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How Owning My Name Reconnected Me to My Roots

Guest Author's picture

Pinkies, please welcome Marjorie Florestal as she makes her debut on the Pink mainstage. Join us in holding warm space for her as she tells the story of reconnecting with her culture. Welcome Marjorie, and thank you!


“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare asks. After all, a rose is a rose is a rose. And yet, I know this not to be true. When I read Colson Whitehead’s brilliant novel, Apex Hides the Hurt, I couldn’t help but let out one good, hard, soul-splitting belly laugh as I stumbled across this line: “A rose by any other name would wilt fast, smell like bitter almonds . . . God help you if the thorns broke the skin.” Yes, I thought. The name of a rose gives it its very identity. We could call it something else, but then it would be something else. It was only when I recognized this one simple truth that I came to know what I needed to do. I needed to reclaim a long forgotten part of myself. I needed to reclaim my own true name.


When I was a child, everyone in my life called me “Cocotte.” It is a French name, and it was fairly common in the small Haitian town where I was born. Literally translated it means “darling,” and somehow—even when I was too young to know that—I felt cherished every time someone called me. My grandmother might snap “Cocotte, hold still!” as I squirmed and strained and otherwise resisted all attempts to tame my unruly hair. My mother would say “Cocotte, be careful” as I left on some childish adventure with a neighbor or a friend. My teachers, my cousins, the couple down the street, even the strong, stark Caribbean wind seemed to know my name. And it was Cocotte.

By the time I was five years old, my family had immigrated to New York City in search of the usual: peace, prosperity, a new life. My parents had sacrificed much to give us a new home so much was expected of us. I set a course to meet and even exceed their expectations. First college, then law school, then a stint at a prestigious law firm, and then the ultimate dream job at the White House. Along the way, I racked up one achievement after another—scholarships, a Fulbright, a federal clerkship, and a tenured full professorship. There was much to do and no time to look back. Life was so busy I hardly noticed that now no one ever called me Cocotte. It was such a small thing. What’s in a name, after all?


On January 12, the world woke up to news of a devastating earthquake in Haiti. Hundreds of thousands of lives lost, millions more irreparably changed. No one seemed to know what to do. I did not know what to do (yes, I gave money but so what? Money was never going to be enough). It had been so long since I was that little girl who went on childish adventures down those now destroyed streets. I felt the unbearable weight of grief and loss . . . and guilt. I had disconnected for so long. I had forgotten who I was, and where I came from, and how I was connected.

Like so many Haitians, I immediately turned to the phones, calling on family and old friends for information and solace. In the midst of the grief and fear, soft tendrils of memory began to emerge—memories of days spent eating mangoes and sugar cane under the giant, sheltering tree in our backyard; memories of rainy nights made more sweet by listening to old Haitian folktales told and sung by my grandmother. Those were Cocotte’s memories. And just like that, I remembered my true name. I remembered how safe and loved, warm and protected I felt every time I heard it. I remembered other things too. While others saw poverty and devastation, corruption, failure, and need, I remembered a Haiti few outsiders ever got to see. I remembered a Haiti where you were only a stranger once; where everyone shared whatever they had, and so we had plenty. I remembered a Haiti in which creativity and expression were emphasized just as much as intelligence and hard work. I remembered a Haiti filled with laughter and connection. And the stories . . . Haiti was full of stories. There were stories to entertain, to teach, to reprimand, and to inspire.


I did not know what else to do, so I began to share those memories. I told stories of Haiti everywhere I went; I told them to my American friends, to my students, at academic conferences, and in church fundraisers. In the process of remembering, I reconnected to a half-forgotten, long buried part of myself. Not just the part of me that is Haitian, but the part that is creative and carefree and connected to those around me. I discovered a small but strong community of Haitians right in my backyard in Northern California. For the first time in years, I had genuine, honest-to-goodness Haitian cuisine (that I didn’t have to prepare myself!) I spoke Creole again. I was even able to help rescuers in Haiti by translating text messages from Creole to English. I made videos of friends telling their tales of Haiti and shared them so that we would never again forget . . . so that I would never again forget. I started talking more, laughing more, writing more, and creating more. Recently, some friends and I have begun a project for Haiti we hope will make a difference.

Now I remember, and now I can reconnect.

So, what’s in a name? Magic.


Cocotte's picture

@Dana - painful? Yes! And

@Dana - painful? Yes! And necessary, so we learn.

@Syda -- Thank you so much for your comment. I suppose the process of being human is about forgetting and remembering. Doing so with grace takes some courage and skill. That's why I'm glad we're in community to help each other through. My best to you!

Syda's picture

Cocotte- Thank you so much


Thank you so much for sharing such a beautiful story. You've shown us what truly IS in a name and you've owned it beautifully! You have reminded us that we must not forget our stories, our roots...where we came from. Good or bad, it's a part of us; it's a part of who we've become and even if we must let it go there is nothing but pink light and love when we choose to own it.

gratitude & joY ~Syda

Dana Theus's picture

Cocotte- You are so right


You are so right about what to keep and what to release, it's a constant dance with time and part of what makes life so very interesting (and painful, of course, but such is the nature of beauty and pain and dark and light and happiness and sadness and all the rest that makes us human).

