Give Your Daughters Difficult Names — Assétou Xango


Give your daughters difficult

Names that command the full use of
the tongue.

My name makes you want to tell me
the truth.

My name does not allow me to trust

who cannot pronounce it right.”

      —Warsan Shire


Many of my contemporaries,

role models,

But especially,



Have a name that brings the tongue
to worship.

Names that feel like ritual in your


I don’t want a name said without

muttered without intention.


I am through with names that leave
me unmoved.

Names that leave the speaker’s
mouth unscathed.


I want a name like fire,

like rebellion,

like my hand griping massa’s whip—


I want a name from before the ships

A name Donald Trump might choke on.


I want a name that catches you in
the throat

if you say it wrong

and if you’re afraid to say it

then I guess you should be.


I want a name only the brave can

a name that only fits right in the
mouth of those who love me right,

because only the brave

can love me right


Assétou Xango is the name you take
when you are tired

of burying your jewels under thick
layers of


and self-doubt.


Assétou the light

Xango the pickaxe

so that people must mine your soul

just to get your attention.


If you have to ask why I changed my

it is already too far beyond your

Call me callous,

but with a name like Xango

I cannot afford to tread lightly.

You go hard

or you go home

and I am centuries

and ships away

from any semblance

of a homeland.


I am a thief’s poor bookkeeping
skills way from any source of ancestry.

I am blindly collecting the
shattered pieces of a continent

much larger than my comprehension.


I hate explaining my name to

their eyes peering over my journal

looking for a history they can


Ask me what my name means…

What the fuck does your name mean


Not every word needs an English
equivalent in order to have significance.


I am done folding myself up to fit
your stereotype.

Your black friend.

Your headline.

Your African Queen Meme.

Your hurt feelings.

Your desire to learn the rhetoric
of solidarity

without the practice.


I do not have time to carry your


I am trying to build a continent,

A country,

A home.


My name is the only thing I have
that is unassimilated

and I’m not even sure I can call it


The body is a safeless place if you
do not know its name.


Assétou is what it sounds like when
you are trying to bend a syllable

into a home.

With shaky shudders

And wind whistling through your


I feel empty.


There is no safety in a name.

No home in a body.


A name is honestly just a name

A name is honestly just a ritual


And it still sounds like reverence.


Copyright © 2017 by Assétou Xango.
Published in Poem-a-Day on June 9, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.