“What’s In A Name?” – by Calvin Bell, III


The amount of weight a name can carry still amazes me. The names you and I were given at birth were thought carefully about and meant something to the people that love us; each one is associated with a meaning that will represent us for the rest of our lives. As we get older, we understand that our names represent who we are and they are linked to our actions, achievements, and heritages. I don’t think most people my age put much time into thinking about the meaning of their names. I hadn’t either until I was forced to contemplate what my name meant when I did a Google search of Calvin Bell the III in middle school. I was not surprised to find articles about my grandfather, the first Calvin Bell, who was a prominent athlete during the nineteen-eighties. However, I did not know what to think when I came across the other Calvin Bell in my family. I came across my father’s mugshot. At this moment, I began to question what my name means to me. 

Thinking back, I remember visiting my father in the county jail, but I did not fully comprehend what was going on at such a young age. However, as I matured, it became clear to me that my father would be subjected to the criminal justice system for the rest of his life. As I started to form my own identity, I began wondering if my name would be linked to his imprisonment and if others would identify me as a criminal. Because of my father’s blemished past, I wondered if I would ever be satisfied with my own name.

Although I’ve achieved a lot of my own personal goals these past few years, there were times I felt unworthy of receiving acclaim. Why should someone who questioned their belonging and their name be allowed to experience success? Throughout my high school experience, I had a breakthrough moment while reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates in  English class. Although Coates was writing a letter to his son about the hardships of being a black male in society, it felt like he was talking directly to me; this was the advice I never received from my own father. Even though these were just words on a page, it became apparent that I needed to reaffirm my own identity in order to be content with and be proud of my name, Calvin Bell the III.

In an attempt to reclaim my name, I started to work on the way I carried myself in school and how I saw myself as a person. Until that point, I lacked self-respect and self-love because of my own reservations about the origins of my name. Because of my father’s absence, and the emotional void of loneliness I dealt with, I could not concentrate on being my best self. Instead of trying to make others happy, I began emulating Coates’s message: “You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable” (Coates 107-108).  

I no longer have a need to become what others expect me to be, nor question my name and, therefore, my identity. I feel proud knowing that my name is mine. Although it has a history that I may not be able to change, I can still add to its legacy. I now accept that part of my history is my father’s incarceration but I will no longer limit who I am. I now embrace my experiences without questioning my identity and will navigate the rest of my life with newfound freedom and pride. Calvin Bell the III has come to represent many things, each of which I am very proud of because it is the essence of who I am and what I have to offer.