In the Black community, often times it is FOE. Blood is thicker than water. M.O.B. *wait maybe not that but you get my drift* lol. In fact, Black Twitter has confirmed that we indeed did all grew up in the same household because there are just certain things you know to do.
For instance, you just know to speak when you walk into a room. You just knew to take the meat out the freezer and clean up before your parents got off work. You just knew Saturday mornings involved waking up early to some good ol’ gospel or old school music, and that meant it was time to clean. And you just knew how far to take it cause your Mama ain’t one of your lil friends.
Well, recently, as I’ve been doing a lot of reflection, I find myself questioning the concept of family and all things associated with it. Including how some of the things “we just know to do” influences how we define ourselves and what we represent. I remember the first time someone said “Oh he’s a (*insert last name*). They’re known for x-y-z”. Or, “Oh she’s a (*insert last name*). They’re involved in x-y-z”. As a result, young me would just associate folks from said family with whatever their family was known for, and move accordingly when interacting with them.
What’s In A Name
Growing up the family matriarchs told me that my name is everything. They’d say, “they can take anything from you, but the one thing they can’t take is your name, so don’t mess it up”. To young me that just meant do right by others. Being in the counseling field and doing my own personal work, I have learned that a family name is much more than that. It reflects your way of feeling, thinking, and overall being as well.
Every family has their own collective family identity reflected in and through their name. This identity for a lot of Black families includes living off survival. Living off generational trauma. Living off “what happens in this house stays in this house”. And within each family, every member has their own individual identity that inadvertently has upheld some aspect of the family identity.
The intersection between the collective family identity and one’s individual identity shows just how impactful our family identity is on who we are. INITIALLY. And I say initially because things don’t have to stay the way they’ve always been because “that’s just what we do as a family”.
Dismantle the Dysfunction
There are many barriers to even starting to know what’s behind a family name. It is not uncommon knowledge that many Black families lost their names and identities during slavery, leaving many families to hit the reset button on who they are. And let’s not get on the “we don’t talk about that” culture in the Black community that has been on epidemic levels for generations. And the sometimes impossible access to resources to even begin to know.
It is an honest struggle to know what’s behind a name to even start to effectively understand family stuff to create change in one’s life. Nonetheless, dismantling the dysfunction associated with a name can be one of the most freeing experiences. And it has to start somewhere.
The Power of the Know
One of my favorite shows to watch, Finding My Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr. on PBS, shows this. On this show, he provides participants with enthralling stories and connections of who they are & where they come from. He also provides insights into ways of being and thinking that participants notice in their present lives.
I’ve personally embarked on this journey as well. Searching websites to learn about family connections. Reading different documents. Asking questions about family that provides helpful insight on one front, and sometimes frustrating insight on another.
It is no easy task for sure. It can also be an emotionally painful journey to embark on too. But, what I have learned is that there is so much power in knowing what’s behind a name. And there’s even more power in redefining that name to align with who you desire to be.
I mean how cool is it really to learn that the strength and assertiveness you long for stems back 4 generations, and thus is a possibility for you to embody? To know that you can place generational burdens back where they belong and walk in your true authentic self?
So Where Do I Start?
I’m glad you asked. Redefining your name starts with what you know about self. If you don’t know go to therapy. Use journal prompts. Find self-discovery questions on Beyonce’s innaets. Start somewhere.
Then, explore what you know and witnessed in your family. Talk to the family that don’t care to maintain the hush hush in the family. Go to the state archives and see what you can learn through whatever preserved documents they do have (cause again systemic oppression ensured documents on Black folks were absent and inaccurate but make due with what you can find).
And put your puzzle together.
Learning what’s behind a family name, dismantling dysfunction, and redefining the name is a necessary task to walking in one’s authentic self. It reveals context of certain family patterns. It provides insight into how ways of thinking became family core values, and maybe even your core values. And most importantly it positions you to consider what you’d like to continue, create, or challenge in your own life.
It’s time we take our names back & walk in the greatness that is our birth right. And if you need help, check out Legacy of Love Counseling & Wellness for services and resources that can support you along your journey.