One of the most important things parents can do for their child is give them a name. You want your son or daughter’s name to reflect their personality, their spirit, their character, their identity, their very essence. But how can you determine any of those things before you’ve even met the person?What an incredibly important and sacred responsibility. As our first daughter’s due date quickly approaches, my wife Kathryn and I struggle to come up with a solution to this task.
As I was brainstorming, I was reminded of a poem written by my brother from another mother, D. Noble. D, born Demetrius Noble, is a Greensboro-based poet and father who recently changed his name to Olokun Shangol Olugbala. His poem “Remember the Names” explains why:
“…I forgot how to pronounce the divinity of my name. I lost the birthright of my father. Never knew the name of my mother. I was forced to discover false tongue that created a language that kept me in bondage. And I responded with silence. A mute voice that led to a mainstream cute choice. Robert Arnold or Richard Christopher. Not Bakrai Shangol, or Zayid Olugbala. With false hopes of a better day and a second look at a resume, I denied my identity and named my son William Timothy. Spirits. Forefathers. Ancestors. Forgive me … the cost of assimilation is depraved insanity. Only a crazed man would reject himself and don the title of someone else. I have prostituted myself for psuedo-acceptance and marginal wealth.”
I play the poem “Remember the Names” for the students in my Music and Political Movements class at N.C. Central University. It captures the revolutionary spirit of the Blacks Arts Movement, as D explains the sacred significance of naming. He also reveals a tremendous crisis for the descendants of Africans who were (and still are) violently stripped of their heritage in this country.
Several of my students, many of whom are parents themselves, admitted experiencing pressure to choose “safe” or “mainstream” names for their children for the purposes of getting ahead in society (whatever that means). Courageous scholars and artists such as D. Noble help remind us how dangerous that assimilationist attitude can be. His beautiful daughter is named Kimani Oshun.
While my parents did not have the same convictions and methodology as D. Noble, I think they did a wonderful job naming me and my siblings. They had a formula that they stuck with for each of us and the results were original, endearing and accurate. There were three ingredients to their recipe: 1. Pick a strong, original name to reflect individuality and character. 2. Pair that original name with a family name, which roots the child in their heritage and ancestors. 3. Slap “Freelon” at the end for name-recognition and nepotistic capital (joking, of course).
My older brother, Deen, took the middle name Goodwin from his great uncle on our father’s side. Eighteen months later, my sister inherited our grandmother Elizabeth’s name and became the charming Maya Beth Freelon. I was fortunate enough to be blessed with two family names: Pierce and Randall; my mother’s maiden name and my great grandfather’s middle name, respectively. My wife and I decided to use my parent’s formula to name our first child, Justice Proctor Freelon.
The name Justice is strong, dynamic and flat-out [awesome]; he sounds like a superhero (and, indeed, he is one). We had other potential candidates including Proctor (as a first name), Randall and Bishop but on the day he was born, at the moment I first looked into his eyes, I knew what time it was. His middle name, Proctor, is my wife’s maiden name – a name that is endowed with incredible strength and proud legacy. If only naming this girl were so easy.
We have some ideas. We like the family names: Stella, Cuyjet, Billie and Tate. We like the creative original/historical figure names: Zora, Naomi and Kenna. However, we have yet to stumble upon that gem that renders all other candidates obsolete. And I don’t think we will know what her name is until we meet her. How could I possibly know my daughter’s name before I get to experience her presence? I am confident that when I look into her eyes for the first time, hear her voice, feel her touch, smell her poopy butt, I’ll know.
Note/update: this article is a re-post from the News and Observer (and the baby was eventually named, Stella).