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Naming It: An Essay in Six Parts
Part Four: Family Names, Familial Incidents
Naima Karczmar

"aaaaand the cable has been cut" by Flickr user  Lindsey Turner  

"aaaaand the cable has been cut" by Flickr user Lindsey Turner 

Karczmar: translated roughly from the Polish, means innkeeper, Naima: Arabic, God’s greatest gift, Medelia: biblical, woman of Magdela, Susana: the name of one of my mother’s many dead friends.

Britton: must mean something, was a gift from a slave owner.

That same building, my father’s parents’ house is, technically, a historical monument, is also comfortingly saturated with their rituals. They keep Buddhas in cabinets, on mahogany shelves, in office spaces where my grandmother rises at five in the morning to practice her yoga on the floor of the living room.

In order to renovate a historical monument like that house, you have to obtain permission from the city of Chicago. In order to marry a black man in the city of Chicago in 1958, you had to move temporarily to New Mexico.

Another relative is my Irish grandmother, my mother’s mother, who moved, temporarily, to New Mexico.

Another incident consisted of my Polish grandfather once asking her, with incredulity in his voice, if my dead grandfather had been worth the trouble.

My Black Grandfather died before I was born.

My Irish Grandmother died twelve years after and so I never knew the only relative who would assure me, placidly, of my blackness.

My Polish grandfather is not dead because he was in Switzerland in 1939.

Switzerland was the only safe place to be if you were Jewish in 1939.

It is also a colloquialism meaning neutral ground, which I don’t occupy but wish sometimes that I could carve in the form of a space on my grandmother’s carpet.


My grandfather threatened to write my mother out of the will if she insisted on hyphenating the last names of her children.


She did it anyway.

Naima Karczmar is a biracial, semi-youthful, fairly gay student living and writing in Portland Oregon with the help of two cats and a fabulous mentor. She writes a lot about being biracial, semi-youthful, and fairly gay, though not always at the same time. She also writes the kind of fiction she wants to read. 

Naming It by Naima Karczmar