Danielle Emerson


Danielle Emerson
Danielle Shandíín Emerson

I hate it.
No joke.
My name sucks.

What Native has a name like Emerson?
What Native has a name like Danielle?

People questioned it.
Eyes narrowed.
Finger pointed.

“Emerson? Like the brand?”
“Emerson? Like the dead white writer?”

But I understood. It’s a weird name for a Native.
(I say weird but you all know what I really mean).

Don’t make me say it.

“But you were named after an artist!” They cried.

My parents loved him.
Daniel Shandiin.

Some sculptor they met at the Santa Fe Indian Market.
I never met him.

But I like my middle name.
Or—more specifically—Sun light.
Sometimes I think it’s the only Native thing about me.

Danielle Shandíín Emerson.
Can’t I just be Shandiin?

Can I tell you a story?
It’s not funny or anything, but it’s relevant.

My shinali was told he needed a quote-on-quote American name—that he needed to go register. He wore his best vest with a proper American name in mind.

Albert Anderson.

He showed up. And told the register—Albert Anderson.

“What? Albert what?” They asked.

“Albert Anderson.”

He barely spoke English.
He struggled with pronunciation.
His Navajo accent was too thick.

He walked away with papers granted not to Albert Anderson.
But to Albert Emerson.

He wasn’t that literate. So, he couldn’t tell the difference.

Why did I tell you this story?

Because my last name is a mistake.
It should not exist.

My shinali never shared his true name.
He became Albert Emerson.
Everyone knew him as Albert Emerson.

Did that make him more “American”?
Did that make him less Native?

Let me ask you this:
What makes a name “American”?

Is Danielle Shandíín Emerson an “American” name?
Like Albert Emerson?
Or Betty Emerson?
Or Ruben Decker?
Or Rosie Decker?

I don’t know.

Danielle is a Diné undergrad student at Brown University studying education and literary arts. She is from Shiprock, New Mexico and proudly identifies as asexual. Her writing primarily focuses on the Native American experience, self-identity, representation, empowerment, and family dynamics. 

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