I know many people have already talked about the significance of naming, but I’m still fascinated by it. I’d like to cycle way back to Helen, who suggested that names are a kind of “conscription into performance” setting “expectations that people inevitably believe will play out in reality.” This is something that particularly stuck with me since I read it, and I wanted to attempt to navigate the implications of that sentiment and its relation to my life.
The concept of names being a type of performance and expectation has come up plenty of times in this class, once in Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler (which Helen already did an excellent job of exploring), but also in Zone One by Colson Whitehead.
In Zone One, the narrator, Mark Spitz, is a prime example of this performance that Helen describes. Mark Spitz is only the nickname of the narrator, but it’s the only name we’re given. How it originated is not ever explained until the “Sunday” chapter of the novel. In the very beginning of Zone One, Whitehead makes sure readers understand (after a whole two pages worth of descriptions) that Mark Spitz is everybody’s “typical” and “average.” (page 11) He’s nobody special, and definitely the person we’d least expect to survive a zombie apocalypse. This average-ness is tied to Spitz’ identity, so much so that even his high school classmates and teachers expected him to manifest it. These “inferior” qualities are brought to light in a way in “Sunday” when Gary asks how Spitz got his nickname. Mark Spitz tells Gary he was ironically named after the Olympic gold medalist swimmer by the same name, after it was learned that (narrator) Spitz couldn’t swim. It’s the whole “black-people-can’t-swim” stereotype thing. (page 287) Here, I think Spitz is conscripted into a satirical performance, where people expected him to, yes, fit the stereotype of not being able to swim, but also expected him to be inferior, if that makes sense. Through a Roachean lens, I think the people who have molded Spitz into this performance have done a “violence” to him by stereotyping him.
I’m not sure if this is a stretch, but bear with me while I attempt to work through this. I feel as though I can sort of relate to Mark Spitz and the performance/expectations that come with a name. My name is Sakshi (as you probably already know), and there is a very specific cultural meaning behind my name. In Hindu religion, “Sakshi” literally translates to “witness” or “truth.” “Sakshi” is someone who is purely self-aware and is responsible for witnessing events without interfering or being deeply affected. “Sakshi” is someone who is always honest.
Although this isn’t satirical or a nickname, I’ve definitely been conscripted into a performance. My parents used to constantly remind me of my origins and what the implication of being “me” were. Though not everyone is really aware of the meaning behind my name, it’s something that I think about a lot, especially as I get older. For those that do know, I feel extensive pressure to live up to my name’s denotations. Like I am always expected to uphold truthfulness and self-awareness, and often I get frustrated when I fail at it. I think Roach’s use of violence applies here as well, but unlike in the example of Mark Spitz, I have committed a violence when I fail to fit into this performance and uphold the expectations/implications my name carries.
As a side note, I wrote a poem for Professor Abonado’s class (who I mentioned in an earlier post) that I wrote with this class in mind. I think it better explores my name as a performance, and how I haven’t been able to live up it. I’ll hopefully insert it here once I get one quick thing sorted out!