Wednesday, December 7, 2016

One Name - Two Stories / One Place - Two Names

One Name - Two Stories

I was welcomed into this world with the story of my birth and my naming. This act is performed in countries all over the world. We name what is born of us or before us. The naming of both people and places provides insight into the cultural and social values attributed by the naming parties to the named. 

My first and middle names are Susan Yvonne. I was given the name Susan because my paternal grandmother had planned on naming her daughter that, but her children were both boys. She asked my parents if they would name their second child Susan, if it was a girl. I was and I carry a name that was held onto for decades until it could finally be given.

My middle name, Yvonne, was given to me by my mother when she initially saw my newborn face. She had decided on another name, never told to me, but changed it to Yvonne as she said I looked like “a beatnik poet.” My mother was quite taken by the beatnik culture and wrapped the love of poetry around me as one wraps a newborn in a blanket.

Beatnik or Beat Girl

Ok...I believed the above about my middle name being chosen by my mother for 46 years and then someone declared it all untrue. I was telling the beatnik-naming story to a cousin at the annual Dyer family's fourth of July picnic when my father suddenly said to me, "All of what you just said is false. Your mother didn't give you your middle name. I did. I named you after the actress Yvonne DeCarlos. You know, the mother on that TV show called the Munsters. I picked that name because she was hot! That is all there is to it! No beatniks, just a hot actress."

Yvonne DeCarlos - Munster's Matriarch

I felt like my Dad had just casually changed not only how I was named, but my name itself - the meaning of it was so altered and after so many decades. I felt like part of my identity shifted. I liked my mother's story much more than my father's. I didn't want to be named after the Munsters' mom, nor someone that my father thought was "hot." I attempted to question his declaration. Was he instead referring to one of my two sisters and their middle name, not mine? His only answers was, "Goggle DeCarlos!"

How I gained my name was changed and the narrative written for it was erased and replaced; well, maybe. I might vote in favor of my mother's story as it is more mine now than hers or his. I want to be the beat girl I have always been!

One Place - Two Names

Here in Barrow, Alaska, where I currently live, the name of the city that I just typed has been removed and the original name has been reinstated. It is now Utqiagvik, which in Inupiaq refers to a place to gather wild roots. Barrow was the given English name.

All of the city's letterhead, as well as the school district's, is being reprinted. Building names, road signs and maps will be changed, too. The cultural / political / social history of Utqiagvik is on view for all of the world to witness as news stations around the globe report and comment on the story.

Why that change was advocated for is part of the reclamation movement of many of the Inupiaq people here and of other indigenous people across the globe. It is much more than “political correctness." It is taking ownership back over what was taken and occupied by others. Part of that reclamation is the removal of names given by outsiders and the hidden or obvious negative implications that were encoded into them.

Also, and of great significance, it recognizes the pre-colonized or, as local archeologists put it, pre-contact name of this place at the top of the world. The Alaska Dispatch News reported:

"'The authors [of the ordinance] also acknowledged that Inupiaq is the 'original, ancestral language of this area and our people' and that returning [the town name] to Utgiagvik would 'promote pride in identity' and would 'perpetuate healing and growth from the assimilation and oppression from the colonists.'''

The city's Mayor, Bob Harcharek, stated after the name change was approved by voters, "It reclaims our beautiful Inupiaq language."

I still call this place Barrow on occasion as I am getting use to pronouncing the other. What curves me towards Utqiagvik is hearing the elders speak it. I hear their voices wrap around the letters in the name and, with a quick snap of a sound, they say it and claim it. Too, there is always this flash of a smile when they do. It's their's again and they know it.

See the following link for more information regarding the city's name change and to hear the name Utqiagvik pronounced: Barrow, Alaska, Changes Its Name Back To Its Original 'Utqiagvik'

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