By Logan February
A name is something given, passed like a note that was never meant to be read because the receiver already knows what it says. But I was a curious devastation – I opened that note, I read it, & I did not like what I saw. I took a pen & crossed it out, then wrote a new one. When a name is something taken, rather than given, taxonomy becomes about knowledge. My preoccupation with all of my nomenclature stems from a desire to be known, by everyone, but first, by myself.
* * *
I grew up in Ibadan, Nigeria – a misfit. Different names tossed in my direction for all of my harmless strangeness. My light skin & brown eyes, a license to be treated differently, & not always in a bad way. In fact, most of the time, I was more shiny thing than boy, a kind of collector’s item. My whole being was somehow for the entertainment of my peers. They called me:
Americana / mulatto / oyinbo
[white boy white boy white boy]
my presence in each new place, welcomed by a slowly descending hush and a subtle swivel of the eyes. In all of this, my question was: which of these names belongs to me?
* * *
The sadness grew inside me as my bones stretched taut & adolescent. The names morphed in the people’s mouths into:
moody / shy / melancholic / why are you always so [ ]
The first time I hurt myself, I twisted a silver fork into the crook of my left elbow until I bled, then asked myself what have you done, my love?
My mother asked how she could make me happy, told me the joy of the good
Lord should be my strength. When something isn’t right with you, you know. At seventeen, I told her I wanted to see a psychiatrist. She didn’t want me to, but feared I would kill myself. I was diagnosed with Type 2 manic depression. Where all the other doctors had asked if I had been
[you know. . .thinking a lot?]
this doctor gave me a name & prescribed some medication.
* * *
I am in my room. It is my fourteenth birthday. My mother comes into my room, smiles, asks where I want to go for my birthday. I hesitate, then say I would rather just stay home. She sighs & asks why I am so antisocial. I shrug. Laughing & shaking her head, my mother tells me
[you are such a queer child]
* * *
My queerness was something that was apparent quite early on. My lack of interest in sports, for instance, or maybe my love for books & pop culture – something about me fit the stereotype. I was endlessly teased about it.
[so gay so gay so gay so gay so gay]
But then, when I accepted it, I had to learn subterfuge, a morbid kind of hide-and-seek in which seeking means finding love & hiding means staying alive, & the choice involves a lot of aching either way. But what am I exactly? I identify as gay, although definitively, I would perhaps be bi-curious. The occurrence & intensity of my heterosexual attractions is comparatively much lower than my same-sex attractions. So I chose gay – I know that of myself.
Sunday, in church. I am sixteen. The pastor’s sermon today is on homosexuality. She has a gleam in her eyes, a controlled fury, as she reads from Leviticus 20:13
[and if a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them]
this is how I know my mother’s god – a brutal voice with blood on vengeful teeth.
* * *
I was raised in a Christian family, but from as young as the age of thirteen, I was questioning, doubting, feeling not quite right. I didn’t feel His presence in the air, & I don’t know that I wanted to. I stopped believing in all of that. & I spent a whole year seeking what my personal spiritual beliefs meant & what they aligned with. I found a resonance in Buddhist philosophy. I felt a soft light. I learned to meditate, stopped to take a real breath for the first time, & then I called myself a Buddhist.
* * *
All of this misadventure, this disenchantment, culminated in a sense of displacement with my own name. My first name, Toluwalase, translates into
[this is what the Lord wanted to happen]
probably because I was a surprise child, born six years after the child my parents’ thought was their last. But I am not what God wanted to happen, at least not in the Christian way. I am sad so much of the time. I’m not good at faith. I am a boy who likes boys. I don’t even believe in God in the way He would like me to.
What I wanted was to step into a character, not quite an alter ego, but a version of myself that knew himself, or at least was brave enough to investigate. Logan, a Scottish Gaelic name, translates to
I picked it up, ran it across my lips & liked the way it tasted, its mournful sting against my tongue. I chose it because that hollow is a space for all of the things that I do want to know of myself.
* * *
I’ve never quite felt like I belonged where I am from, with the strict norms and values. I don’t know if cultural dysphoria is an actual concept, but that’s what I would call it. My free-thought & the calm wildness that I have, those have always been interpreted as white sensibilities, and this perception is further propagated by the fact that I am a light-skinned African. But I constantly reject that notion, spit it out & press my foot against it when it hits the ground. I am not white. I am as African the people with darker skin and more normative sensibilities. But right now, Africa does not want me.
* * *
The banishment I feel is external, from my homeland, & internal, from my family, so I am pressed somewhere between both, pinned inside this body with no origin. I always say I am indifferent to my Nigerian-ness, but proud to be Yoruba, descended from a people with rich culture, a free-spirited tribe. My original last name (not February, but my father’s family name) translates to
[the brave one has come home]
& that name doesn’t feel like it belongs to me. My homeland leaves me
masticated & swallowed, & then coughed up, because I am simply not what it wants. My name cannot be a declaration of returning home, when truly, all I want, & all I have been taught to want, is to leave & find my tribe, in the intrinsic sense of the word.
* * *
But I am my father’s son. He was my best friend. I loved my father more than anything else in the world & when he died, I was crushed. I did not remember how to look upon the month of February without sadness in my eyes.
* * *
I am eight. It is a Saturday. My uncle has just driven my little brother & me from his house to ours. We climb up the stairs. The house is whispering things to me, but I already know what it has to say. We open the door to the room that now belongs to my mother alone & we see her, face swollen with desolation. Her bed, an island, her body so thoroughly tangled in its sheets, she looks like she is partially submerged in it. She sees us & starts to cry. My little brother is three
– he does not understand. I hold my mother, & I weep until my face melts off & I am spent. As I fall asleep, a dusty darkness collapses into my body & it does not leave even after I wake.
* * *
In creating Logan, this character who is more me than myself, I wanted to reclaim that month, for it to not be poisoned for me. So I took it as my name. My name is Logan February, an inquiry into myself, & a tribute to my father, so I carry him & my homeland with me, even though my bravery is in the way I run from home.
Editor’s note: This essay is part of a series called Name Tags, about issues related to names and naming. You can find the original Call for Submissions here. Illustration by Kristen Stone.
Logan February is a happy-ish Nigerian owl who likes pizza & typewriters. He is Co-Editor-In-Chief of The Ellis Review, and a book reviewer at Platypus Press’ the Wilds. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Raleigh Review, Yemassee, Wildness, Glass, Tinderbox, and more. He is the author of How to Cook a Ghost (Glass Poetry Press, 2017), Painted Blue with Saltwater (Indolent Books, 2018) & Mannequin in the Nude (PANK Books, 2019). Say hello on Instagram & Twitter @loganfebruary.