What’s in a Name?

I was a surprise even to myself, I thought, by the time I’d reached those days in the sixth grade. I also felt as though I were a hypocrite speaking Spanish and writing it much better than my classmates both Spanish and Westindian. I had evolved culturally, in fact, right along with my proficiency in the two languages of my birth. There were definite signs around me, however, that I lived in a changed, bi-cultural/bilingual society.

Recalling the political rally I had witnessed the previous summer vacation in our neighborhood on “P” Street on San Miguel Hill not far from the Catholic Church by the same name, I’d seen a big crowd gather to hear Fernando Bradley, a young local aspiring politician from Calidonia. Bradley, like me, was a child of the Silver Roll whose mother held a stall at the local Little Market.

I had to consciously swear over and over to myself that I would never forget my grandparents, especially the ones I’d heard about and never knew, including the grandmothers whom I knew very well and were still living. However, I was living during the mid twentieth century and it was feeling like it was some of the worse times in the history of my people. I believe that is why personalities of my generation like Fernando Bradley had come about- Westindian politicians trying to rally their people for change.

I had observed him one time, in fact, from my perch on the third floor of Magnolia Building where I lived, down there in the Nueva Gloria Bar like any other “bar fly.” If the truth be told, Bradley did not exactly possess the demeanour of a lawyer and yet he had managed to gather such a crowd one night while he made his political speech that a Panama Tribune reporter made note of it in the newspaper the following day.

The rally, as it unfolded before my adolescent eyes, helped me gain some insight into the legal and political battles that were being waged against children like me, sons and daughters of the Silver Roll, who, for the most part, were unaware of all the political commotion raging around them. Our only sin, it seemed, was to have been born to the largest ethnic group to seek out hard, honest work and get kicked in the teeth for it. I remembered having mixed emotions as I felt somewhat disappointed in my people who had neglected their own children, family and friends to go work on an ungrateful Canal Zone to demonstrate their exemplary citizenship to the Panama of their birth.

By now more Spanish than Westindian it nevertheless seemed as though our surnames were hidden. One day I took to listing the Westindian surnames I had known in my life starting with the few kids I noticed in my classroom who were from my age group and I came up with quite a list.

After dipping my pen into the inkwell I proceeded to write Brentwood, Marshall, McLean, Reid, Clark, and those were only the ones still left in Pedro J. Sosa School. Then there were my neighbors and personalities in the area of Calidonia; Banes, Black, Bradley, Callender, Clooney, Galimore, Toppin, Turner, Jordan, Rowe, Lawson, White.

I then thought of the families who had intermarried with my family. I wrote the name Greenidge and noted that they were of Barbadian origin. I wrote down the name Green almost forgetting that that was my mother’s maiden name. I also jotted down Coite, remembering the young man who had been courting my younger aunt who was probably of French Caribbean descent.

Then I wrote Julienne which was the surname of my family in Paraiso which was also derived from the French Caribbean. Those were my cousins, the kids I had so often played with in the bush that I grew to love in the Black Canal Zone; kids who were next in line after my generation. My list started taking shape and it was quite varied and multinational like the people in our families. We had evolved indeed.

This story continues.

4 responses to “What’s in a Name?

  1. Roberto, beautiful post. And even though we West Indians were once paid in silver, our history is a golden one.


  2. Ian,

    Thank you for putting it that way- I have always thought so myself. If there is any one who deserves accolades it is our Westindian forefathers who worked so hard to give us a heritage and a country worthy of our love.

  3. Whay is your French West Indes ancestry? My family was from Guadelope. My Grandmother's name was Bon Mama. They lived in Colon.

  4. My French West Indies ancestry was the Julienne family and before going to live in Paraiso bush they lived in the town of Paraiso proper.

    At first they lived in a kind of hut with thatch roof and everything. Later on, however, my uncle who was married to their daughter went to the town of Red Tank which was being dismantled and brought back a whole house for them. I helped him re-assemble the house roof and all and they could then live in a well built "Zone type" house in their in old age.

    My hope is to one day re-create a town like Red Tank as a living museum populated by people (actors) who would dress, act and carry on daily activities much as they did 80 or 90 years ago in that Black Canal Zone town.

    Thank you for your comment. You stirred my memory again.