What ache is in a name, what hidden loss, what forgotten history?
In the US, you just never know unless you ask. Sometimes you don’t know even after you ask. The vast majority here came from somewhere else in the generations past, and unless we have the story from our elders we don’t even know where that “elsewhere” is.
During my postdoctoral research fellowship I lost some mail. It was sent to Dr. J.Brown and wound up on another scientist’s desk at the hospital in the Bronx. When I arrived to claim it from him, that J.Brown said he was an “Ellis Island Brown”. I asked him, what, people actually live on Ellis Island? No, he told me, but if they couldn’t pronounce the name, and it started with a “B” you were a Brown. Aha, so unlikely we were related, right?
When I asked my father about our family name, where the Brown’s came from, I was in for a surprise. He told me that during immigration at Ellis Island, the US staff there could not pronounce the family name of his father and sister, Bent and Marie, who were Bronander’s from Denmark. A different time, he told me that as Bronander, his father couldn’t get work at the docks on the ships – due to blatant racism against certain Nordic immigrant groups.
I’m not sure of the spelling of the family name, because I’ve never seen it written anywhere on any of our family things. I wonder how different my introductions, my image, my life would have been as “Yanjifer Bronander”, as he used to say it–instead of Jennifer Brown. What else was left behind? What Gods did they worship? What lives did they live? I’ll never know.
I just love Vivek Shraya’s song and video, “ACHE IN MY NAME” and included it here embeded from vimeo. He points out that some of our names are names of the Gods. Beautiful. And it’s filmed in Elephanta caves in India, a place I love and visited alone, looking for a different kind of heritage of mine.
If you haven’t seen it, have a look and listen to Vivek’s inspirational piece:
So who am I related to anyway?
Everyone I guess, if we look back far enough.
Do you have a “name” family story to share? Please leave a comment, I’ll look forward to hearing from you.
You may also be interested in:
DEATH AND THE DREAM, short stories from J.J.Brown available at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/79628 as an ebook edition distributed by Smashwords. The paperback edition is coming soon.