Sunday, April 21, 2024

A lot more than a name

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IF WE EVER RENAME our hundred dollar bill a “Grantley”, we would have created an eponym.
And you say, “Why he had to use a big word?” Big word? Suppose I had found a way to use floccinaucinihilipilification (the action or habit of estimating something as worthless, according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary)? See if you can manage to throw that into one of your casual conversations. Don’t hurt yourself, though.
Anyway, an eponym is a word or name derived from the name of a person.
And there are lots of them: sandwich (named after the 4th Earl of Sandwich), bloomers (after Amelia Bloomer, an American women’s rights advocate), macintosh (after chemist Charles Macintosh), shrapnel (from Henry Shrapnel, an officer in the British army in the 18th century), the Ali shuffle – and the list goes into thousands.
In Barbados, though not necessarily creating eponyms, we have played out our humanness by putting the names of people on things too – buildings, roads, roundabouts, awards, contests and so on.
Every now and then, the powers that be in our society throw a name on something. Cut the ribbon, pull back the thingee, change people ’mout, and that is that.
So, just over a month ago, we had the former Garrison Secondary School renamed the Graydon Sealy School and then, last Friday, the St Lucy Secondary School got a redo – namewise – and came out as the Daryll Jordan Secondary School.
Now, I don’t mind name changes. Personal ones like Kofi Akobi, who I knew at the National Theatre Workshop in the 1960s as Bodger Gittens. Or even sets of people being recast as “soil technicians” or “cemetery operatives”, who everybody knew as gravediggers.
But I smile in amusement at the word “escort” for someone who may well be a prostitute. Or, one of my favourites, “adult language” for what used to be known as obscene or indecent or even filthy language. So I guess we are saying that children are the only people who should not use it.
Truly deserving of a name change, however, were those workers who were called scavengers (duh was vultures or jungle crows or raccoons?). Believe it or not, in England and Wales, somewhere near the beginning of the last century, scavenger was actually used in a census as the name of the occupation of those we now call garbage collectors or sanitation workers. Who would complain about the newer name?
With the recent name changes to schools, though, people start to bawl. Some said they got accustomed to a particular name and there was no need to change it. Others threw in teasing questions: Why they wouldn’t rename the older “elite” schools like Harrison College and Combermere? Why, since we are an independent country, they don’t rename the Princess Margaret Secondary School? Why, someone else asked, don’t they rechristen the President Kennedy Drive, the Darcy Beckles Drive?
Some people have ready answers for the questioners.
I en ’bout dat. I am more concerned about the people behind the names and the effect we are hoping to achieve by putting their names on more than a sandwich.
I fear that the way we do things, one day, not a few Barbadians will believe that Samuel Jackman Prescod built the institution – our important polytechnic – that bears his name. Just kidding a little bit, because the Right Excellent gentleman is one of our National Heroes, and some effort has been made to clue in Barbadians about him.
The problem is that these people are not brought to life in the consciousness of Barbadians. Generally, we have not been given the chance to develop an affinity with many who are lauded and set above us as ones we should exult in, extol and emulate.
These people whose names are emblazoned on buildings and such for their contribution – whether excellence, courage, commitment, pioneering, blood-and-guts work, creativity – are never really burnt into our psyches. Their deeds, especially critical episodes, are not crafted and experientialized for visceral, heart, soul impact.
Sure, the people who lived with these lights at the time, especially close to them, carry palpable memories.
But the rest are made to depend on recitations of facts. Bios or history. Not story. Not what brings them to life in the lives of those who did not know them personally.
Perhaps that is not needed in a national way for those after whom schools are named. But for others who we claim have left their undoubtedly transcendent imprint on the island, we need to do more than name things after them.
We must create their eternity in the nation’s mind. We must make them continue to live widely even after dying. We shouldn’t just pelt their names on things and done wid dat.
• Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor. Email offwally@gmail.com.

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