More frequently than most, I'm asked this question. It may be because I have an inviting face, or it might be because often the token black in most situations. But when this amazing book that I was lucky enough to read asked the same question, I was
inspired. "Why do black people give their children such crazy, ridiculous, weird, abnormal names?!"
So, if you've seen roots, you already know the answer to this question. But I plan to dive into the recesses of my mind, recall my education, and share it with all who are truly interested in honestly knowing.
Let's take it way back. Briefly delving into slave days, fast forwarding past the importing of humans who were perfectly happy where they were. These people, were also happy with the names that they born with, the names that tied them to the place that they had just recently been ripped from. Unfortunately, Slavers had a hard time pronouncing those "savagely names" so they just gave their newly acquired property new, more 'appropriate' names. Names that were easier for them to say, names with letters that coincided with the alphabet of the slavers. If you've seen Roots, this is the part where Kunta refuses to be called Toby. Fast forward through a few revolts, a civil war, and the emancipation proclamation; and some of those sweet slavers lent their surnames to their former property, nice right?
So, what's in a name? Imagine being ripped from your home, separated from your family, brought to a new place where you don't know the language; only to then find out that you don't have any personal rights anymore. You don't even have the right to go by your given name. The name that your parents chose especially for you. The one that identifies you. You're given a name that makes you more like the ones who own you, but every other aspect of your life reminds you that you will never ever be like them. That you will always be beneath them. Generations go by, and You... Yes you, because the collective us, them, we, is You... Finally you earn a modicum of freedom, and when you get a chance, you give your child a name that means Freedom, Mine, Special. You go back your roots.
Now I will say that as of late we have gotten a little out of hand with the name thing, maybe like a lotta out of hand, but the Why remains the same. Yes, we, they want to be different. Society will remind us every single day that we are, so this is one way to have ownership of it, this is our Control over it. But also, if you see a kid named Ja'Quarius, I'm going to bet you money that one parent's name is Quan, and another Janelle. Black people tend to include loved ones by adding an extra middle name (with a twist of course) But as you may well have noticed, other races, particularly whites tend to just name their children after those loved ones. So you get more Juniors and thirds, Emmas, Roberts, and Johns, oh so many Johns in the world this way. Sidenote: Black people want to be in class on the first day of school, and be the only one with their particular name. It's a personal offense to be Keisha B or the 'light skinned Keisha.' I almost lost my shit when another Felicia W showed up at the Mission; don't even know her and I hate her. Like I really had to question my mom, Again, about the whole Felicity Thing!
Back to the serious stuff... Take for
example my friend Monzleishia. She is named after her grandmother. It is a family name, it means something and it is rooted in culture. From the outside looking in, people with different backgrounds may judge, and even withhold important positions due to that
judgment. Even 'friends' make ignorant comments and ask insensitive questions rather than just asking the questions from a place of caring, and legit curiosity.. "How do you say it?" As you can see asking "What was your mom thinking?" and "What are the origins
of your name?" are two COMPLETELY different things.
More personally, we've got my sweet little cousin Hackario. He is named after his grandfather, Hack, who he never got the chance to meet, the grandfather who would be so crazy proud of him. He's our version of a third because his great grandfather is Hack as well; he's our Hackario. Unfortunately, that story won't be on his college applications, future job applications. The part of the world that neglects to dive deeper and ask the question or just Doesn't Care is going to see the name, and judge.
Sameness means acceptance. Due to this known fact, most white people don't mind having a common name, just ask John. White people are born with some semblance of acceptance; keeping it is the problem. A vast majority of folks of color are always striving for that acceptance without even realizing it; I say folks of color because black people aren't the only ones. We all do things that we don't even think twice about: Relaxing our hair, extending our hair, fashion trends, and today's topic, Names. Like previously stated, most white people don't mind naming their child a 'common' name. Substitute common for the more fancy word, Classic. Take Catherine for instance. I think we can all name at least 10 Catherines, Kats, Katies, Kates that we knew growing up. When black folk do that, there's hell to pay, and lots of people to answer to. We as americans in general push our culture of acceptance (lack thereof) on everyone that steps foot into this country. I've had patients who don't speak a word of English to name their children 'American' names that they can't even pronounce in hopes that their children are born with a little more acceptance than they've received.
So, what's in a name? Names have power. I've worked with new moms and babies for a long time, and I always ask what baby's name is. Everyone wants to be called by their given name, or an APPROVED endearment. (If you don't know me, Do Not call me Fee btw). I'm always super interested in the why. Is it a family name? Just a name you liked? The only one you guys could agree upon? Does it have a special meaning in a different but native language? (my personal favorite). If someone has a name you think is 'too difficult', 'too ethnic' 'too weird' don't ask if they have a nickname that's easier for YOU to pronounce. Just ask them how to say it, and how they got it. The stories are so fun, interesting, and often beautifully sad. I once had a family who named their child after an animal, the animal that was on the very first article of baby gear that they bought. Adorable story, interesting name.
So, I feel the need to add this little PSA: We are all different, there is no denying that fact. But we are all the same in that we are all people deserving of the same things, same treatment, love, and rights. Saying Black, White, Gay, Trans, doesn't make you bias, or a bigot (the fact that you're a bigot makes that true) I feel that understand difference makes you aware of and appreciative of those differences. It's no secret that I'm black, you can call me black and describe me to other people as such. No need to dance around it, we need to know more about each other. About what is offensive to those different from us, so we can not do those things, or steer clear of those sensitive ass folk 😂 (I kid).
My name is Felicia Marie Wood.
Felicia: Latin, 'Happy' (I was almost Felicity)
Marie: After my paternal grandmother, was her first name. I'm convinced I was the favorite. And I realize that it is also one of the most common middle names. It flows so nicely. My sweet little niece AB has this middle name as well ❤.
Wood: Means Wood. I'm guessing somewhere back there we were tree people, or our slavers were.
So that's me, what about you?