I Hate My Name
By. Angela Kidd
Had I been born a boy, I would have been named “Lance Anthony Vitale.” But on February 27, 1977, a seven-pound, seven ounce girl was shoved into the world. I was named “Angela Lee Vitale.”
I was named Angela after my maternal great grandmother, Angelina Vitale. I never met this woman or learned much about her. I know she raised 7 fiery and stubborn children who had hearts of gold but tolerated no fools. In pictures, she was a caricature of an immigrant Italian grandmother. She appeared impossibly old, she had grey hair pulled back in a tight bun and she always seemed to wear big, black shoes with long dresses, covered with an apron. I imagined she kept pots of tomato sauce going on the stove and always had sausage and peppers and Easter pies ready to serve, never certain who or how many might show up for dinner. I imagine had she met me she would have said thing to me that my Great Aunts always said when we visited, “Let me get you something to eat. You’re too skinny.”
Even though I was named after my paternal grandmother, my name was entirely my mother’s to craft and control. Before I was old enough to have an opinion, she decided I was not an “Angie.” Her parents, my maternal grandparents, ignored this decision and every Sunday when we visited their home, they called me “Angie.” My grandmother, with her slow southern drawl, would clap her hands together and say, “Hey, Angie?” Then she’d pause for an impossibly long breath and I’d fight my entire life not fill this gap of silence, “Let me show you something.” Then she’d take me to her craft room, which was really the washroom, and display the doll clothes, hair pins or napkin rings she was crafting. She desperately wanted me to show an interest in her projects, but I’d just nod blankly with a dull, “Wow” and then ask if I could find grandpa so I could sit in the front seat of his El Camino and press the buttons to play various melodies like “Dixie” from a bullhorn affixed to the top of his car.
On the drive home from these visits, while my mom thought I was napping, I’d hear her say to my father, “They never listen. I wish they’d stop calling her Angie. I hate that name.”
I had a cousin Angie who was ten or so years older than me. She had poofy, dark hair and rounded edges. She was boisterous, wind swept, warm and limitless. She laughed easily. She was fun. As Angela, I needed to check different boxes. I was bony and blond. Shy and serious. Impossible to read. Driven and competitive.
Early on I disliked my name. I didn’t want to be an Angela. I wanted to be a Shannon.
The cousin of our next-door neighbor was named Shannon. She was a year or two older than me and I played with her often. She believed she was too mature for me and repeatedly told me she only played with me because were no other kids for her to play with. Her cruelty meant I desperately wanted her to like me. I knew she would think I was copying her if I tried to change my name to Shannon, so I lobbied my parents to become a Sharon to no avail.
In fifth and sixth grade there was another Angela in my class. It bothered me to share my name, especially with someone so unlike me. The other Angela was tall, wore glasses, didn’t care about being popular and largely tried to disappear. I was ridiculously tiny, was well known for being a competitive gymnast and wore name brands and pretended to see the popular movies and watch the popular shows because I cared about my position in the social hierarchy. I wanted to distinguish myself from the other Angela. I started spelling my name A-N-J-E-L-A. An- ju-la. I loved the way it felt to write my name with a J. When I was Anjela, I didn’t write my name out of habit. I wrote my name with intention. And there were so many possibilities for dotting the J. Maybe a heart? A star? Or just a hallow circle? I was proud of the adaptation of my name when I told my mom how I was going to spell Angela going forward. She stopped wiping down the counter, stood up straight, put her right hand on her hip, cocked her head slightly to the left, looked straight at me without a bit of humor in her eyes, and said “That’s stupid. I named you Angela. Angela with a G.” Then she resumed pushing crumbs to the edge, collecting them in the palm of her hand, knowing that was the end of the matter.
As I grew older I started playing a number of team sports competitively. My teammates called me Ang. The shortening of the name happened by necessity. In basketball, if someone was open, by the time they spit out the three syllables of An-ge-la, they’d be covered by a defensive player. But “Ang.” That was short and sweet. “Ang, I’m open!” or “Ang, go right!” I liked the urgency of Ang. I started signing things Ang. When people asked when meeting me, “Should I call you Angela or do you prefer Angie?” I’d always respond, “I don’t care, really. Ang or Angela is fine.”
Then Ang was ruined for me. In college my volleyball coach called me Ang. And in games, when I messed up, she released a guttural, forcing all of the air out of her body in one breath, “Ang!”. When I shanked a pass or I didn’t get a hand on a ball she thought I should have dug, I’d hear her snort, “Ang!” like a bull facing a matador, and I’d think “Fuck me.” Then I’d avoid making eye contact with her, as if I didn’t know how to travel to my next position in the rotation and needed to concentrate intently on moving the few feet clockwise around the court. Now, when I hear “Ang” it’s in my coach’s voice and I instantaneously cower into myself.
Everyone in my life knows me as Angela. My husband, my kids, my friends. When I receive an email and its start with “Angie,” I know the sender doesn’t know me. Attorneys on the other side of deals would sometimes ask me “Angie?” on a call, attempting to bridge the gap between our clients by faking a closeness that exists between people who refer to one another with nicknames, but their efforts were entirely ineffective because I’d hear my mother’s voice say, “Who are they to presume they can call you Angie?” I immediately wrote them off as insincere and manipulative.
In a Solidcore class (for those not lucky enough to experience this form of exquisite torture, it is essentially pilates on crack), the adorable, charismatic instructor, Tyler, would scream “Come on Angie, 10 more seconds, no breaks!” or “Off your toes Angie!” I never cared that he called me Angie. I certainly wasn’t going to interrupt him as he motivated us like Mel Gibson in Braveheart to hold a plank for an impossibly long amount of time to let him know I preferred Angela. After the class, a friend who suffered on the Megaformer next to me asked, “Do you ever go by Angie?”
“I don’t. But I don’t mind it. But my mom always hated it.” I think that was the first time in my life I’d ever said I didn’t mind Angie. It was the first time my mother’s knee jerk reaction wasn’t my own reaction.
A few weeks later I went to visit my grandparents, who are now their mid-eighties. They still live on their own but their health is declining. I sat with them for a few hours and peppered them with questions. Interviewing them until I exhausted them. I don’t know what I intend to do with their stories, but I would hate not to have them.
On the flight home from the visit, I listened to a few of the recordings of the conversations. Multiple times my grandmother thought of something new she wanted to tell me, and she’d clap her hands and say “Hey Angie..” followed by her trademark long pause or my grandfather would start a story with “Well Angie...” When I heard them say Angie, I could imagine my mother scoffing and her eyes rolling. But then I recognized that her feelings didn’t dictate my feelings. Her opinions were not my opinions. Her expectations for me where not my expectations for me. And when I stopped to think about my name, I thought, “It’s funny, I am okay being Angie.”
This essay traces the source of my name and the fact that until recently, it's my mother's voice that has always defined its limits for me. I am a recovering attorney who is pursuing writing while spending more time with my family and beating up my body daily because I have an obsession with running.