My name wasn’t given to me/ it was given to the rest of the country…
I’ve been doing weekly write-ups of certain poems on Button Poetry’s channel, but I also wanted to highlight some older poems that are personal favorites of mine, which I’ll be doing once per month here. It’s a way to shout out some good work, and also to highlight some tools and tactics that poets use that might be useful to aspiring writers.
I remember my first time seeing this poem, and really being struck by G.’s line: “In Japan, your last name comes first; there is an emphasis on family. But in America, your nickname comes first, ’cause there is an emphasis on accessibility.” For me, that’s one of the most important functions of poetry: to call out what’s hiding in plain sight, to encourage all of us to think more critically, and more intentionally, about topics we’re not always encouraged to think deeply about. Everyone has a name; how much do you think about where yours came from? What does it mean to you? What does it express, and what does it not express? How do our names move with us as we move through the world? These are big questions.
The whole poem is a great example of using something “small” and personal (names) as an entry point to explore an issue that is much bigger. While all three poets approach that issue from different angles, with different experiences, the overall “thesis statement” of the poem is laser-focused. This is a useful thing for aspiring poets to remember: there’s a difference between a poem about a topic and a poem that has a specific thing to say about that topic. This is a poem that knows what it is, so to speak, and communicates its message all the more powerfully because of that.
Feel free to share any of your own thoughts or observations about the poem (or its topic) in the comments.
- Kat Chow: Your More/Less Ethnic-Sounding Name (Code Switch)
- UyênThi Tran Myhre: On “Difficult Names” (UMN)
- Check out all three poets’ websites: G., Elizabeth, Pages
- All three of these poets have multiple pieces up online as well; check out more of their work!
- Full list of poem commentary/analysis essays