Tune That Name
By Kristen Thompson, Associate Coordinator, Bluegrass Writers Studio
National Geographic’s magazine for kids, World, arrived at my house every month of my formative years, and I just couldn’t stop loving all those whales. I planned a life of adventure on the high seas; I was going to be a marine biologist. Unfortunately for my upstart self, biology was an utter letdown, all mitosis and meiosis, frog legs and formaldehyde. I didn’t want to study the biology of anything, I learned. What I wanted was to taste the salt in the air when I said “anemone.” There was something right, and comforting, about the names of all those watery fish, the bristling urchins, the rays and reefs. Brain coral, yellow tang, Picasso triggerfish- they are what they are.
When I studied art, I learned that Marc Chagall, the great painter of blue goats and moons and boot-clad Jewish men on rooftops, was born Moishe Shagal in Russia in 1887. Moishe is the Hebrew word for Moses. Would the paintings of Moses Shagal be different than Marc Chagall’s? Did Chagall paint to get back to his Moishe, in a way? Or was that something he needed to leave behind?
Just weeks ago, the world lost the wise and beautiful Maya Angelou. She was born Marguerite Ann Johnson. In her famous memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou chronicles her childhood, when she was known to most as Ritie. The things she went through make my biology woes absolutely absurd. After some awful situations, Ritie was so overwhelmed by the power of words that she stopped speaking for several years. Maybe Ritie Johnson grew up too afraid to write her story. But her brother Bailey, the center of her world and the only one who saw her clearly, called her Maya. Maya could speak for herself and, eventually, a whole nation.
Maya Angelou, George Eliot, Joseph Conrad, Pablo Neruda ... what name do you need, to write your story?
Published on June 23, 2014