Last week, Bill's brother - the 8-year-old formerly known as Igey John Muzeleya - rechristened himself "John." From now on, he said, he wants to be known by his middle name. He's been writing "John" on his class papers, and typing it in as his identity in new video games.
Bill encourages him, gently, when he forgets, or seems to waver. "I like John better," Bill admitted the other day. When Bill offered to help him spell it, his brother replied incredulously: "I know how to spell my own name!"
But he's forgiving of folks who forget the change. He talks about it in a sober, dignified way that feels less like someone trying on a new nickname, and more like something larger's going on.
Which it may be. Although he's attending ICS, a school that makes every effort to celebrate students' home cultures, I'm sure he's still feeling pressure to become "more American," and trying to figure out what that means. His mom says that already, when he talks fast in English, she can't understand him. Some days, he volunteers vivid memories of the Tanzanian refugee camp where he was born; other days he hotly denies
that he ever lived in a camp.
Now, he seems to be struggling to make sense of who he is. Last week at a local playground, he reached the top of the jungle gym, and a girl about his age called over from the swing: "What's your name?"
"I don't know my name," said Igey/John.
Looking puzzled, the girl came over to the jungle gym, started climbing, and asked again.
"I don't know my name," he insisted. He's usually a chatty kid, but she asked twice more, and he couldn't find words.