The Power of your Name
By Glenis Redmond
In many indigenous traditions, the act of naming is important and rituals are performed before a child is named. It is my belief that our names are our tags and our handles, because we are called by them, they make profound impression on others and ourselves as we move out into the greater world.
For instance, the Yoruba tribe, where my family originates in West Africa name their children within certain parameters: existentially and essentially.
Existential name - relates to the child’s personality.
For example my name: Glenis Gale in Gaelic translates to: Valley Wind
Essential name – refers to the family or child’s namesake.
For example my namesake: Glynis Johns, a flamboyant South African born Welsh actress
Ironically, I gave birth to my twin daughters in 1989 during a time that I was not consciously aware of my Nigerian/Yoruba roots, let alone their naming practices. I did not take the DNA blood test that revealed my African the exact location of bloodlines until 2006. Yet, somehow I still followed this tradition connected to my paternal lineage.
My first-born I named: Vivian Celeste. Her first name Vivian is taken from my mother who is named Jeanette Vivian. Her second name Celeste is taken from my artistic inspiration: the heavens, which are very much aligned with Celeste’s spirit. She is an artist. She is also flighty and ethereal like the cosmos. She possesses sky medicine. Though not conventional in her approach to anything, she generally adds a certain celestial energy to any conversation or artistic project. Also, her favorite color is blue is reflected in this poem.
My daughter Celeste
thinks the color blue
belongs to her.
Name a child after the heavens
you will get an insistent star
claiming she owns the sky.
My second born, Maya Amber is named after my literary mother: Maya Angelou. For the longest Amber wanted to be a brain surgeon and I thought that I had made a mistake in naming her. At age 11, Amber took a high school poetry workshop with me, while I was working in Lafayette, Louisiana. When it came time to share, the students proclaimed Amber a poet based on her poem that she read. I still use her poem in my poetry packet developed for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
No Dainty Daisy
You may look at me and see a 4 ft. 11” small dainty daisy,
but I am a strong tree that's roots pass through Africa and Scotland.
I am the comfort that comes after watching swans glide
through the crystal clear lake
the gentleness of a pearl, the softness of a blanket.
Don't let this sweetness of a child confuse you.
I am the rage of a hurricane,
the strength of a cheetah,
the darkness and the brightness after a heavy rain.
So do you see my many different ways?
Don’t try to remember them,
because they change every second.
Oh, did I forget to mention
I don't have to walk on this earth.
My name is Amber,
I am earth.
She is still very much a poet and following in the footsteps of her namesake and myself. She is also very much like her second name: Amber. She details this in the last two lines of her Praise Poem: I am the earth. She has always been down to earth and very spiritual in an earthy sense. She has earth medicine. Yet, her first name impinges on her because as Maya means illusion. My daughter, Maya Amber possesses both of these qualities. She is rooted, but illusive.
Once a friend said to me in regards to my daughter’s names: Amber and Celeste, “you have the best of both earth and sky.” It was not intentional, but now looking back, I believe it was spiritual. Naming them felt very trance-like, as if I was writing a poem. I did not have a ritualistic naming ceremony, but I feel like my hand had been guided by the tradition from which I come. I believe I had help from the ancestors. I believe in the power of names. Here is the poem about my own name:
What’s in my Name
There is so much in my name
stars, wind, valleys, jets and the color red.
My name is stirred by a valley wind: Glenis Gale.
Through life I flow except when I was little
and mama said all three of my names
like one word: GlenisGaleRedmond
I’d stop still in my tennis shoes
‘cause I knew I was about to be in trouble.
Mostly I love my name: Glenis.
It was my mama’s first gift
to me on the day of my birth.
She loved a 1950’s flamboyant
television star, Glynis Johns
who flung her feather boa
across her shoulder,
a distinctive diva move --
we share more than just a name.
My name is also the roar a jet
not just any jet, but the one that broke
the sound barrier: Glamorous Glennis.
Poems and stories blare out of my mouth.
They tried to shut me up and quiet my roar,
but I was loud and into everything
cheerleading, dance, track, acting and poems.
Maybe that’s why I got the nickname: Glenis the Menace
after the cartoon character
Dennis. I didn’t mind. I was tomboy too--
-- too smart for my britches.
Daddy called me Linus ‘cause
until I was five I carried a tattered blanket
around to keep me safe from bogey man.
Mama made all my fears disappear in the light of day.
She called me pumpkin and though I did not like pumpkin
I liked the way she said it and it made me feel loved.
Kids at school called me: Glen as in Campbell.
‘cause his song Rhinestone Cowboy was all the rage.
It fit too, ‘cause I was kinda country
and from South Carolina and something
the nickname made me glitter.
There is so much to my name
and I hold them all:
the soft round sweetness
that my mama fed me,
the glow of stars,
the sonic boom of jets,
the wind in the valley,
but mostly the pluck
in the diva-like attitude
that dances in the valleys
but always gathers steam
and rises up
What’s in my Name is a poetry workshop that I teach across the country. I empower students of all ages to investigate their names poetically. It is a cathartic practice. I highly recommend it.