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Verne, you asked >>So what's about the name that is so important again?<<
That's where you and I differ.
In my initial response to the topic, I wrote:
>> .... despite your (that's Genevieve) daughter's admonition that a name is just a name. I contend it is far more than just a name. I believe it is basic to our understanding of whom we are; yes a definition of ourselves.<<
My position has not changed since.
Directly addressing the question asked in the topic, my answer is categorically yes it is demoralizing and confusing. Many of us are suffering from the realization that our names do not reflect our real origins. That's why Malcolm dropped Little and had it replaced by X. Many other African Americans likewise have dropped their European names and adopted African names in their place.
My ancestors too have taken on the slave master's name without they ever knowing what their real original name was. It would not have mattered that much if this was a case of a loving adoption. But as the intent was to completely disassociate us forever from our original stock, to make us feel as though we had nothing, and never had a beginning, I do find it downright insulting and criminal. What's my real last name? I haven't the slightest clue, but I do know that it could never have been DeCoteau since France is not a part of the African continent. Who knows, my last name might well have been Bempa, Zirimenya, Anan, Mandella, Nkrumah, Osakwi, even Obama or whatever other African last name. Instead my forefathers took DeCoteau as though they were of French ancestry. I doubt very much that I have or they had even a little drop of French blood in them, unless there were cases of rape. I cannot tell you how many times white people have automatically assumed that I am able to speak French because of my name.
That so many of us Black folks have turned that misfortune into a positive, is tremendously admirable, and something to be proud of. Hence a Vivian and Vernon Louison who refused to allow the circumstances of their birth to deter them from becoming exemplary Gouyavemen; which incidentally is the real theme running throughout A PLACE CALLED GOUYAVE. So of course it mattered little what last name you Vernon has. You might have still risen to the top whether your last name was Mandela or Churchill or even Hitler. In that sense therefore I am in complete agreement with your point of >>the limited significance of our "assigned names"."
But that, my friend, refers to individuals or parts and not the whole race. In no way does it mean that the group in general were not affected. It's like saying since there were free African Americans during slavery it minimizes the devastating effects slavery had on Black people as a whole.
That's my real point which you are apparently failing to grasp in its totality. But I am guessing that you are coming real close to doing so when you asked >>How then can we embrace the Lilly White DeCoteau's and Louison's of France or the British Smith's and Campbell's as being related to us when in fact our only commonality is that of our last names?<<
Isn't that what I've been asking all along!!
Finally, I am joining you in asking Lady G to give her input on this topic. After all she started it, didn't she?
Engaging in this 'allocated name' moral puzzle debate of complexities, about slaveowners passed down surnames to individuals to me has ethical and moral implications, for example, the name on a birth certificate should be the ‘correct’ name of the mother and/or father. So when does a ‘passed down’ name become legally valid for the purpose of certification? Legally how did it become the correct name to be included on legal documents? For argument sake, if my father was allocated the slaveowner surname ‘Ferray’ and my mother’s allocated slaveowner name ‘Goulard’, morally, why should my mother be known as Mrs Ferray? When not an ounce of Ferray’s blood might be flowing in my father’s veins?
Logically, with regard to pronunciation, the surname is not yours, it belongs to the slave-owner/purchaser or plantation owner, only he can pronounce his official inherited ‘full name’, the way it should be pronounced, not the person who it is ‘passed down’ to in ensuring appropriate pronunciation. So another question arises, when does a ‘passed down’ name becomes part of one’s own inheritance or heritage?
Following, the Shakespeare quote, 'what’s in a name?' The next day my daughter and I had another conversation, I told her that my maiden name was the name of a French slave owner/purchaser. She said nothing, but reminded me that Juliet, Ophelia, etc was names created by Shakespeare himself. I continued, that down the generations, (even up to the now) some Caribbean people have this ‘illusory effect’ or ‘naïve thinking’ based on their own ideology that because their surname is French, or Scottish, or English, whatever,… that somewhere down the generational line, they have French or British ‘family genetic’ underpinning connections. And for some people the surname, for argument sake, L’Etang, ends there – surname of slaveowner full stop. On the contrary, some people are quick to say, my so and so relative, two generations back, or whatever, was ‘mixed race’. That may be the case, the island had what was described as ‘French coloureds’, so I say, yes, fine, but because they had a surname, for argument sake, L’etang, it does not mean they may have blood connections, because even a ‘coloured’ slave may have the name L’etang, but his/her mother could have become impregnated by slaveowner eg ‘James Scott’ and then the resulting offspring at a later stage, sold to L’etang, and becomes the slave of L’etang. Of course, no one is denying for an instant, that this ‘mixed race’ person may have Caucasian blood running through their veins – but that may have been one of the game of slavery - selling/buying cycle – to ensure 'masquerading' change of slave 'surnames' to eradicate paternal or whatever responsibilities.
From my own ethical perspective, when the Emancipation Act was passed in 1834, the freed slaves, should have been given two optional rights, a) keep your slaveowner/plantation owner name, or b) select your own. An 1825 document from the island of Nevis, shows both the slave 'real' African name given next to their English name, eg Enebo - Tom; Abaraga - Joseph; Inguar - George. So, what is dismissive about using the name Enebo instead of Tom?
So 'what’s in a name', to me, the carrying of a slaveowner’s name, carries severe, infringing and hindering implications of loyalty to the dark, gloomy side of the country’s slavery past, with a seemingly lack of yearning or repudiation for complete emancipation from the slavery connection by the users of the names who even today never had the given opportunity to change ‘passed down’ names. For example, some people may not even know that Esprit L’etang was a slaveowner? Is the carrying of a slaveowners’ surname down the generation, a seemingly communal obligation for historical interest, which brings an unpleasant taste in the mouth of one ‘crying out in the wilderness’ with visionary beliefs for its total obscurity from our society? These surnames carries accountability and conjure up an imagery of narrative slavery moral equation which takes into account: suffering, cruelty, tears, torment, racism, robbery of individual voices, robbery of legal self identification, robbery of fundamental rights – that when the focus lens zooms in on the ‘allocation of a passed down name’ with nothing short of the demoralising associated evils of the constant reminder of the slave owners and purchasers surnames. In terms of historical interest, should folks continue to show their communal 'moralising' loyalty to Campbell, L'Etang, Roy, Clozier, Brissac, Ferray, Decotteau, LaTaste,Vincent, Gordon,Mandillon, McSween, Besson, Goulard, by ensuring correct pronunciation...or simply demoralising the 'allocated surnames' by complete and absolute deletion from our dysfunctional life jigsaw puzzle?
Lord, Thy will be done, for the living and the dead are in your Hands, in Jesus' name Amen.