No one, myself included, noticed that the first four letters of my name spell “anal” until I was in college. Not a single friend, not either of my brothers. Seriously, you can’t fake naïveté like that.
My brother got called “Beaner”, a hilarious elementary school play on his name (Ben) and our assumed ethinc origin (Mexican). Despite the fact that Ben has fair skin and green eyes and our father is from Paraguay (a state in Mexico maybe?), I think the teasing bothered him. First graders don’t like to be teased. His middle name, Andres, or as they say it in Texas child-speak “Undress, ha ha ha!”, didn’t win him any points either. Poor Ben.
The first family-wide blow came when I was in 11th grade. Pfizer had just launched a magical new drug with titillating warnings like “for erections lasting more than four hours seek medical attention immediately.”
We Villagras could hardly celebrate the suddenly vigorous blood-flow of middle-aged penises around the nation. It felt heavy. I loved my name! I had never wished to be a Jones or a Smith. Even Garcia or Lopez felt too generic, too firmly rooted in an identity (again, presumably Mexican) that didn’t actually apply. Villagra was strange, un-spell-able, un-pronounce-able, and ethnically ambiguous. It required explanation, just like the long-winded story of who we were and why we all ate such weird food at home (abbreviated explanation: Mom likes to cook).
The coming of Viagra was my first encounter with permanent, irreversible destiny. Our name was ruined. We joined the ranks of families called Lipschitz or Gaylord and men named Dick. I clenched my teeth and waited for the furor to peak and fade, but the cultural priaprism never died down. The stupid blue pill with most of my last name printed on it was here to stay.
Then we moved to Brazil, where all of the teenagers we knew were having so much sex themselves that they had no time to worry about the older generation’s sexual dysfunction. We were granted a few years respite by a sweeping, tropical hormone surge.
By the time it was pointed out to me that my first name was just as easily understood as Anal-ia as it was Ana-Lia (the way it is pronounced) I felt inured to the pain of being a marked woman. I shrugged it off with the same coolness with which I now explained the spelling of my last name, “Viagra, with two Ls in the middle.” I could have handled being called Rectum Erection at that point with the haughty defiance of Marie Antoinette. Mock as you will, this is my name. It may be imperfect, but it’s what I started with, and the hell with you and your awkward giggle if you think you can take it away from me. This is what my parents felt in their tender little hearts when they looked down at their fresh, cone-headed first baby, and I’m sticking with it. My mom says I’ve always been stubborn. And that first babies frequently have cone-heads.
Your name really has very little to do with you. Someone who has never met you before slaps a label on you and calls it a day. More loving, perhaps, but same essential procedure that got us a bunch of “Indians” living nowhere near the Indian subcontinent and a “New World” that has been on this planet just as long as the Old one. My loyalty to my own moniker is a combination of sentiment and a deep appreciation for the meaninglessness of it all. If “a rose by any other name” and all that, then what the hell do I care what you call me? Why waste precious brain waves wishing for a new name when my name doesn’t actually make me feel differently about myself?
Someone asked me when I was about to get married a few years ago if I was going to change my name. “To what?” I asked. It took me a few moments of wondering if this person thought I’d make a great Mandy before it dawned on me that we were talking about my last name. It had never occurred to me to change my name.
I am aware that the last name given to all of my siblings and me is my father’s name while my mother is our lone Fitzgerald. Regardless of the paternalistic traditions that got me here, the fact is that I spent close to 30 years with this name. We’ve struggled together, Anal Viagra and I. Just because this dude I met and decided to marry happens to have a different name doesn’t compel me to try to match. We don’t wear matching clothes either, although that would undoubtedly make us look more like a “set”. I don’t think it occurred to Aaron to ask about my name changing either, though he faked indignation that he wasn’t offered Villagra.
Very clearly Western spiritual leaders/yoga masters/etc sometimes go by Eastern names. I’ve heard that some yoga teacher training programs include the bestowing of a traditional name at the end. I guess I can appreciate why the symbolic re-making of your Self might begin with casting off the name that was pinned on you blindly out of a baby book years ago and instead selecting a label of deep personal meaning. But having defended for so long a name that suffered numerous social hits, I must say that I love my name as it is. The deep personal meaning comes from rejecting the yearnings for “something better” or for perfection and just embracing what I have.
I love my name because it is what my parents decided they wanted to say every time they called (in love and in frustration) their oldest child. I love my name because it looked pretty when I learned to write it in looping cursive in elementary school. I love my name because it sounds strange and exotic, matching perfectly the vague out-of-place-ness I always feel. I love my name because when push came to shove and the other kids made fun of it I went on loving it.
I had other moments in my life when I was every bit one of the lemmings that young people too often are. But when fate, the biomedical industry, and silly teenagers made fun of my name I shrugged it off. I experienced one of those glorious, proud moments when really, truly, it doesn’t matter what they think.