What power does a name hold in your life? For most, names are passed down from family to family, but extenuating circumstances can make this impossible. Yet sometimes, we have the opportunity to embrace change and, at the same time, further a legacy. In the case of the Harris Family, an upcoming name change will unite three generations of a family for the first time. As they choose to shift their name to Parker, documentarians Catherine Hoffman and Sharon Liese capture the journey.
For the Harris/Parker family, some unfortunate timing left an unusual situation for the family. The grandmother of the family, Sedoria, serves as the matriarch. While she was serving in the military, she met a young man named Adolphus Parker. They began seeing each other while she was separated from her first husband, but she gave birth to a child before the divorce was finalized. Due to the timing, she was forced to name her son Matt Harris. Decades later, with Matt having children of his own, the family decides its time to fix this oversight.
Hoffman and Liese showcase the family with beautiful cinematography and show authentic joy. They also explore the importance of names within the black community. A first name or last name was never a simple process. For centuries, these names were passed down by slavers, while those in bondage would use first names to carry on the familial tradition. While Adolphus Parker likely received his name from his ancestor’s slaver, Matt’s choice to reclaim this name upends this power structure. In fact, this act of reclamation to further his father’s family line serves as a subversive act of power to this history.
Infused with a jazzy score, and surprising flares with animation, Parker shines a light on the importance of names within the black community. While some of us take our names for granted, Parker reminds us about the importance of each act of communication. For this family, the reclamation of the name will help a generation grow up knowing their place in the world.