For Names Sake


As a kid we were proud of our Welsh name. My father would tell us that we’re “warriors, Nordic savages. We can handle anything.” My name was important to me but for different reasons. My name came from my adoptive grandparents, lovely people. I have love ties to my name, not genetic. It represents years of my life growing up in turmoil of young single parents, and having brief moments with my Welsh grandparents that I cherish dearly.

My first marriage (my practice marriage) I took my husband’s name. I didn’t take on the name change with the understanding of what my action meant, it was my duty and the status quo, and I fell for it. My second husband and I decided that we were going to scrap our old married names and pick a name we liked. So we chose a simple, meaningful word as our last name: Black. From the definition of “soiled” to how we take our coffee, the name is perfect.

I’ve been studying race at a university and the term “black” has taken on a new meaning to me. My name is used to reinforce a binary relationship between white and black people. It’s used to classify people into a group that is not representative and inclusive of their beautiful complexities. The word black is used to oppress people. It carries deep-seated anger and ignorance. It’s complicated and I like having it as my name.

I have two kids that were given their father’s last name at birth. When I divorced him, I wanted to return to my Welsh name but felt that my kids should share my name as well as their father’s. I approached their father to ask if he would sign off to add my name to my kids. He refused. Talking nonsense about the norm, about the difficulty of learning two names, this wasn’t enough to keep me from applying for their name change. We sat in front of a judge years ago. I made my case and now my kids have my given name included in their names. They have two last names and so do I.

I fantasize on times when names brought rich cultural links between families and communities. From some of my readings it seems that names have been changed to avoid association with the “wrong” crowds. Names have brought more power to the powerful and stripped away identity from the oppressed. From where I stand names have lost some of the weight they once carried and with this our history as people has also fallen away. Are we Americans? Are we more complicated than that? Will our names ever serve as our flags to the world, flying high? In my ideal world our given names would be a way of proudly connecting to our lineage.

This post is response to the Weekly Writing Challenge on names.