21 Oct: "Naming Myself" by Barbara Kingsolver

I have guarded my name as people
in other times kept their own clipped hair,
believing the soul could be scattered
if they were careless.

I knew my first ancestor.
His legend. I have touched
his boots and moustache, the grandfather
whose people owned slaves and cotton.
He was restless in Virginia
among the gentleman brothers, until
one peppered, flaming autumn he stole a horse,
rode over the mountains to marry
a leaf-eyed Cherokee.
The theft was forgiven but never
the Indian blood. He lost his family’s name
and invented mine, gave it fruit and seeds.
I never knew the grandmother.
Her photograph has ink-thin braids
and buttoned clothes, and nothing that she was called.

I could shed my name in the middle of life,
the ordinary thing, and it would flee
along with childhood and dead grandmothers
to that Limbo for discontinued maiden names.

But it would grow restless there.
I know this. It would ride over leaf smoke mountains
and steal horses.


  1. Before I read this poem I had always deemed her "Kings-lover". I have had the Poisonwood Bible sitting on my shelf for the last 2 years since you recommended it to me and so it was quite funny that I, indeed, "scattered" a little bit of her soul in renaming her my own name.

    I loved the story of the Cherokee woman...inventing a name....my last name has a similar Cherokee background...isn't it wild how here in America names don't mean as much as they used to? Children's names are picked to fancy, not for meaning...not for characteristic...that is why Native American culture is so respected by me. They chose names based on life purpose and gifts and talents and family lineage...spirit animals. Beautiful...and how the Cherokees passed names through the woman's lineage...and American the man's...
    I often think on this when I approach the subject of marriage as she mentions in her last four lines and oh, how I loved the last three! How her name would "grow restless there....and ride over leaf smoke mountains and steal horses!"
    Just great.

  2. The closing was great.

    I like the idea of inventing our name. My name has no meaning to me, maybe I should change it?? My brothers and I have joked about changing it. I'd like to be Teacher Dude. James Dude even sounds good. Hmm.

    Back to the poem, Limbo is a proper noun. That place with all the lost names. What if we kept all our names. If you started with you, your great grandchildren would have over up to 8 family names, then their kids would have 16. It is easy to see how this could work in a tribe where everyone is family, then children are the sons and daughters of people.

  3. can someone give me an insight of what the poem means

    1. Ask questions! Read each section and ask yourself questions.

      What does a name symbolize to the narrator?

      In guarding the name what else does the narrator guard?

      Why are the grandparents important?

      Each reader will have different answers to these questions but the poem gives you enough work with