You will spend your life in this state of back and forth with your name, wearing it differently with each phase of your life. You will spend a lot of time wishing that you were named something else, wishing you had been called “Ashley” or “Crystal” as a child, playing make believe and trying on different identities with your friends in the school yard. Painfully, you will learn to write your name in full, stumbling over your middle and last names, decorating it with things like butterflies and brown-eyed susans on your desk at school.
Your name sounds just like the names of many of your peers here in the south. Emily Henderson. A green and yellow name. A name that fits neatly into your “Hello, My Name Is!” sticker on your first day back to school. A name to be paired with your last initial during roll call and nicknamed by every close friend you'll ever have. You think very little about your first name being your great-grandmother’s name, a woman you only know from a faded black and white photo in a burgundy frame nestled in among the souvenirs from your parents’ former lives. You will think almost nothing of your name as a whole until you are older, when you have achieved your impossible dream of becoming what you have always wanted to be—a writer.
It will not be until you are signing your name to everything that will be read by others that you begin to wonder how people are reading that name. You will, painfully, wonder if your Inuk voice will be understood as an Inuk voice without an Inuk name to pair alongside your words. There is a part of you that will be haunted by this specter of authenticity, one from your father’s own creative past. An Inuk artist, his name had been altered and changed by others to fit the taste of a southern market, an artificial name derived from the place of his birth. It was a name stitched together and pulled apart, toyed with to appear more exotic and frequently misspelled across the decades of his practice.
Jonasie Faber Family (n.d) Courtesy Bearclaw Gallery
For a while this will be a game, you will Google him and show your friends the ways this name has been reinvented and butchered in a spectacular game of telephone between galleries and enthusiasts. It will remain a game until, one day, you will be faced with your own questions about your name, your voice and your identity as your fingers hover over the keys spelling out your name on the page. While it will not be the first time you will question your Inukness, it will be in response to the first time that someone will have made an assumption about your identity based on your English name paired alongside your work. Although I cannot stop you now, I cannot help but implore you from my place in the near future not to write out other names for yourself in the back of your head, reminiscent of your early days of playing “Ashley” or “Crystal”.
You do not have to change yourself to be read as valid, to share your words written and spoken as an Inuk woman. Your name is enough. Your name is strong and a reflection of the multitudes of your family and your story. Your name is your great-grandmother’s. For the rest of your life, you will use it to sign every story you ever tell. You are, after all, what you have always wanted to be—a writer.
Read More Atiq (Naming Your Soul)
This series was made possible with the generous support of the Ontario Arts Council.
This series was made possible with the generous support of the TD Ready Commitment.