April 5, 2015 by JL Walker
Juliet’s most famous soliloquy asks the question: What’s in a name?
Her dilemma is the dilemma of all great love stories: the two lovers are from different tribes, they’re not a good match in the traditional sense. But despite all odds, they try to make it work, believing that love will transcend their contrasting social, national, educational or financial backgrounds. Romeo’s name, Montague, is what symbolizes their conflict. Juliet says that Romeo should “Deny thy father, and refuse thy name; / Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, / And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.” Names are important because they tell us where someone is from, who their family is, where their ancestors are from.
I’ve been thinking a lot about names recently, since I just updated my passport to include my middle name and I’m in the process of updating other forms of ID. When I was 16, I didn’t want to see my full name everywhere, so I decided to shorten it. Now I’m proud of the name my parents gave me: my first name is who I am, my second name is a little extra, and my last name represents my paternal grandfather, his family and our ancestors’ humble origins on the hills of Scotland. I wouldn’t change my name for anything.
Not even after getting married. So when I did get married, I decided to follow the Italian tradition of keeping my maiden name. I’ve always wondered why women keep their maiden names in Italy and the best answer I’ve found is the answer to lots of questions about Italy: family. The relationship between children and their parents and grandparents is so important that women almost always keeps their last name after marriage.
I’m happy to keep my last name because – even though I feel very comfortable in my new home in Italy – it’s important for me to retain my origins and identity as much as possible in this country where I will always be something of an outsider. My husband’s name is great and very important to him and his family. But so is mine! My name symbolizes where I’m from, though I’ve decided to live my life in a foreign country.
I said I wouldn’t change my name for anything, but that’s not quite true. Living in Italy, with my first and last names both starting with letters that don’t really exist in the Italian alphabet, it’s always hard for other people to understand my name the first time they hear it. So for all those little situations when you just have to leave a name, like making reservations, picking up dry cleaning and the like, I’ve come up with a pseudonym. Call me Smeraldo, Nina Smeraldo.