I absolutely love spoken word poetry. There is something very musical, elemental and earthy about it. Almost spiritual. This is one of my favourites. Here you have three speakers carrying what are deemed by some to be unpronounceable names. Names deemed to be unpronounceable are not merely matters to do with the slight offence of going through life being misnamed. The indignity of not being considered worthy of having your name remembered. There is also real material impact that comes with these sorts of names. Research done in the UK shows that to get the same number of interviews as someone with an Anglo-Saxon name, if you were Nigerian or South Asian, you had to send out 80% more applications. This spoken word piece is a reminder for everyone with an ‘unforgettable’ name. Your name has a history. Your name is a history. Names such as these are a ‘cache for memories, lost histories and songs.’ Your name has a reason. It was given to you to let those who wanted to make us vanish know that we are still here. Your name was given to you so that you would never forget that.
Unison: Teachers used to say,
Speaker 1: “Your behavior is just like your last name… “
Speaker 1: In school, I learned a lot more about other people’s names rather than the one closer to my own, as if Matam
Speaker 2: Yamazawa
Speaker 3: Acevedo
Speaker 1: Were so much harder to say than
Unison: Tchaikovsky, Michelangelo, Eisenhower. Like our last names were made of barbed wire, stripping the flesh of those trying to conquer the meanings in their mouths.
Speaker 2: See, my parents names be George, but honestly, I always hated the name George. It reminds me of some
Unison: Old, dead, white guy.
Speaker 2: Being a young, alive, Asian boy, it was hard for me to make the connection.
Unison: I realized my first name didn’t match my background before I knew how to spell assimilation.
Speaker 3: I always wanted a name that set the bar high. That tumbled out of mouths. Somersaulted into a room and split the air. A name like Xochi, or Anacaona, but although I must have punched inside the placenta, my parents decided on something placid.
Speaker 3: A name for princesses, pampered women, and perfume. A name full of grace.
Unison: A name easily washed down with milk.
Speaker 1: Patrick, meaning “leader.” Etymology: Irish, and although I speak French, I am from Cameroon. (Parmis lesquelles est toi là, un lion indomptable*) I would rather a name that would make a throat swell into a song, rather than a sigh.
Unison: Your name is a song!
Speaker 1: Now, I call myself Pages so I can write my own story. It is the only name that I have ever owned.
Speaker 3: I wanted a name of Dominican hills rising, and campesinos uprising, instead of “Long-live the Queen,” but shortened my name to Liz so colonizers had less to hold onto.
Speaker 2: In Japan, your last name comes first. There’s an emphasis on family.
Unison: But in America,
Speaker 2: Your nickname comes first, because there’s an emphasis on accessibility.
Unison: Our parents had to dumb down their identity so our family could fit into a straight-jacket society.
Speaker 2: On countless occasions, I’ve introduced myself, and people would say shit like:
Unison: “But what’s your real name though? That don’t sound very ethnic.”
Speaker 2: You don’t look like a “George.”
Speaker 1: Or a “Patrick.”
Speaker 3: An “Elizabeth.”
Unison: That’s because my name wasn’t given to me. It was given to the rest of the country.
Speaker 1: Because when they hear names like George, Patrick, Elizabeth, what they hear is power, class, intellect. But names like Pedamante, Quvenzhané, Tatsunokochi sound like
Unison: Foreign. Impoverished. Illegal. What they hear is, “GO BACK WHERE YOU CAME FROM!”
Speaker 3: Your name is a dirt pit. It is a black hole, but what they don’t know is that black holes be the brightest source of light.
Unison: I’ve always wished my name was dressed in chain mail, that it was a heavy name, a thick-thigh syllable, shot down with short blades, so when I have my own children, I’m going to name them something special.
Speaker 3: Something to make people stumble on, and guilt-trip over.
Speaker 1: Something to make their skin a little thicker than mine.
Speaker 2: Something to remind their classmates of the last samurai instead of the first president.
Unison: Something powerful. Something real, real ethnic. Something unforgettable.
* A lion that can’t be tamed