My first name was the subject of some debate when I was born. To start, my mother and her sister were not only pregnant at the same time and due within weeks of each other, but they also favored the same girl’s name: Natalie. Neither decided to learn the sex of her baby prior to the birth, and both figured whomever had a baby girl first could use the name. I, clearly a baby girl, was born first. However, I am also clearly not named Natalie, and this is attributed purely to the kindness of my mother and her untrustworthy hunch that my male cousin Reid was undoubtably going to be a girl. Since Natalie was no longer an option my parents had to revisit the lists of names once more when they reached the delivery room. The issue was not whether they could find a first name they liked, but rather if they could find a name that meshed well with the real statement of a last name I was gifted.
My last name is very rare in my paternal Grandfather’s home country of Italy, and even rarer in the United States. In fact, my parents, brothers, aunt, uncle, grandmother, late grandfather and myself are the only people in this country with this name. Sometimes, particularly when a substitute teacher is taking role, I find myself wishing for a name with less intimidating letters. My family often muses that the “Z” always scares people into thinking our name is much less phonetic than it actually is. We have heard almost everything: “Zangerelli”, “Zinapini”, “Zingarby” and my personal favorite, the moment when my brother at an award ceremony during a track meet was announced as “James…Council Rock North”.
Despite the fact that my name strikes fear into the hearts of unfortunate teenage occupants of track and field announcer’s booths, it has also given rise to some colorful, more pronounceable nicknames. My father, for one, has been comically known by some of his friends as “King Zing” for a considerable amount of time, and with the title came a more than outlandish persona “The King”. My brother adopted the horrific nickname “Zingo” for the duration of the horribly dark period known as middle school. My other brother was given the moniker “little gypsy”, a variation that pays homage to our Italian translation. “Zingy” “Zongerooni” “Zucchini” “Linguini” “Zoobert” “Zoob” and “Zamboni” are all interesting interpretations people have used to address me, some of which are clearly laden with my friends’ copious artistic liberty.
The overtness of my last name makes me very traceable and by no means difficult to connect to my family members. This is beneficial when I meet former patients of my Grandfather’s, a prominent OBGYN in Trenton, New Jersey. In Elementary school I was immune to stern reprimands from a specific recess aide simply because my last name made it impossible for her to not associate me with the man who delivered her children. However, the other edge of the sword is that teachers always revealed me as the sister of my brother within minutes of role on the first day, an occurrence that was not always favorable. It always took weeks of silent panic before I discovered whether “Oh. James’s sister” was a good thing or not.
My parents searched for a fitting compliment to our behemoth of a last name for hours before they decided “Gabriella” was a perfect match. Eight syllables, Eighteen letters and a lifetime of pronunciation with ridiculous accents and rolled r’s. “Are you Italian?” is a joke I am fairly certain anyone who has ever read my name off of a list has told me and an unintended consequence of their selection. Despite the jokes, nicknames and mispronunciations I have endured, I could not be prouder to call myself one of the eight little gypsies in America.