my mother named me Kendra

My mother named me “Kendra” because she liked the name, she said.  Although the name “Kendra” has ranked in the US  1000 Most Popular Names since 1946, “Kendra” wasn’t so popular when I was born in 1979.  The name ranked #137 out of 1000, but when I was growing up in Miami, Florida, I was the only somebody I knew named “Kendra.”

I didn’t like my name very much.  I thought it was simple.  It lacked creativity and difficulty.  And although folk claimed my name was different, I thought it was quite dull.  It was only “different” because folks knew no other Kendras.  I actually liked the names that challenged people’s pronunciation, like my twin sister’s name: “Kiley.”  I grew up wishing to have her name.

Teachers always mispronounced Kiley’s name.  She was usually “Kelly” to them–a mispronunciation that always tickeled me, for I could not fathom why anyone, let alone an educator, would pronounce the obvious “i” in “Kiley” as a short “e.”  And calling “Kiley” “Keely”–which also happened quite often–didn’t make any sense either.  I mean, do we pronounce “Riley” as “Reely” or “Miles” as “Meals”?  I think the only mispronunciation that would ever make sense would be calling “Kiley” “Kill-ey” like “Billy.”  And maybe she was called “Kill-ey,” and I just don’t remember.  But what I do know is that the confusion over how to pronounce her name was attractive to me.  Her name was creative and different and beautiful because it was so deep that it could not be comprehended–unless by her permission–her informing.  And she did.  Kiley informed those who mispronounced her name of its correct pronunciation all of the time.

My name is “Kiiii–lee,” she would say.  “Kiiii-lee.” The slower and more drawn out she pronounced her name, the prettier it became to me.  And all I had was “Kendra.” A “ken” coupled with a “dra.” Bore-ring. But, my mother named me “Kendra” because she liked the name, she said.  She claims that the only other Kendra she knew was her colleague’s daughter, who was a professional dancer (not stripper), amongst other things.  My mother told me that she was so drawn to the name “Kendra” that she knew her first twin daughter would be given that name.

“Kendra” has many origins.  The most popular, it seems, is from the Welsh, which translates “Kendra” into “great champion.”  Eh.  I don’t feel like a great champion.  And so, I prefer the Irish translation of my name: “understanding, wisdom, knowledge.”  The Irish translation feels more akin to my personhood, for I have spent all of my adult like yearning for a peace that I know depends on understanding.  With understanding comes compassion and love, and love is the greatest wisdom that any human being will ever know.  “Kendra” also means “water baby and magical” in the English translation, and I embrace that origin of my name as well, for water is cleansing and transforming.  And with 75 percent of the human body and 2/3 of the Earth surface being made up of water, water is life.  I am life.  And every day that I wake up and live my life intentionally–manifesting the Creator who created me–I become magical.  How else can anyone explain humanity?  Our existence is absolutely magical.

My mother named me “Kendra” because she liked the name.  Surely, the various meanings of my name define my personhood and make me feel like my name is meaningful–like it’s just as aesthetically pleasing as “Kiley.”  However, my mother naming me “Kendra” simply because she liked the name is beautiful all by itself.  My mother naming me makes me a part of her–her creativity, her humanity, and her love.  I am her first born twin daughter, and she had already made up her mind that her first born twin would be called “Kendra.”  And so, it is.

Freewriting about God (with my Improving Writing Students)

This Fall 2013 semester I find myself teaching a group of Improving Writing students who are adamant about God’s existence.  Students refer to God as “He.”  They seem to believe “He” lives in the sky–in heaven.  And although I haven’t asked them yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if they imagine God a white man . . . with dirty blonde hair, blue eyes, and doves flying around “His” head–maybe even a glowing halo.  I’m not trippin’ though.  That’s the God I use to know.  “He’s” the God I prayed to at night–when I use to get down on my knees in prayer.  (I haven’t done that in 11 years though–since my father passed.  I prayed to God to give me the strength to accept “His” will.)  But that God I use to gaze at every Sunday morning on my church walls was white–white skin, white gown, white cherubs.  But I see God so differently now–and I think only because I was reared to believe in God is my mind still attached to God’s existence–in the institutionalized ideology of God’s being.  I mean, I know there is a higher power–& maybe that power’s name is God.  But since reading Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Sue Monk Kidd’s Dance of the Dissident Daughter, along with various texts by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chödrön, I prefer to call God “Universe” or “Love.”  Such renaming allows me to detach from the idea that God is outside of me, that God is a white man–a member of a group of people who have historically enslaved, dehumanized, and degraded African American people–and that God is some power I will meet only after I die.

But my students think I don’t believe in “God,” cause I don’t believe in their “God.” And ohhhmyyyyyGOD, they become judgmental about my disbelief.  Lol.  But isn’t that what happens when human beings get attached to certain ideas?  If others don’t prescribe to particular beliefs, they are “othered” and pushed to the margins.  Blackballed.  Blacklisted.  Blacksheeped.

In The Color Purple, Shug Avery (the blacksheep character, of sorts) taught Celie to see God beyond her image of a white man.  Shug told Celie that God is everywhere–in the trees, in the gardens, in love making.  She taught Celie that we are not separate from God or each other, human and non-human. If a tree gets cut, her arm will bleed, she says.  Shug claims that God lives inside of us and that we manifest God in our ability to create, to love, to forgive, and to understand ourselves and each other.  How awesome is that?  Isn’t that God–which Shug calls “It”–actually ALL mighty? ALL knowing?  ALL powerful?