At birth, I was given a hyphenated first name, the first part of which never quite resonated with me. The second part, Anne, felt right but not completely right. As with most of the major changes in my life, the decision to change my name found me. I never consciously deliberated over my name. It was an evolution over decades until one day it just hit me that there was no longer a choice, my given name just didn't work for me any longer and I needed a new one. So, I floated around other versions of Anne in my mind until one chose me. Anya it was. And so it has been officially (although not yet legally) for the past twelve months.
As you know, I'm not overly attached to any fixed identity. Over the past year, I've not been stringent with people adopting my new name. I changed my name badge at my place of work and let everyone shift into it. My brother and father also made the shift quite quickly. My mother still calls me by my given name, although in a recent conversation with my brother she said she's "working on it". My Mom moves at her own pace, Goddess love her. I have a few other friends who flat out refuse to call me my new name. I see this more as a reflection of who they are than who I am. It's all good. I know who I am. And that's all that matters.
I've had some funny experiences though recently with my name. When I introduce myself with only Anya, people assume they know where I'm from. I had a conversation today with a homeless man who is a fixture in my neigbourhood. Before I left, I introduced myself and he said, "That's a Russian name. I knew you were Russian." I didn't correct him. I just smiled.
I once had a woman break into Russian when I introduced myself. Knowing a smile wouldn't suffice, I explained that I wasn't Russian and didn't understand the language. If it feels relevant I'll go into my name change but most of the time it just doesn't matter.
Today though, I had a stranger experience that wasn't directly attached to my name. An older gentleman came over to me while I was sipping tea at my local coffee haunt. He said, "May I ask you something?"
"Of course," I said.
"What is your background? I'm guessing it's Russian or Eastern European. Perhaps Bosnian or Croatian?"
"No actually," I smiled. "But European is correct. My father is from Italy. And my mother, although born in Canada, has her lineage in Scotland, England, Ireland and France. I am curious though. Why did you think I'd be Russian or Eastern European?"
"Just the way you look," he replied. "And what you're wearing. Your scarf [which incidentally is from India], and your hat [which I bought at a major fashion retailer]."
"Well, we're all world citizens. Nice to meet you," I said. I didn't even bother to tell him my name was Anya. The Russian first name would've just confused him more. Perhaps I was vibing the Russianness of Anya today and I didn't realize it. This is how I looked today, by the way. Judge for yourself:
Names are funny things. Having a Russian first name and an Italian last name makes almost everyone I meet raise an eyebrow. They're not sure what to make of me. Not sure what box I might fit into. I like that. I've never been a fan of boxes. Eventually the lid closes over and suffocates you. In the immortal words of Popeye: "I am what I am."