalini Yoga cult, will have to pay money to the group to obtain a new name. In the interest of helping people save some money and reducing wait time, we have created a free, do-it-yourself option. It is entirely possible that no one will ever know you didn’t pay for your new name. But if are challenged, just say that Yogi Bhajan showed up in a dream and gave it to you. History suggests that they will believe almost anything in this group.

Click Here: Free 3HO Spiritual Name Generator



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