A person’s name is the very first impression they give. One’s name is the foundation of all interactions. A name is deeply important. A name sustains traditions stemming from family ties, cultural history, and personal beliefs all of which tie oneself into the surrounding community providing a level of relatedness.
My legally given name is Henry Thomas Bernhardt. Henry Thomas Bernhardt, a name paired with my face, a name that is uniquely mine, a name that connects me to my family, my heritage, and my faith. Henry is a homage to my English and Irish heritage, a sign of good fortune given its royal roots. Thomas, my middle name, serves a dual purpose. Thomas is the name of one of the twelve disciples and my saint name given after my confirmation. In Catholicism, when given a saint name it is thought that one specific saint serves as a special patron. My mother, as an alumni of Saint Thomas University, my middle name connects me to my familial beliefs of education as well as my roots here in Minnesota. Bernhardt, my father’s familial name, connects me to my Germanic roots. Names connect their holder to the world around them. My name connects me to my relatives, my heritage and my beliefs. But far beyond connections my name is my own to use and share.
Yaa Gyasi’s novel Homegoing names are used as an identifier. Names show one’s affiliation by means of the use of familial names, European names, and nicknames. James is an example of the phases and importance of names in Homegoing. With his given name being James, a white British name, his parents broke family and community bonds. His name disconnected himself from his heritage and fused himself with the European settlers. Upon running away from his family and attempting to grow crops James takes on a new name inlight of his misfortune while farming, Unlucky. When looking back on his family’s involvement in the slave trade James states: “That was my father and grandfather’s work. It is not mine.”(103) He didn’t add that because of their work, he didn’t have to work, but instead could live off the family name and power.” Names hold power, whether it be positive or negative.
A name is a picture, a picture of family, a picture of history, a picture of heritage and deeply rooted meaning, a picture of connections and culture tying oneself in with the world around. Names can be given and taken. Given in a fit of punishment and dehumanization and given for all the antipodal reasons. Names can be stripped and taken by the possessor or their peers, names can be taken as a sign of growth and change. A name is a snapshot of a person’s entire life and beyond. From Henry to James, names carry meaning, baggage, disconnections and connections.