One Crazy Summer

by Rita Williams-Garcia

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Student Question

In One Crazy Summer, who named the sisters and what is the significance of each name?

Quick answer:

In the book One Crazy Summer, Delphine imagined that her name was one that her mother Cecile created out of a poetic sensibility. After all, Cecile named her middle daughter, Vonetta, after the singer Sarah Vaughan. Delphine was later disappointed to discover her own name was not so unique. As for the youngest, Fern, her name was a source of contention between her parents. Cecile wanted to name her Afua, but Louis insisted upon the name Fern.

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In Rita Williams-Garcia's novel One Crazy Summer, the narrator, Delphine, believes that a name “makes a picture spring to mind” and that it is a crucial part of one’s identity.

Delphine also believes that her mother, Cecile, abandoned them because her father, Louis, would not let Cecile choose their youngest daughter’s name. Cecile wanted to name her Afua, but Louis objected, saying that they should give her a more common name. He insisted on naming their youngest daughter Fern.

When the three girls visit Cecile in Oakland, she is not welcoming and refuses to call Fern anything other than “Little Girl.” This is a sign of Cecile’s stubbornness and is further evidence of the rift between her and the father of her children.

Even though the sisters’ current experience with Cecile is tense, Delphine has vague memories of her mother’s presence when she was much younger. She remembers warm, happy times when the family would sit together and listen to music. In fact, Cecile named Delphine’s little sister Vonetta after the singer Sarah Vaughan, whose albums the family listened to together during this time.

Combined with her memories of the music, Delphine imagines Cecile choosing to name her Delphine because it “had a grown sound like it was waiting for [her] to slide into it, like a grown woman slides into a mink coat and clips on ruby earrings.” Her name is unique, and she sees it as a gift from her mother, a sign of her love, even if she no longer lives with the family.

However, Delphine’s feelings about her name change when a show comes on television about a dolphin with her name and kids at school start teasing her. She seeks confirmation in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and unfortunately discovers that Cecile did not in fact invent her name. She realizes that her mother “hadn’t reached into her poetic soul and dreamt up a name. [Her] mother had given [her] a name that already was, which meant she hadn’t given [her] a thing. Not one thing.”

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