Annamarya Scaccia is an award-winning freelance journalist who has reported extensively on reproductive health and reproductive rights, women’s issues and rights, civil rights, constitutional issues, marriage equality, sexuality, sex worker rights, and sexual violence, among other rousing topics. Her work has appeared in/on Philadelphia City Paper, Philadelphia Weekly, West Philly Local, Initiative Radio with Angela McKenzie, RH Reality Check, Prince George’s Suite, Origivation, and BLURT. She was a 2011 Peter Jennings Project for Journalists & the Constitution Fellow, and is the author of the 2005 poetry and prose collection, Destiny for a Tragedy.
Naming Problems: Who Am I?
For years when I was younger, I wished my name was Amanda.
That was the first name my mother originally picked to brand me with—to shape my identity for the years to come. But my father was adamant against it. So they decided to name me Annamaria instead.
And, for a while, I despised it.
It was a seething hatred I never fully vocalized. Instead, I sat with it silently, keeping Annamaria—and whatever it meant to be Annamaria—at a far, tense distance. Plus, it’s not like I was ever actually Annamaria. It was either shortened to Anna by me or assuming others, or was given some perverse variation, like Annemarie, Anne Marie, Annamarie, or Anna Marie, so on and so forth. And it was mocked mercifully. “Anna Banana Plays the Piano” was the soundtrack of my youth.
Annamaria was just a name I wrote on paperwork.
But this isn’t why I hated my name or why I wished upon stars that my birth certificate read Amanda instead. The simple, unabashed truth is I wanted to be named Amanda because of what it symbolized: an American girl in an Italian family.
In a lot of ways, my family is the quintessential Brooklyn Italian famiglia. Our heritage is important to our identity, to the way we communicated, and to the way we responded to the outside world. A mix of broken English and broken Italian was spoken over dishes of orecchiette and ragu. We would walk the line of the Santa Rosalia feast (better known as the 18th Avenue Feast) every year and shove our faces with delicious, messy zeppoli. And we would attend midnight mass on Christmas at St. Simon and Jude Church, filing in with our other Catholic neighbors.
Yet, I wasn’t Italian enough. Even though my mother would only joke about how I was “Americanized”— how I couldn’t speak or understand a lick of Italian or I didn’t like certain traditional foods—I always felt she had a point. How can I really be a first generation Italian-American if I couldn’t comprehend the language that filled our house? How could I really be a first generation Italian-American if I turned away from Catholicism to pursue a more profound faith?
How could I be this Brooklyn Italian girl I’m supposed to be if I couldn’t even fit into her clothes properly?
So I rejected my full name for a long time, because I rejected my heritage. I didn’t feel like I deserved it—that I was worthy of it. Instead, I insisted on going by Anna. I would spit on my name, even my middle one (Celestina), because it felt ugly. I felt uncomfortable in that skin that was assigned to me. If I am indeed Americanized, I thought, then that’s how I’ll approach my identity.
Around 2003, that all changed. I can’t remember the exact moment I had the epiphany that my name is beautiful, that I deserve to be a part of the culture that was so present in my formative years. I can’t remember when I decided that I wasn’t just this American girl—that I was a product of old Mediterranean customs trying to conform to a modern East Coast world. But it hit me like I just crashed into the side of a brick wall.
I am Annamaria. This is who I am.
Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t apply my own twist. So when I started Brooklyn College in 2004, I began to write my name as Annamarya. I actually owe that to an acquaintance of mine who knew me when I still went by Anna. She suggested my name would be even more beautiful if it was spelt Anya, and that lit a fire in me. If I am going to be Annamaria, I am going to be Annamaria on my own terms.
Since then, I’ve introduced myself as Annamarya. It’s the only name my boyfriend of eight years calls me. That’s the only name that marks my emails, my social media accounts, and my legal papers. That’s the only name I want to be called from here on out. That’s my identity.
Still, because of all those years fighting against Annamaria, I still feel like I don’t know myself. When I utter “just call me Anna” because people can’t grasp the length of my name, it doesn’t feel right. Something just halts inside of me. It feels like I am denying who I’ve become and want to be—like I am reverting back to the days of hiding.
It doesn’t bother me when my family or pre-Annamarya friends call me Anna. That’s how they’ve grown to know me. There’s a comfort in that familiarity. But when people take it upon themselves to shorten my name despite introducing myself as Annamarya, I cringe. I become annoyed at the superficial disrespect. I want to scream, “Can’t you see I’m Annamarya?!? Can’t you see I’m not that girl anymore?!?”
And that’s where I find myself as Annamarya: conflicted. Even though I’ve grown to love my full name, I can’t help but think I am just this person trying to mask who she really is with a nice set of pearls. Is going by Annamarya my way of hiding that neurotic, erratic, depressed kid or have I just evolved into a depressed adult who knows how to handle the world better? And will I ever be fully comfortable in that skin?
That last question, I am not sure I’ll ever answer, but it is the crux of my story: that no matter what name I’ve gone by, I’m still not settled in.
And I don’t know if I ever will be.
For now, though, I will continue to let her enfold me. I will continue to be the bitter grace she represents, and continue to accept it cordially.
A quick note about images in this series: each essay includes an image of a place that holds personal meaning for the author.
Let’s Talk About Names: Robyn is the previous post in the series.
Let’s Talk About Names: Nia is the next post in the series.
The entire series is available at the Let’s Talk About Names Tumblr.
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