Growing up in Samoa, if Pulutausa Fatu Utuone Aiono Nu’u visited another village, his name revealed much about who he was. Each of his names gave important bits of information about him to his hosts. Names had a distinct storytelling purpose in what was basically an oral society:
Pulutausa was the name of his paternal grandfather.
Fatu was his maternal grandfather.
Utuone was his father.
Aiono was his village chief, and showed his village of origin.
Nu’u was his surname.
And with each name came a story. His paternal grandfather Pulutausa, for example, was 7’2” tall. Big shoes to fill! To start a conversation, all you had to do was to introduce yourself and you could weave in stories of your lineage.
But with his big name came heavy responsibility. As the oldest son of an oldest son, it was Pulutausa’s privilege and responsibility to carry and to pass on his name.
By the time he was 12 years old, Pulutausa had been sent to be raised by his grandfather, as was Samoan custom for an oldest son, and his grandfather lived in the US. After his grandfather died, although his parents moved to the States, Pulutausa lived a tough life on the streets in LA. The other kids couldn’t pronounce his name, and he needed to shed it to fit in. He chose Joe because he identified with feisty Little Joe Cartwright on the 1960s TV western Bonanza. Joe’s father couldn’t dissuade Joe, but he would never call him anything but his Samoan name.
Now, as an adult with grown children, Joe appreciates his Samoan name, and believes it has helped shaped his character. In Samoa he would now be a chief, and he finds himself behaving as a sort of chief in his football coaching responsibilities, in his business, and the structure of his family. Other coaches have told him that he has unusual wisdom. But that’s what a chief does; he provides wisdom for his people. Joe has passed along his name to his oldest son, Ryan Pulutausa Nu’u. And Ryan has passed it to his son.
Joe is teaching his children and grandchildren the generational stories. Two nieces from Samoa came to live with his family, and they taught his grandchildren Samoan songs. It is Joe’s dream that when all of his grandchildren are old enough, perhaps eight or nine, he will take them all to visit Samoa, to hear the stories in his native land. He will teach them the importance and respect that accompany a big name.
Joe's Retelling project is a novel, a thriller that weaves surprising alliances in Kosovo, Tanzania, and Los Angeles.