Saturday, December 18, 2010

What's in a Name?

Back when my kids used to watch Sesame Street, a clip of the amazing Maya Angelou singing The Name Song was in heavy rotation on the show. It went like this:

Maya's my name.

It's a fine name.
It's not your name, but it's fine just the same.
Stand right up and say it proudly.

Maya is my name.

Oh, yes, it's my name
and I'm not gonna change it.
It's my name and I like it just fine.
It's my name and no one can take it.
Maya's my name and I'm proud that it's mine.

(other verses like):

Your name's Lexine.

That's a fine name.
It's not my name, but it's fine just the same.
Stand right up and say it proudly.

Lexine is my name.

Oh, yes, it's my name and I'm not gonna change it.
It's my name and I like it just fine.
It's my name and no one can take it.
Lexine's my name and I'm proud that it's mine.
[ From:

I sang that with my children all the time, with my name, of course, being replaced by "Mommy" and your name being replaced by, um, their names. You probably figured that part out, you're pretty bright like that. Sometimes we'd look through family photo albums and add the names (or titles - like Mommy) of loved ones to the song, too. I would be remiss if I didn't add at this point, Mommy and Daddy and all the rest of those familial titles are wonderful - and they're great - incomparable - roles. Just don't EVER forget that there's a name behind them.

Say my name.

It's a good song and a simple way to reinforce the notion that you are someone.

I couldn't help but be reminded of Kunta Kinte. He never became Toby. They beat him, they enslaved him, they cut off his foot, but, though they tried, he never let them take his name from him.

Sometimes I'd picture him with Maya and a lovely racially diverse group of Sesame Street kids singing: Kunta Kinte's my name. It's a fine name...

(I know - I should really limit the glimpses I give you into my mind. It's weird there. And not always entirely appropriate. Sorry.)

Last week my youngest daughter told me about a girl who was being bullied at school. She wasn't really a friend of my daughter, but my daughter was aware of her. I listened while she talked, then asked, "How could you help this girl feel better?" Her answer surprised me: "When I see her in the halls, I'm going to smile and say hi and always use her name."

"Always use her name?"

"Sure. It feels great when someone says hi to you and calls you by name - especially if they're not really one of your friends."

My eldest daughter jumped in at this point to offer her unqualified agreement.

Say my name.

My name is easy. Every little bit of it. Tammy Lu Hunter Howard. No one has EVER mispronounced my name. But some of you are not so lucky. My daughter Lea (pronounced Lee-ah) is called as Lea (pronounced Lee) in waiting rooms and classrooms all the time. That one's an easy fix. But many names are more difficult. When I taught ESOL I had a student who always said, "Call me Johnny." This concerned me. If he WANTED to be called Johnny because he was trying to Americanize his identity, I could respect that. But if he wanted me to call him Johnny because he was just tired of correcting people and wanted to make it easier on them - on me - well - I really didn't want to encourage that. It's your NAME, dude! We deserve to hear our names pronounced correctly. Often. We may even - at the risk of appearing melodramatic - need it.

Say my name.

A couple days ago a pink envelope arrived in the mail, addressed to me, not the family. "Why did Memaw send a Christmas card just to you?" asked my daughter, who had brought in the mail.

"And why is it pink?" asked the other. I smiled and told them it wasn't a Christmas card, it was a birthday card.

"Bit late, isn't she? Your birthday is in September. You'd think your mom would know..."

"It's not the anniversary of my birth", I reminded them, "it's the anniversary of my adoption. It's an anniversary that only really means something to Memaw and Pepaw and me."

They had run off by that point, bored with it already - but I considered: It's not the day I came into the world, but it's the day I got my name.

Now, I'll be honest with you - because I always am. I have not always been in love with that name. Tammy Lu? Really? What sort of future did they have in mind for me when they settled on Tammy Lu? (shudder) Tammy Lu was Dad's idea. Mom liked Anna Marie. I wonder if Anna Marie would have had a different life than I did.... It's possible, but entirely theoretical. Because I'm not Anna, I'm Tammy. Tammy's my name, it's a fine name...

And 48 years ago today - although I'd been born months before - it became so.

Say my name.


Cheryl said...

I got all goosebumpy. Happy Name Day, Tammy Lu.

Unknown said...

Happy Name Day, Tammy. Great post.

Unknown said...

Aww Tammy, this made me feel choked up and filled with happy tears. Happy name day my dear friend............and Tammy is a fine name.

Pam said...

Happy Name Day to you! How very sweet that your parents celebrate the day you joined your family. That seems pretty enlightened considering the secrecy surrounding adoptions 48 years ago! Your lucky to have such forward thinking parents.

You are also lucky to have such kind and compassionate daughters. That poor girl who is being bullied will probably always remember the kindness extended to her by your sweet daughter. Kudos to you!

Joanna Jenkins said...

Tammy Lu Hunter Howard you gave me goosebumps and made me cry, then smile. This was wonderful.

I love that your folks sent you the pink card to celebrate a very special day in all of your lives.

Thanks Tammy Lu Hunter Howard, you brightened my day.

xoxo jj

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

You know, it makes sense and I kinda knew it. But now I REALLY know it because you told me in a way that gave me goosebumps, and I'll never forget. Thank you, Tammy, and thank your daughters, too.

Rosa said...