What’s In a Name? -by Neo Blaqness
I was out of high school when my mother remarried. I am kind of glad I was. Not that the man she married wasn’t a good man. He was retired military and retired postal worker – a widower who had finished raising 10 children alone. Combined with my mother’s 6, you can imagine what the family gatherings were like.
One day he was sitting around complaining about “black ghetto names” saying “what happened to nice names like Mary or Martha or Wilma”. I got pissed. The first time I heard that was from a retired black Baltimore Television News Anchor who was giving me pointers in the news business. When he said “What the hell is wrong with these women naming their kids Shaniqua or Laquisha and all this made up crap? Don’t they know these white folk take one look at that name on a resume and put it on the bottom?” Who knows? He may have been right, but I still got pissed.
It seemed to me that unless you were straight off the boat and black, any attempt at a self-identity apart from what was bred into you was ridiculed and seen as a threat with even black families getting upset when their sons and daughters dropped their white “Christian” name when joining the Nation of Islam or radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh clowned Kwanzaa as a “made up holiday” as though the descendants of former slaves have no right to the dignity of restoring their own heritage as best they can.
African Americans are not French or Irish or English or Danish with family crests extending back a thousand years. We have to be defined by a whole continent because nobody cared enough to let us remember exactly where we came from. A name is the most precious gift a parent can give a child and each time a black person chooses a name that is apart from the history of slavery in this country, that is not ghetto, it is progress. Unless you think black people are like pets who have no right to choose their own names.
In the 1990’s when I would speak at different churches and events, I had this one minister who would introduced me as a different kinda brutha because I didn’t whoop and holla but by the time I got done, the congregation did. People wasn’t quite used to a young speaker who mixed black history with Bible principle and challenged minds to do more than just wait on da lawd. If Malcolm X was a Christian he wuda been me.
Later in 1999 the Matrix movie came out. I was invited back to speak at another event with that same minister. When he introduced me he said “Now the last time I told yall he was a different kinda brutha. And he showed you that he was. He is a new kinda blackness. This is why we marched yall. For this kinda child. And excuse me if I borrow a little from a movie I saw this weekend. He is The One. He is the New blackness. He represents our Neo blackness. So let me introduce to yall Mr. Neo ‘The One’ Blackness. And just so we make it real ghetto, that is blaq with a ‘Q’.
And with that, I found my name. It was like Saul becoming Paul. It fit. I never felt comfortable with my given name. Especially after discovering, at age 20, that my father wasn’t my father and it explained a lot about how family secrets and lies can set someone up for destruction. But God had other plans for me.
It took me years to fully embrace ME for how I was made. Fighting against everything that was bred into the DNA of slaves for nearly 500 years. Fighting against the fear within white people of my awakening, and the ignorance of my own people that it was possible for a black man in the hood to walk and talk intelligently. I never asked to be a different kinda brutha. I don’t want to be Tha One. I’m not a part of some black movement. I am simply moved by the spirit to be exactly who I am and to someday make the very meaning of my name irrelevant. –Neo Blaqness