What's in a name?

March 28, 2018
Aerial view of sections of the North-South Highway, which is to be named in honour of former Prime Minister Edward Seaga.

"Yu head big lacka fi mackerel! Gwey, mackerel head!" Those teasing words, playfully thrown at me as a lickle big-head boy, are part of the story behind why 'mackerel head' was one the several nicknames I had as a child.

I was also called 'stringy-stringy sheriff' at one time, because I was the one in the tear-up merino who always wanted to be the sheriff when we played cowboys. Happily, those names never stuck with me.

The name 'Blakka' was given to me by my primary-school classmates in an effort at ridiculing my dark complexion.

That one stuck because I embraced it and deflected the attempt at race shaming in the spirit of the discourse on black self-hate versus 'loving blackness' that is raised in the book Black Looks Race and Representation.

I remember arguing years ago with a member of Edna Manley College's admin staff who resolutely refused to say 'Blakka' because she was too stush fi use 'alias name'.

Well, I pointed out to her that she could never tell the late Professor Ralston Milton Nettleford that she nah call him 'Rex'. Nor would she dare challenge Mr Gordon Stewart on his wish to be known as 'Butch'.

I also told her that she could never be my wife or my mother and only dem can call me Owen. She eventually changed her stance.

Peeps, there are stories behind every name. I know a man called 'left-breast' because he only sucked from one side of his mother as a baby.

I know another man called 'Pot a Porridge' because he was a very greedy pickney. So one time dem boil a big pot of porridge fi him alone and threaten him with beating whether or not he finished it. Of course, him whaps it off!

I'm thinking about names as I sit sipping tea and enjoying the debate about the naming of a leg of the new highway in honour of former PM Edward Seaga.

And I'm shaking my head because we still haven't renamed Lady Musgrave Road, which was created because a powerful white woman took offence at passing a black man named George Stiebel's magnificent Devon House on her way to King's House.

Then there's Trench Town, named for a white Irish man, even though you can find about a dozen famous, iconic black Jamaicans for every street. Yeah, join di debate an call mi names!


Other Commentary Stories