This week’s blog post is penned by Ken Langford-Smith. Alongside his background in teaching Ken is passionate about indigenous education, and has been a principal at a number of schools across Australia, most recently at Yipirinya School in Alice Springs. He has since been a welcomed presence in the JAZ studio, helping out with everything from strategic planning to proofreading, account managing, and now blog writing!

Names

“Jimmy,” he insisted, “my name is Jimmy.” 

The evening shadows were lengthening as I cycled home in Alice Springs, the sinking sun behind me. Pedalling past the Flying Doctor and the family groups littering the lawns I glimpsed a young white woman on the pavement ahead, staring as I approached. Suddenly also I saw him, the Aboriginal slumped in the gutter beside her. “Oh God,” I thought, “not another drunk” and contemplated a hasty detour, but it was not to be.

Braking, I pulled up, feeling somehow trapped, and it was then I saw the wheelchair. The woman was keen to address me. “This man has fallen out of his wheelchair.” There was an urgency and pleading in her voice as she pointed to the crumpled figure beside her. “Can you help lift him back in?”

“Of course,” I mumbled, sensing a flush of guilt at my presumption of alcohol as I stood up my bike.

“Jimmy,” the Aboriginal who had heard this exchange insisted, his eyes wide with pain and panic exploring mine, “my name is Jimmy.” His bottom lip was curled exposing a fleshy red. “Jimmy,” he repeated, determined I should know.

“OK Jimmy, my name is Ken. I am from Yipirinya School,” hoping this name might resonate, but there was no response. “Come, let me help you.” Walking behind him I slipped my arms under his and carefully lifted him and eased him back on the wheelchair the woman was holding. Jimmy was not heavy and he tried to push up on his useless legs to assist me. His wheelchair had obviously tumbled as he negotiated the pavement-street crossing and he had been spilled.

“You right now, Jimmy?” His eyes and face smiled gratitude. “You will have to come and visit us at Yipirinya,” I added, making conversation, but he simply nodded and seemed happy to continue, brushing his crumpled clothes.

I addressed the woman, possibly a tourist, who seemed to have been caught in the predicament, uncertain of what to do, “Thank you for caring,” and retrieving my bike continued home.

Jimmy’s few words, however, haunted me. They brought to mind the caged Elephant Man’s despairing “I – am – a – human – being.”

Aboriginals and cripples may abound. To have a name, to be a person, an individual, is to exist. I have a name therefore I am.

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Names are of course critically important to Aboriginal people. They identify the person but also, with skin or kinship names, their origin, relationships and who they may or may not marry. And the sacredness of their names means that when a person dies the name cannot be repeated so that anyone else with the same name must adopt a general name such as “Kwementye” amongst Arrernte people for example.

Names are very important in our society too. Consider how we choose names for our children. Are they biblical names or popular names? I read that Noah and Liam, Emma and Sophia, are currently at the top of the popular list for boys and girls names. Isis, which once had some repute has for obvious reasons lost its charm. Sometimes to make our names more original we change the spelling, say Aidyn or Rylee. Or we choose brand names such as Mercedes or Jewel, place names such as Disney or Brazil, or pop culture names such as Arya or Rambo. They all mean something special to us.

The antithesis also reveals the importance of names. When we are angry we sometimes call people names, trying to make some adverse image stick. Name calling by playground bullies is as old as the hills. We may have been taught that “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” But in fact they do – not physically, but emotionally.

Our sporting teams also have to have special names to suggest a distinct quality we would like them to portray (Bulldogs or Eagles) or an emblem with positive associations (Wallabies or Kangaroos). And we name our pets, our homes or cars, or anything dear to us. Which brings us finally to our Business names and how important they are in branding or marketing. And this is where JAZ can help. JAZ after all is not a misspelt popular music item but a small, family business drawing its name from Tim’s children, James And Zoe, and dedicated to its clients.