Love and Connection ~Dana

Cocotte's picture

@Dana, Thank you for the

@Dana, Thank you for the lovely words of welcome. I agree that at times, shedding a name--and a connection--is the beginning of something bigger and better. The challenge lies in knowing when to shed and when to keep. Like most things, I suppose it is a learning process. I look forward to connecting further.

@Kim, Thank you for connecting and for the lovely words by email. I've responded separately and look forward to connecting further here. How great to have this community!

Kim's picture

Cocotte! So nice to meet you


So nice to meet you through this post. Love and light to you - perhaps at some point you can share alittle bit about your project for Haiti!

Welcome to the Owning Pink Family!

Hugs, Kim

Dana Theus's picture

Cocotte I am so happy for


I am so happy for you for finding that old connection anew. There is something about a revived memory of self that enriches our current lives in ways hard to describe. But you've done a fabulous job, sharing with us yourself, your people and your place.

Names are important, more than other simple triggers of memory. I had an opposite experience to you, where I gave away my child's name and took a new name (not my husband's), which was important to me disconnecting on purpose from those parts of my past that were not going to help me grow into who I needed to become. I've never regretted or needed that old connection - at least not yet - but I can see in your words how such a connection could be important, especially if it's a connection to a place and time of love.

Welcome to Owning Pink and I'm so glad you came out of lurkdom to share your beautiful story with us.

Love, Light and Blessings ~Dana

Cocotte's picture

Thank you ladies! I've been

Thank you ladies! I've been lurking on this site for months reading all the fabulous stories and drawing strength from them. It's great to come into the Pinkie Light!

@Tre, I feel like you know me! In truth, everyone of your suggestions is something I'm actually doing -- creating a YouTube channel, collecting stories and putting together a book (I'm even planning a trip to Haiti) I'll keep you posted as it unfolds.

@Caren, Thank you--your words are touching. I try to remmeber that out of the darkness all good will come. There are so many great Haitian folktales with that theme in mind--we are good at holding on until the light comes

@daisybones I bet for Bird, the most magical memory will be to remember the times when YOU called her that. I know it is true for me. Memory has such power

@Donna Thank you, thank you! As a writer, I feel I do my best work when the reader has her own emotional reaction. I appreciate your comment

@Lissa, I can't thank you enough for providing this wonderful place, which allows the rest of us to blossom. I've been watching your experience unfold these last few months and it is clear you have a gift. Thank you for sharing (and I can't wait to stop by Owning Pink and actually SEE the dream made manifest!)

Finally, I really want to thank Joy for making the submission process such a . . . well, I'll say it: Joy! Talk about the power of naming--yours is just perfect Joy

Lavonne's picture

Dear Cocotte, What a lovely

Dear Cocotte,

What a lovely narrative...so moving, so sweet, so true...

So glad you have reconnected with this wonderful part of your fabulous self...

Sending love and best wishes for your project, Lavonne

Donna's picture

What a beautiful story and

What a beautiful story and beautiful name to go with a beautiful lady! I had goosebumps reading this. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story!!! Much love to you my dear!

daisybones's picture

So beautiful- this story

So beautiful- this story fills me with love. Thank you! I hope my little daughter will know this kind of magic, and that there is always someone to call my Molly "Bird."

Lissa Rankin's picture

Dearest Cocotte- I LOVE your

Dearest Cocotte- I LOVE your story! And yes, so much does come in naming. I always name my books before I begin writing them because it's almost as if the name makes them so.

And so you are Cocotte- and all that this name embraces- and we love you! xoxo

Caren's picture

Marjorie, What a beautiful

Marjorie, What a beautiful story, something so magical has risen out of despair and devastation. Your words give so much hope and healing to so many. I love your reconnection to a past that sounds simply wonderful. I am so glad you have remembered the memories that you hold dear. Much love to your family and friends as they rebuild and try and move forward. Caren

Tre ~ (Tresha Thorsen)'s picture

oh....sooo good to hear this

oh....sooo good to hear this story "Darlin" Cocotte Marjorie...it breathes the truth we never leave our hearts our substance or our real essence...it just gets sometimes a bit buried in the trunk of keepsakes and re emerges perhaps when we most need it..where did you save/store these keepsakes now? do you have a video channel a blog or a book? growin up in miami i had some, not enough, exposure to the beauty that is this Haiti you speak of...and it's what's always planted a seed of hope I'd live there someday...I wonder how your stories could impact the now community of Port - au- prince in the rebuilding process....surely many may well be doing this but gathering stories somehow...remembering the core substance of our lives...it's always such a healing impetus...deeply touched to hear how you've triumphed in your now. sooo good to meet you here and hug your heart. :) big luvs...

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