Sunday, June 23, 2013
North Star: Naming Kim and Kanye's Daughter
When I heard "North," I thought of the resonance that the direction has within African American history--slaves fled the South to go North, following the North Star, often traveling via the Underground Railroad. "North" represents a new beginning; it represents freedom.
Kanye West, as music listeners might know, does not shy away from political commentary. In his new album, for instance, his song "Blood on the Leaves" samples Nina Simone's version of "Strange Fruit" (a devastating protest song about lynching earlier recorded by Billie Holliday) and curiously turns it into a protest about women demanding too much of him--dropping Jay-Z's name in their pursuit.
If the legacy of lynching ("Strange Fruit") can be twisted into a critique of twenty-first-century women, then it's possible that one little girl's name can invoke the promise of freedom for a people.
So what about West? It's the name Kanye was born with, of course, but if we think about the United States, West points toward California, where Kim is from and currently thrives.
North West, then, represents both her parents: her first name calls forth a symbol of African American freedom; her last name plants her in her mother's Californian back yard. And I like that interplay between the historical and the local.
As an English professor, I thought it would be simple to name my children. It wasn't; indeed, our middle child was named three times (thrice!) before we got it right sometime into her second month. A child has to fit her name; it has to be comfortable, like coming home.
And to this interpretive mind, North points the way home.
*Image from Faith Ringgold's beautiful children's book Tar Beach.