Know a guy named Kweku Akan? Maybe you do, but just don’t know that you do:
Although his name change has been official for only about three months, Kweku Akan (pronounced kway-koo ah-kahn) knew years before he would leave behind the name Carl Johnson.
It was 1999, and Akan was walking through slave dungeons during a visit to the West African country of Ghana. He said this was the birthplace of Magualla May, the oldest traceable ancestor of Akan’s family, who was brought to America as a slave.
Akan, 50, director of the Weisser Park Youth Center and a Fort Wayne Community Schools board member, said when he returned home he announced he would change his name.
People will change what they feel they have to in order to align their self-image with the way they want the world to see them, whether it is habit or clothing or name. But I have to wonder if they aren’t sometimes trying to make the wrong point or make it in the wrong way.
One thing we all have in common is that none of us got to pick our names. Whether they were slaveholders who gave their own family names to abductees, or immigration officials who changed the names they couldn’t pronounce or spell, or silly parents who wanted to honor a nearly forgotten ancestor, our namers were dealing with their own realities in the best way they could, in the process sticking us with names we would have to cope with. And it is who we become and what we do with our lives that give our names meaning. "Kweku Akan" may feel at peace with himself and proud of his African ancestry, but it is Carl Johnson who has made his mark on Fort Wayne as director of the Weisser Park Youth Center and a Fort Wayne Community Schools board member.
I was born "Leonard" but sometime in high school decided I would like to be called Leo and, mostly, the people I know have gone along. My father never did get it, though, and I finally learned to stop correcting him. Half the people at my last high school reunion called me by the old name, and I cut them some slack, too. I have likewise stopped worrying about waitresses who call me honey, telemarketers who call me sir and blog flamers who say I am a real ass.
If you click on "About Leo Morris," you’ll see that I define myself a moderate conservative with strong libertarian tendencies and a few liberal skeletons in the closet. That doesn’t begin to describe my political complexity, but it’s a lot closer than conservative or libertarian or any other single term. It’s one thing to think about what you believe and say you might lean one way or another. It’s another to adopt that description — you then start looking at the world that way. What is the liberal answer, or the conservative one? The minute you label yourself, you have limited yourself. I am who I am, I believe what I believe, I do what I do. What you call me is your problem, not mine.
I had a friend in high school — his name was Jim Johnson, interestingly enough — who got deeply into Buddhism, even went back to school in his 40s and got a degree in it. He changed his name to something-or-other Raines as a way of celebrating the experience. I’m not really sure what he was trying to prove or whom he was trying to prove it to, but I’m pretty sure Buddhists worry more about their internal experiences than the external reactions to them. And he’ll always be Jim Johnson to me, whyever he was named that.
But, as I’ve said, that’s my problem, not his.
Be who you are, Carl/Kweku, and do what you do. Just don’t let a label define you.
Read the rest of this entry »