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The Name's the Thing

The envelope is golden and lumpy. Blue pen marks spell out Lizzie on its front. My phone carries my sister’s voice across half a continent. Open it now, I need to go to class. But I’m in the middle of Bloor Street. It’ll only take a minute and then we’ll match. Okay.


The card is blue with a red pot on the front of it. You ‘Wok’ My World. I open the card. And I see Der Mei Wa signed at the bottom in characters I have never known my sister’s hand to write before.


The envelope flattens as I shake out the little red and gold button. It’s our name! And suddenly I realise I am holding a history in my hands – my history – that, while I cannot read or write it, I can now know. It’s our name. This name isn’t the placeless maybe-German-maybe-Vietnamese-maybe-Dutch Der read in English on attendance rosters and signup sheets. This name knows where it comes from. Carried down rivers, across oceans, over mountains, through prairies, and around lakes in the mouths and hands of people of whom I am. Here, in the middle of Bloor Street, I am given my name. And though I cannot speak it, I will carry it down whichever rivers, across whichever oceans, over whichever mountains, through whichever prairies, and around whichever lakes I meet.


It’s our name. My sister tells me she wears her name on her backpack. I pin mine to my left shoulder strap so that it settles just above my heart. …and then we’ll match. And we do.


- Liz Der (Elizabeth Rose Lee Wa Leighton Der)

Liz is a co-editor of Off-Key's blog. Like her sister says, she is all of her names and the spaces in between.