My name is Qamuuqin Lowell Gene Stanton Maxwell. Those last four names sound pretty normal—easy even, but the first one? It’s a bit of an oddity . . . isn’t it? Let’s see, would that be pronounced “ka-moo-kin?” Or how about “Qwam-ah-ken.” Maybe it’s “Kwa-mew-quinn.” Tough call, I know, but as it turns out it’s closer to the first pronunciation, though even that’s not quite right. One of my aunts once tried to teach me how to correctly pronounce it and although I still wasn’t able to do it was neat to hear it said the way it’s meant to be said. If spoken correctly, it doesn’t sound like a name or like a word at all, it’s more guttural . . . or throatal. More a sound or a noise—than a “word.” So if Qamuuqin is a mouthful for you to say, don’t worry, I can’t pronounce it correctly myself and it’s my name! I don’t go by it Qamuuqin, though, I prefer a shorter and more accessible version: Muuqi—say, “moo-key”. Simple! Now, let us begin again . . .
My name is Muuqi. Muuqi is short for Qamuuqin, which was my great-grandfather’s name on my father’s side. Virgil (my father) is 100% Inupiaq, while my mother is a mix of Scottish, Czech, and Dutch heritage. My ‘real’ first name usually strikes people as unique or exotic, but I actually identify more with one of my middle names and with my last name. Gene, one of my middle names, was given to me in honor of my grandfather, Eugene—or Gramps, as I called him. Gramps was named after Eugene Debs and although he respected the man for whom he was named, he always favored the name Gene. It’s a shorter and neater version of Eugene and so it was given to me. At times I have considered using it as my legal name or, perhaps, a pen name, should I ever need one. Gene is also my mom’s name, though she spells it Jean.
My last name, Maxwell, is her name too, and I like that. A lot of people in our society assume that children will take their father’s last name, but I like the name Maxwell. When I hear it I envision my mom—Jeanie to her father, Dr. Maxwell to her students, but always just “mom” to me. I also connect the name Maxwell with Gramps; I think of how Eugene Maxwell would always keep at something until it was complete, of his respect for hard work and manual labor, of his selflessness. I like the name Maxwell: it has a storied history. But most people get hung up at my first name and don’t hear or know the rest.
Muuqi, the shortened version of my name, was born into being by my sister who was unable to pronounce Qamuuqin when she was little. She went ahead and simplified it into something that would eventually become Muuqi, which stuck and is now how I identify. I’m Muuqi. I don’t really think of myself as “Qamuuqin,” that is the name of my Eskimo great-grandfather, a man whom I never met and know little about; it is a name that my sister was unable to pronounce when she was a toddler and that I still can’t pronounce today. Certain people have chosen to address me as Qamuuqin throughout my life, sometimes asking permission and sometimes not, sometimes shortening it to “Q.” But to myself I’ll always be Muuqi.
Interestingly, many people are able relate to the name “moo-key” quite well, as it seems as though there are quite a few pets in the world that go by that moniker. It also just so happens that “Mooky,” or “Mookie,” is a common nickname for people, according, at least, to the two-dozen or so people who have commented on my name with a story of their own. This often happens at a coffee shop or restaurant, any place where I have to give my name in public.
I never know what to do in this situation: on the one hand they are just asking for my name . . . they need it, usually, to call out when my food or drink is done. But also it is assumed that most people have easy names that are easy to spell and easy to pronounce while mine is not. So why can’t they just give me a number that they’ll call out and save both of us the trouble? Aren’t people in our society used to being categorized as a number? The idea that I have to give them a name—my name—is frustrating sometimes. I just want my order; I don’t always want to repeat myself and then explain my name with a story.
What’s the name for the order? Pausing awkwardly, I’ll offer it up to them: Muuqi. I’m sorry? Muuqi . . . my name is Muuqi (by this point I am usually over pronouncing it so that they don’t think it’s Cookie or Milky, or something else like that). Oh, what a unique name, they’ll exclaim, I know someone who goes by “Mookie,” too! I smile. It’s a nickname, right? How funny that you go by a nickname! Smile, nod. So . . . what is your real name? Smiling, I’ll sign my receipt, not answering the question. Then they see how I spell it: Muuqi—as opposed to something that rhymes with cookie. Ooh! You spell it so interestingly! Yeah . . . (head nod). Wow . . . um, that’s not what I had pictured. I watch as they try to make sense of it, the gears in their head turning, silently pronouncing the name to themselves. How can a word with so many u’s—and a q that has no u after it!— be pronounced so? Inevitably this transaction leads to a rushed but lengthy account of how my name came to be spelled that way. But then comes my favorite part: upon learning that Muuqi is a shortened version of an “Eskimo” name, most people then proceed to correct me: they inform me of the ‘proper’ term for such people—Inuit, Athabascan, Tlingit, Alaskan Native, etc. Any ‘actual’ term that may come to their mind . . . because “Eskimo” is, like, derogatory, right?
Sometimes I dread meeting people for fear I’ll have to jump through the same old hoops again, tell my story, be corrected. Sometimes I wish that my name wasn’t so memorable, that it was Gene like my grandfather and my mother, the two people whom I respect most in the world. In my life. Sometimes I make up names to tell people when I’m asked for mine: Max or Raul, Lindsay or Ashley (those can be guys names—look them up), Cesar or Clyde. Odd (isn’t it?) that the names I make up for myself are sort of . . . odd, just like my own?
No matter what, though, I try to remind myself that I enjoy hearing people’s stories, and that usually I learn something interesting from them. After all, our story is one of the only things in this world that is ours first and foremost and is ours for the entirety of our lives. Stories create the substance of this experience, of life as we know it; they are how we learn, how we relate to things, and how we validate our own experiences. Stories bring reality to life and allow us to see it through a specific lens. Without stories we would have a history with no real lessons learned or values imbued. I have my own story and it is influenced and shaped by the stories of others—namely Gramps. Gramps taught me more by just being himself than I could ever possibly learn in a classroom. His story is an amazing one and I’m glad that I was able to be there for a part of it, to share a part of it. Stories are best if they are shared.