Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hi, I'd like you to meet my friends Vacation, Darkie and Elvis

I am slowly emerging from the sea of snot. I thank you all for your unexpected well wishes (Loved those! Totally!). Especially the ones instructing me to make the snotty McSnot drunk by means of a hot toddy, something I hadn't thought of, but ultimately had to give a shot to. And voila - saline and tequila (my hot toddy although there wasn't much hot or toddy about it) seem to have done the trick. McSnot's retreating....

And we're onto a more snotless existence. (If I decide to do that Wordle cloud now, what do you think will be the leading word? Anyone?)

But I had something other than snot to say.

Back in August when I was visiting my dear friend Gringa and her incredibly awesome, happening, and lovely family (I'm not just saying that. I really mean it, and am in no way sucking up to them so that they would fit it into their plans and budget [drinks and meat are on me] to visit us here in SA... Who you calling over-the-top-obvious?) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, we decided to inject the visit with a tiny dose of my hood in South Africa.

Since Johannesburg is the new Los Angeles.

What? It's not? The new what?

The new Des Moines, Iowa? Just with skyrocketing crime?

What exactly do you mean by that?

So we went to the movies, and saw District 9. Which was simply awesome, sad beyond belief, well done, thought provoking, point driven, allegorical, necessary, professional, a must see for all, and all sorts of good things all movies should always aspire to be. A movie that should definitely be seen by everyone everywhere immediately following the reading of Rian Malan's My Traitor's Heart.

I'm not shoving anything down anyone's throat here, but if I were you...

Then, this morning, I went to take a shower and started thinking about the name of the main character in the movie: Wikus van de Merwe. And about what I had told my friends in the States about it. That it was the quintessential Boer name. A Boer John Smith, Matti Virtanen, Yung Li, Lars Jensen, or Luis Hernandez. This is what I was told, at least.

Okay, so he is the everyman. As he should have been to further the message of the movie. I thought it was a nice touch, to hammer the point home. For South Africans at least.

And then, as I reached for the weird mineral shampoo which I'm allergic to, but that makes my hair feel and look oh-so-good-and-spiky, I had a thought.

What if your name wasn't quintessentially anything. Or even remotely anything. Or even close to anything to do with names.

How would you like to be called Vacation, Innocent, Cornie, Knowledge, Darkey, Wisdom, Doctor, Elvis, Nice, or Happiness as some of the people in my daily sphere are? What if instead of a name the meaning of which has long since become the last mention in the dictionary, your name was Fortune Prosperous Smith? Would you be able to make it in the business world if your business card read Vacation Freedom Johnson? Would you be more likely to strain for Medical School if your parents already named you Doctor, or would Dr. Doctor Williams just be a tad over the top?

I have always been interested in names, and have studied them quite a bit in my previous life, especially in relation to American slavery. And I've been very interested in the at-times flaring up discussion in South Africa over renaming locations: towns, counties, streets, etc with old names that are far too reminiscent of the horrors of Apartheid.

In fact, I live in Egoli, in the proud nation of Mzanzi.

I like to think I understand the power of names and naming. Especially in cultures in or derived from Africa.

I strongly believe that a person can overcome their name, but also that a name can lead and help a person. I believe that there is a suggestive power to names, but also that names are gifts that need to be accepted and then made our own by imbuing them with our personality.

It is obvious that some of the parents of the previously named individuals, most of whom are children, and like the parents of one of the most famous African American authors of all time Ralph Ellison who was named after the poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, are attempting to pave the way for their children. To give them something to strive after, a constant reminder. A new beginning in a nation where they have equal opportunity.

But I'm left wondering.

Where do poor Vacation, Cornie, and Darkie fall in all of this? What was the initial thinking behind their names? Will they own their names, or be weighed down by them, or never even give their names a second thought?

Let's pretend that this is a rose, and attempt upon that quote that is about the name of the rose and how it still stinks the same even if you call it a sunflower. Or a skunk even. Or not.



Judearoo said...

Excelletn post, not seen the movie yet, but really want to.

Names are funny things, mine means:

'Woman of Judea' (bearing in mind I grew up on Ireland's west coast its not exactly accurate)

Go figure.

Something for you on my blog, my dear!

Tara_LB said...

Hi *waves* long-ish time lurker. First time to comment :)

Names are very powerful. They define things, object, people after all. However, that said, does changing a name change the thing? A certain Shakespearian line springs to mind. Are there not qualities that are inherent in an object or person that makes it what it is. Do you believe that changing a name from Pretoria to Tshwane can really mask, alter or influence the history of that place? Does pretending apartheid didn't happen change the past? Of course not. I feel that certain names should be changed, but I also feel it is important to reflect all the peoples that made the nation what it is today.

And as for Grace, Vacation, and Elvis? Who says that those are their real names? My lovely lady who helps around the house is known as Grace to us whities. I suspect she got tired of us mispronouncing Nomakula. Perhaps it is not the name that needs to be changed, but the preconceived ideas, notions and expectations related to that name.

omchelsea said...

SO in some branches/philosophies of yoga, you can ask for a mantra (aid to meditation) and a spiritual name. The idea behind giving each person a spiritual name is that we're all striving for a better kind of self; more aware, more active (in the world)... closer to divinity (however you conceive divine, we're obviously not talking in the Christian sense) and the name you get sums up the 'seed' inherent in your character which you should strive to develop and nurture. It's interesting stuff.

And yes, I think that names are influential. I have a few students with outlandish names ... and surprise, surprise, their parents are 'garden variety' John and Sallies. (you know what I mean!) Interesting too, how the amount of time we all spend on the internet really does give us the freedom to rename ourselves - and the choices we make!

Possum said...

Good Post! And a good point Tara - does changing the name change the history. Perchance the history needs to be remembered so that it can never be repeated! I also found it really fascinating that when they wanted to re-name the Springboks (our national rugby team) there was as loud an outcrying from those sportsmen who would now no longer be able to achieve the status; simply because it was no longer there & not because of the colour of their skin.

Optimistic Pessimist said...

Wow...this is almost as deep as your posts about the fridge.

I think if someone has an uplifting name they kinda go with it and it does inspire them. No one wants to be named Happy and be sad...that's just too ironic. But the people with funky names that may be considered a downer or odd, i think come to embrace their name and proudly display their own uniqueness. I mean if you can't accept and love your name, how can you expect others to.

Tay said...

The most interesting name I have come across, was a man from Zimbabwe. His name was "Nevermind". It is common tradition to name children after the way the parents reacted when finding out that they were expecting.

Ekanthapadhikan said...

I want to see District 9 too. After reading your post, I immediately saw the trailer of it in Youtube and read about it in Wiki. Sounds very interesting. Waiting for it to be available on line.

Thanks for telling about the movie.

Anonymous said...

I think Cornie has it the worst.

Lisa-Marie said...

Before I was married, my name mean 'Oath og God-The wished for child Judge' The Judge is now replaced by Hughes, which is kind of the same as Smith, but in Welsh. I think people place alot of value on names, and in many places, they are indicative of social class. Certainly in Scotland, by being told a child name you can almost work out where they come from, and teacher can almost work out how a child will do throughout school becuase of that link.

I think names are such a cultural thing, and thw world is so multicultural, that people are not judged on them so much now.

kristine said...

have you read freakonomics? there is a whole chapter about how your name influences you 'destiny' (or whatever you want to call it).

i knew someone once, in ecuador, who had twin boys called andy and ghandi. one was named after andy garcia, the other... well. you can guess. i am really curious how they turned out.