Photo credit: Paula Ramirez
I should’ve been named
Imani or Amara or Anaya or Ebele or...
Maybe my birth certificate should’ve said
Ife or Mesi or Nala or Nia or...
I think her lips should’ve formed
Nkiru or Nyrarai or Sanaa
...but my mother and my grandmother, affectionately known as Bada, decided on my name, and it was nothing like the list above.
In the spring of 1987, Mama and Bada were leaving the bank and just when they were about to open the car door, they stopped, looked at each other, and said my name at the exact same time. Honestly, who can deny the universe on this front? Out of all the names in the entire world, I was announced as, Heather.
Now granted this is adorable, but I have always had the question, why Heather? I mean, let us be honest, how many black girls do you know named Heather? I know — 4, and that is including myself.
Fun fact: there was a Heather I met once working at a Protein Bar in downtown Chicago. As I was placing my order, the woman behind the counter saw my nametag dangling from my chest. After asking me if it was my real name, she shouted, with more excitement I have ever witnessed, at the black cashier down the way. Yooooo I found another BLACK Heather! At that moment, no one else existed. The cashier and I celebrated this rare occasion of amusement with belly laughs. After this brief moment of camaraderie, I checked out and as I walked to the red line, I was filled with a sisterhood I didn't even know I needed.
Here is the thing: we all want to feel included, but I often ask myself the question, at what cost? I have listened to enough parents to understand the weight of naming their child. But — what if that choice is filled with a history that works against you? I know plenty of parents who have chosen a name based on whether or not their child will be able to get a job. Assimilated names: a watering-down of self in an attempt to get into college, receive a scholarship, a job interview. We ring the doorbell of opportunity but our name drowns out our accolades. Not the ability to speak well, our education, our experiences --- a name. If we cannot get into the door, how else are we supposed to create authentic lives for ourselves?
My mother did her best to shield me, and Bada safeguarded Mama and Bada’s mother repeated her mother's attempts. My lineage, both first and last name, has been forcibly forfeited. Heather is —- pleasant, but it is not an accurate representation of who I am or who I could have been.
So when my name is called, I am tied to a dependant narrative that walks into the room with me. No matter the space I occupy, I will always be tied to a muted lineage. Everything I am has been gifted through voice, text, and more blood than any person should hold.
inHERitance: the stories we carry, encourages conversation around what it means to live in this black body with a multi-faceted existence. It demonstrates how important it is for a non-traditional reflection to be the main character, unapologetically. How unlocking opportunities to voice the invisible, make stories accessible through imagery and rhythm. This 50-min solo performance is a reflection emerging and it illuminates the background nuances and a quest for freedom —- including the weight of a name.
What's the story behind your name?
Shows will be at the Kranzberg Arts Center Gallery - 3224 Locust St. Suite 401 St. Louis, MO
Aug. 16th 9 pm, OR
Aug. 17th 4 pm, OR
Aug. 18th 7:30 pm