What`s In a Name?

What’sIn a Name?

Inthe short story, “What’s a name?”, Henry Louis Gates Jr.reflects on the discrimination his family experienced in the southduring his childhood. His father was wealthy and more respected thanother colored persons were. In fact, he was the only black person whowith permission to eat at the drugstore. However, racist white peopleportrayed open discrimination, as the racial segregation waswidespread. Gates is embarrassed when his father’s friend showsopen bias towards his race, but his father remained composed becausehe found the behavior normal (Kirszner et al. 2).

Gatesthought the whites respected his father because they allowed himspecial privileges such as dining in an all-white’s place. However,he got disappointed when his father greeted Mr. Wilson, a shopkeeperand his close friend, but he responded, “Hello George (Kirszner etal. 2).” The shopkeeper knew the name of Gates’ father, but hecalled him a cluster name he used to refer to colored people. Afterthe experience, Gates claims that his attitude towards Mr. Wilsonchanged instantly. He never looked straight at his eyes anymore,perhaps because he feared that the shopkeeper might call him the nametoo. He loathed the name “George” since it was a racism label.Although his father appeared unbothered by the name, he calmlyinformed his son, “He knows my name boy and that he calls allcolored people George (Kirszner et al. 4).” Towards the end of theessay, the author calls the discrimination he faced “One of thosethings”, a term his mother had used to avoid referring todiscrimination directly (Kirszner et al. 6).

Insummary, Gates emotions are disturbed by the name the shopkeepercalls his father. His father was wealthy and had special privilegesthat other villagers did not have, such as permission to buy foodfrom Mr. Wilson’s drugstore. The name affects his so much such thathis attitude towards Mr. Wilson changes permanently. The hurtfeelings caused by the discriminatory name persist into hisadulthood. Each time he reflects on the racial discrimination thathis parents, especially his father experienced, he feels sorry aboutthe situation.


Kirszner,Laurie G, and Stephen R. Mandell. Patternsfor College Writing: A Rhetorical Reader and Guide.Boston: Bedford/St. Martin`s, 2001. Print.

Related Posts

© All Right Reserved