An Odd Heiress: Thoughts From A Black Girl With A Strange Name

Weird. Adj. Different from the standard or norm. Atypical; freaky.

I’ve always been “different.” The outcast. And finally… after many years and tears; my heart, mind, body, are all on one accord with my name. Eris. The name my mother gave me in honor of my father. Eric. Growing up… it wasn’t an easy road to be an Eris, especially when I had a lisp and could barely pronounce it myself. Getting mistaken for a boy, or being called Erica, Paris, Eric, Harris, Erin, Iris, or Edris, I’ve had to toughen my skin. And even to the day… my co-worker calls me “Air-ez” …sometimes I grow weary of correcting people. But the Ashleys, Jennifers, Nicoles and other “normal” names… don’t come up against those barriers (With their first names at least).

A few weeks ago, I patronized a restaurant… while signing in I simply spelled my name to decrease the chances of having my name butchered… “E-R-I-S”
The hostess named Jessica asked me “How do you say that?”
I reply: “Eris.” (Pronounced air-is) She says… “Oh… that’s weird.”

So here I am again, twenty-eight years old and all of a sudden feeling small; small like the 6th grader that was the ass of a joke when I first found out that Eris is also the Greek Goddess of strife and discord. The teacher and the students all turned to me and shared a hearty laugh while I sulked deeper into my chair and fought back tears. My mother taught me that I wasn’t allowed to cry in front of other people no matter how bad I felt.

What I did I do? I brushed it off for the moment. I couldn’t be angry… I’m black. That’s not allowed. I couldn’t cry… I am an immaculately dressed woman on a long awaited date with the person of my dreams!

My partner and I enjoyed our meal. When it was time take care of the check I asked the server to send the manager over. I informed him what happened. He offered his sincerest apologies and a complimentary dessert, we both declined. But I felt that his apology wasn’t enough. Apologies don’t shift paradigms of an organizational structure. So I wrote to the corporate office to let them know what happened. When I received a letter back from the manager, I posted a picture of it on Instagram and one of my followers replied:

“You're kidding me, right? I sincerely hope that you didn't cause this person to lose their job over this. Were you really that offended by someone calling your name weird? I am negatively surprised by this. I realize that I don't know the whole story, because there isn't a whole lot to go on, but damn... it doesn't seem like this person questioned the content of your character, just made an observance about your name.” –middle aged white woman

This wasn’t just about me and my name… the issue is greater than that. Was the content of my character questioned? No. Was my mother’s? Yes. This hostess’ “observance” of my name showed that in her training at this establishment, she wasn’t taught how to deal with diverse populations. And as the person who is on the front lines of that restaurant she is the first impression for all patrons.

My name, albeit eccentric and esoteric, is still my name… and very much a part of my major identity markers.  When we think about the perils of white privilege …NAME privilege is quickly becoming something that is being tossed into that invisible knapsack. Of course we have Barack, Oprah, and Condoleezza now, but when the intersections of race, class, gender AND given name collides, the propensity of having a long difficult road personally and professionally is almost always guaranteed.

Zora Neal Hurston said “If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.” We must refuse to be silent. We must speak clearly, concisely, and constructively if we are to truly pursue an equitable existence for people who by societal standards are stamped as “weird.”

In the true spirit of practicing what I preach… I need to get off my ass and teach my coworker how to pronounce my damn name correctly.

eris zion venia dyson is an artist.poet.activist & earring designer from Cleveland, Ohio she currently is a Community Outreach Educator with Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio.

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