Ten years ago, I started using the name D. Colin. Now it's what most people know me as. There are so many writers who have names that take over the names they were born with…Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Ntozake Shange…to name a few. I remember when I first started competing in poetry slams back in 2001. I was living on campus at Southern Connecticut State University and I was secretary of a club called…Poetic Vibe. Yup. That's right. It was called Poetic Vibe started by Croilot, who was the president of the club. I remember the first slam we had and thinking I had never seen anything like it. It was electric and I wanted in. Whatever it took, I had to be in the next one. So I competed and I only ever made it to the 2nd round ONE time. I mean I was working my behind off just to make it to the 2nd round, never mind winning in the 3rd round.
Something else happened. I observed all the names. Fancy. Elaborate. Hip Hop flare. Some kind of metaphorical, spiritual, conscious naming and it made me feel like I was missing something. I wanted one too. I was always one of x-number of Danielles in a classroom. There were three of us in my homeroom in high school. Even someone on campus in residential life thought it would be cute to put me in a dorm room with another Danielle. We both were annoyed. My last name Charlestin sounds like Charleston in English but it's pronounced shar-les-tin (the n is silent). Then there's my middle name, Colin which is also my father's first name. I struggled with gender roles growing up so I just didn't tell folks I had a boy's name for a middle name. What all this means is I spent much of my upbringing wishing my first name was more exotic, my middle name was a girl's name and my last name didn't sound like a city or something to chew, you know what I'm saying?
My first years in slam, I was calling myself Moami Zion. Moami was an acronym (for which the words I don't remember) leading to the place of God, hence Zion being the last name. I'm not saying poets shouldn't do this but I look back now and I know that name came out of insecurity. It came out of wanting to show I belonged too. Well, after I graduated college, I didn't really perform much. I took a semester off and then I came to Albany for grad school. By then, I started calling myself D. Truth because I was speaking the truth, you know? LOL. Well, I'll never forget it. Taalam Acey was giving a reading at University at Albany and I went because I was a big fan. I had him sign my book. He asked what name to put in there and I said all proud of myself, "D. Truth" and he laughed OUT LOUD. I wasn't upset. It felt silly when I said it. I still look at what he wrote inside and wish it was my actual name.
By the end of that first year in grad school, I had almost flunked out. I was in a toxic and emotionally abusive relationship. I was broken, isolated, depressed. I had stopped writing altogether. Someone told me at the time that my shoulders were so slumped that I looked like I was literally carrying the world on my back. I called my ex, the only ex that was worth calling. I had been so hurt, abused and straight up subjected to violence before and after him, I thought I'd never find love again. It was the last time we spoke. He had moved on and gotten married. I realized if I didn't get out of the situation I was currently in, I'd lose myself completely. I reached out to people who had been trying to reach out to me. I got out. Not everyone is so lucky. I look back on a lot of things I've been through in relationships and I can actually say it's a miracle I am alive no exaggeration, no metaphor.
I started writing again. I started performing again. I wasn't calling myself anything. I stopped relaxing my hair. I cut off all the straggly, useless ends when it was time. I had my friend do it for me. I cried as much as I needed. I stopped picking up the phone when he called begging for me to come back. I let other people know what he put me through so they'd leave me alone too. I was done with relationships. I was focused on me for about two years.
Then in 2010, I was going to feature for the very first time and this name thing came up again. I was deciding what I wanted to be called one last time and I realized I was done trying to be something else. I took the name I hadn't liked because it was a boy's name and made it the focal point of what I wanted to be called.
D. Colin is my first initial and my middle name but it's also a reclamation of self, it's a love letter to me, it's an embrace of all the parts of me, a middle finger to gender and a reminder of who I come from, who I am and who I want to become. How powerful is a name? I don't know if I can really answer that question but what I do know is I haven't looked back. I know that in the last ten years, I have loved D. Colin more than I ever have in my life. I pushed her until she had 2 books, went on tour twice, displayed art in galleries, started several open mics and even had her competing in slam again and she wasn't just trying to make it to the second round this time; she was winning!
I'm looking forward to what this decade will bring. I still have work to do to get to where I want to be particularly financially and physically but I'm filled with hope from my journey. Here's to another decade and owning our true selves.
Photos by Robert Cooper [2010, Hartford]