Today’s piece is by Shelby Smith.
Let My Name Speak for Itself
My name is soft, quiet and unheard; no loud vowels to be spoken out of place, nothing that makes heads shake in disapproval. She sits in the corner, her hands in her lap, behaving and forgotten. She is too mild mannered to get up and shout, she knows all too well she will never get the attention she wants, so she accepts her role as genteel. She’s a flavor unknown, but scarcely remembered, like a recipe your mom makes once and it’s perfect, but never makes the same way again. My name is a lilac, sweet and subtle, existing on the periphery, remembered only through visual recognition. My name is almost forgotten, but ever present, old, but modern enough to stick around, like a path smoothed over by road mules used before cars, never paved, but still walked along every so often. The beginning of my name demands silence. The “sh…” murmurs Celtic heritage, enough heritage defined by a heavy brow or a stubborn character, but soft enough to be irrecoverable. The “y” falls short but leaves the speaker satisfied enough to move on. I was not named after a cousin or an ancestor, the name itself was simply created out of thin air, like a seed dropped by a bird. No one knows the origin of the seed, one can only speculate it was a gift from God. My name is borrowed, like something thrifted or found, you know it belonged to someone else, and you can tell by the fit that it will never suit you just right. There may be certain things off, a sleeve too short, a button pulled off to indicate how poorly it has aged, or even sewn in shoulder pads from users before, desperately trying to get that perfect fit. Some people see me in the thrifted thing and attempt to cut another piece of material off to make it look better on me, maybe they believe it will help if they take an inch or two off the sides, “I’ll call you Shel, or maybe just Shelbs”. Even though they are eager with a pair of fabric scissors trying to mangle or cut my name piece by piece, for me, I prefer it intact. I don’t believe I need a name just for me, I think that’s too selfish. My name is quiet, old, and worn, but it’s comfortable enough for me to wear everyday, like a favorite t-shirt. My name is something I was given, who am I to complain if I don’t like it, it was free, like water. I could buy another in an attempt to get something that would fit me better, but I think I’ve become so accustomed to it, nothing would hang on me the same way. It’s a white dress, covered in lace that you find in the back of your grandma’s closet, something old and southern, something she would wear to tea or Sunday service. I don’t think that name belongs to me, but I’m not willing to share it either. My name is mine and I should be content with that. She is elegant and soft, like a petit fours cake or a meringue. She is meant to be spoken with a drawl, or else the name does not apply to her, for above all else, she keeps her dignity. She is a southern belle with golden hair and rosy lips, she carries with her a parasol and speaks kindly to her neighbors. She is radiant, but she is too polite to be boastful, so she is quiet, as to not disturb the mood. My name is pastel, I’d like to think of it as a pastel blue, but I know it’s not the case, it’s a cherry blossom pink, something you’d see painted in a bakery with different desserts. Something tasteful, but also moderate. I don’t know why I was gifted with this name, for, when I was younger, my mother reminded me that I was almost someone else entirely. The idea of existing without my original name, to instead be called “Sydney” seems all so foreign to me. When I was seven, I decided that would be my second name, it was if I had found treasure that only I knew about. I would introduce myself to strangers as Sydney, for me it was a game. This game was not the type you play with other people, but more of an inside joke with only yourself. This game felt like lying, and lying felt exciting. I was a spy, someone whose identity was my own secret. It was then I realized that I was not stuck with my name, but I chose to keep it. My name, my real name, is my own design. She may not fit right all the time, but she is something so close to me, nothing could separate us. I carry her everyday proudly, she is with me when I feel dejected, and she is attached to me when I succeed. She is mine, and I am hers, and there’s no other way I would have it.
Permission was given by the author to publish this work on The SALSA Collective website. Many thanks.
In early 2019, Eilidh spent a semester at Trinity as a Fulbright Royal Society of Edinburgh Visiting Scholar working with the inimitable Prof Norma Cantú. In our class ‘Latinx Cultural and Artistic Expressions’ we read and discussed Sandra Cisneros’ story ‘My Name’ from The House on Mango Street. Students reflected on the importance of names and naming and wrote wonderful responses that we’ll share with you here.
Some students did this piece of work for Spanish credit, others for General Education or Women’s and Gender Studies, so some will be in Spanish and some in English. This not only reflects the bilingualism of Latinx communities but also showcases the students’ development as they learn how to express themselves in these languages.