My mother scraped the name Patricia Ann from the ruins of her discarded Delta, thinking it would offer me shield and shelter, that leering men would skulk away at the slap of it. Her hands on the hips of Alabama, she went for flat and functional, then siphoned each syllable of drama, repeatedly crushing it with her broad, practical tongue until it sounded like an instruction to God, not a name. She wanted a child of pressed head and knocking knees, a trip-up in the doubledutch swing, a starched pinafore and peppermint-in-the-sour-pickle kinda child, stiff-laced and unshakably fixed on salvation. Her Patricia Ann would never idly throat the Lord’s name or wear one of those thin, sparkled skirts that flirted with her knees. She'd be a nurse or a third-grade teacher or a postal drone, jobs requiring alarm-clock discipline and sensible shoes. My four downbeats were music enough for a vapid life of butcher-shop sawdust and fatback as cuisine, for Raid spritzed into the writhing pockets of a Murphy bed. No crinkled consonants or muted hiss would summon me. My daddy detested borders. One look at my mother's watery belly, and he insisted, as much as he could insist with her, on the name Jimi Savannah, seeking to bless me with the blues-bathed moniker of a ball breaker, the name of a grown gal in a snug red sheath and unlaced All-Stars. He wanted to shoot muscle through whatever I was called, arm each syllable with tiny weaponry so no one would mistake me for anything other than a tricky whisperer with a switchblade in my shoe. I was bound to be all legs, a bladed debutante hooked on Lucky Strikes and sugar. When I sent up prayers, God's boy would giggle and consider. Daddy didn't want me to be anybody's surefire factory, nobody's callback or seized rhythm, so he conjured a name so odd and hot even a boy could claim it. And yes, he was prepared for the look my mother gave him when he first mouthed his choice, the look that said, That's it, you done lost your goddamned mind. She did that thing she does where she grows two full inches with righteous, and he decided to just whisper Love you, Jimi Savannah whenever we were alone, re- and rechristening me the seed of Otis, conjuring his own religion and naming it me.
From Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah by Patricia Smith. Copyright © 2012 by Patricia Smith. Reprinted with permission of Coffee House Press.