Black Jack Johnson NYC, R-O-C-K-I-N-G.
The title of this post consists of lyrics from one of my favorite Mos Def songs, on his album The New Danger. Many of the tracks on this album are about Jack Johnson, the first ever black heavyweight boxing champion. I could listen to it all day. And it’s in my head this fine Sunday morning because I’ve been catching up on Dexter Season 6, in which Mos Def, I mean Mos, I mean Yasiin Bey, plays Brother Sam, a born again murderer who Dex befriends. I am on episode 4, and I already love this character. I was curious, so I Googled Mr. Bey and I found a great clip from The Colbert Report in which Mr. Bey graciously gives no explanation as to why he changed his name, and from which I learned that Black Star has a new record. And then I listened to some Black Star, which brought me back to the 90s. And then I looked up Yasiin Bey on Wikipedia. Did you know he was born Dante Terrell Smith? My grandfather’s name was Dante. My ex has the opening lines of The Inferno tattooed in Italian on his forearm. I think Dante is a pretty badass name, and I’d probably name a kid Dante, after all of them, if I had a kid to name. Also, my third cousins stole Dante from its rightful owners (me and my siblings) and dedicated the naming of one of their rugrats to my grandfather. Which is a what-the-fuck moment if I’ve ever heard one.
I’ve never wanted to change my name. Have you? Alexis No Middle Name Orgera. It sounds like me. Maybe changing your name is a little like being born again, baptized in the spirit of surrender to an unknown, starting on a new path (I think Brother Sam says something like this in Dex).
Sometimes I start making lists of the best names in sports, usually basketball since that’s the one I like best, and promptly lose the list, which keeps me endlessly childlike about names because I always have to start over. If I were a fiction writer interested in the endless iterations of character-naming, I’d have a grab bag. Chauncey Billups. Mugsy Bogues. Manute Bol. Rajon Rondo.
And then, some of my favorite lines, from the end of Atwood’s poem, “Spelling,”:
How do you learn to spell?
Blood, sky & the sun,
your own name first,
your first naming, your first name,
your first word.
I’m going out for breakfast.