‘What is in a Name?’ is a thought piece submitted by South African-American Lebo. It is illustrated with Sally Mann’s photography, the current exhibit at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA. If you live in Atlanta or visit before Feb, please check it out. It’s thought-provoking and more amazing than the photos can show.
I don’t do well with greetings so I will make this as painless as possible.
My name is Lebo.
But I go by my pen name Leilei.
Though I have a pen name, please understand that my name has a special place in my heart.
Growing up, I have heard different variations of my name.
Everything from Leebow to Lee-ai-bow and finally Label.
I acted like I didn’t care because at the time I just wanted to fit in.
As the new kid, I wanted to be like everyone else but I wasn’t raised like them.
I was in a world where something as basic as my name wasn’t normal.
– Not normal like Taylor and Heather or Dione and Lakiesha (the popular girls in my grade).
My parents tried to tell that my name is special but I didn’t want to listen.
I wanted to be normal.
I wanted to be like all the other American kids.
But I wasn’t.
You see, I was born in South Africa during the Apartheid era.
My parents told me that back then, they had to have European/Christian names.
When I was born, my mother made the decision to not give me such a name.
She was a rebel, even in the smallest way.
My siblings and I were all gifted with Setswana names.
My parents brought me over at a young age and my brothers were born here.
It’s been 15 years of being called the wrong name —
Or giving myself a nickname to appease a culture that was never mine.
A quick trip to South Africa and a few years of my staying and relearning the culture changed all that.
Now, I have a better appreciation of my name and culture.
As a matter of fact, I have a better appreciation for who I am.
I now demand that everyone says my name properly.
It is not YOUR choice to give me any name that fits YOU and YOUR tongue.
This is the name that was gifted to me.
By a bold woman, with a bit of rebellion in her spirit.
This is the name that has thousands of years of heritage in it.
And I won’t move on it.
And neither should you.
Love and take pride in the name that was given to you.
Once upon a time, not so long ago, people didn’t have the luxury of choosing their child’s name.
During my time here on the Herstun Writer, I will drop poems, tales from my life, and fictional stories with the goal of keeping us both on the edge of our seats.
So a BRIEF review of things you should know about me.
You already know, introductions aren’t really my thing.
And you should also know that I love to read and write about love and mystery has
You can say that I’m quite passionate about my name.
I’m gonna get off my soapbox now.
I do hope that you are ready to join me in this weird, cheesy journey.
Forever yours and for now,
Written By LeiLei. Edited By Herstun.
Follow Lebo on Facebook or leave her a comment! I am excited to welcome her unique perspective and writing to the Writer.
This is just a brief look into the High Museum of Art ATL’s current exhibit by Sally Mann. I love me some Sally Mann guys. She is life goals. For 40 years she and her husband have created art to examine the themes of life and existence. Because, why not?
The part of the exhibit that you see mixed with Lei’s words is called Men. It is fascinating because the pictures look like the subjects were on slave ships or born in the 18th or 19th centuries but they are young black law and medical students, posing for Mann. It blows my mind and made me ask the question again, what does the name or word freedom mean? Should we LOOK free?
Just like Lei’s mom is a rebel, so is Sally Mann. She is a white American woman born in the 1950s photographing black male vulnerability as a SELF-STUDY. She displays these photos right alongside her photos of the land, her family, and everything else she captures.
What is in the name free? What does it really mean? That’s what brought the work of Sally Mann to the words of Lei Lei.
A South African immigrant, new to America and new to the racial system that dominates this land. But coming from apartheid, a racial system all it’s own. Who is she? Is she free? Is she black like me? I think the answer I am learning to accept is that she is black like her. We all own our blackness differently, we all answer to it differently. Sally Mann is an artist brought up on land like the land I know. Her name sounds more like my name. Does that make her American like me? Or can we all be American differently?
This was one of the biggest challenges I have faced in the last year. I really struggle with matching art and wordsmith sometimes and it was THIS piece that made me really start exploring writers with more media and pictures in their social media profiles. Finding artists that fit the piece at-hand is time-consuming. On top of that, writers want their work to appear on the site as soon as it’s submitted. (Another writer showed me that I can’t meet those expectations.) Lei waited a solid 6 months before seeing this published. I want to thank her for continuing to support me, the site, and the mission the entire time. She’s been a breath of fresh air to work with.
When Lei submitted this piece I was planning this site to have recurring contributors. I actually hope she does submit more work but we have looked towards covering more stories and that might mean new contributors in the future so it could be a while. If you are reading and enjoying this combination from me, Lei, and Sally Mann, let us know in the comments.