I find irony in the following fact about the spelling of my first name. My mother named me LaTonia. The State of Mississippi named me LaTonla. The aunt that raised me named me LaTonja. To go further, technically my last name is not Brown. My father’s last name is Harris. Not only was I never given the right name; I was never told who I truly am. My name is LaTonia Harris, not LaTonja Brown. Yet I still continue to go by the wrong name. Is there any irony in that? No wonder I’m confused.
Why is there all this drama over a name?
We live in a society that tries to define us by our race, our gender, our occupation, or our economic status. The list of labels is exhaustive. The list has nothing to do with who we truly are, but people try to make it about our name.
I see red when I pass by a group of children and hear something along the following: “What’s happening, nigga.” Or, “Nigga, you should have seen it.” I want to stop, shake them, and say, “Is his name nigga. Because, if it is not, you are doing him a grave injustice to refer to him something other than his given name.”
But, how do we put aside the wrong identities we have picked up over time? How do we become who we were born to be?
I had the most disconcerting experience recently. I realized that as I moved between groups of people, my ability to be free was compromised. How can I be seen in different ways in different groups? I had to ask myself how each group defined me. Is community defined by people who see you as you truly are and bring out the best of you in a healthy relationship?
I often want to ask people, “Do you see the real me?” The question is bolded, underlined, capitalized, and any other formatting I can do to help people hear the urgency of the question. I have been with people who I am not sure even really like me or approve of me. In fact, deep down, I know they don’t. How can they accept me when they don’t like or approve of me? It is the strangest experience to not feel safe in spaces that are supposed to be places of refuge. Is there a point when I stop celebrating peoples’ lives that don’t celebrate me?
The best example of seeking the wrong community is when my sister died almost ten years ago. The people I sought solace from were not people who truly cared for me. The sad thing is that I never sought solace from people who I knew were concerned about my welfare and mental state.
As we begin to understand ourselves better, what happens to those relationships that don’t match who we are supposed to be? In other words, how does embracing who we are impact our current relationships?
Do we see people as they truly are and give them the freedom to be so? As we grow, do we seek places and groups that can fill the new wineskin? What if you feel like you are in places you shouldn’t be or you have long outgrown comfortable relationships? But, there is that comfort. That comfort often leads us to resurrect dead relationships where the name you had is not the name you are striving to be.
My name is a feminine form of the Latin name Anthony. It is interpreted worthy to be praised or beyond praise. I am not LaTonja the (mean) usher. I am not LaTonja a black, single woman. I will no longer adhere to the limits and constraints found in these labels. I will no longer be torn in two; I will live out that I am born to be (and I may need a little help in getting there).
Do not let where, what, or who you have been continue to define you. Let God redefine you. Enter a spring of your life as a young plant rooted firmly with its shafts finding their way to the surface. Step out of the shadow and live what you were born to be. Allow your name change to occur. Remember Jacob, the supplanter, became Israel; Abram became Abraham; Sarai became Sarah; Simon Barjona became Peter; and Saul became Paul.
There is a moment of great revelation where you can freely say, “Here am I; send me.”