What's Your Name Again?
Alright, so you know me as Anthony. Which is correct. That’s my name. But do you have a nickname? I do.
When I was younger I was always being called a different name than my actual legal name. In short, people wanted to turn Anthony into Tony. That didn’t sit well with me as a child. My brother had an acronym as his nickname using his first and last name. I, too, took on an acronym as my nickname and soon became known as AJ. It stands for Anthony John (John being my middle name).
For years I had become so used to hearing AJ that when someone would call me in a formal setting, like a nurse announcing Anthony in a waiting room, I wouldn’t acknowledge it. As I entered adulthood I started to take a look at why I preferred the nickname as opposed to my given name. It had a lot more to do with my own psyche than it did with people saying the name Tony.
“The silencing of my given name served as a way to ignore who I was.”
It was something I didn’t want to admit to myself — I didn’t like who I was. My struggle with identity stemmed from something completely different from a word or name. It had everything to do with who I was as a gay man. Looking back I can see that I wanted to be anyone else but myself and the nickname AJ provided some sort of brief distraction from that. The silencing of my given name served as a way to ignore who I was. It was most certainly a coping mechanism to get through my adolescence and navigate a culture shaming homosexuality. I can see that now.
For a long time I blamed others for my struggle to be honest, not just with others, but myself. Telling myself that it was everyone else’s fault for not telling me explicitly that they accepted gay people or that there was nothing wrong with me. The truth is, I should never have been looking for acceptance externally. Instead, I should have been focusing my hurt and effort on my own message inside my head. I had the power, and only myself, to give me the permission to destroy the conditioned mentality of shame. It took awhile, and it’s still something I have to remind myself as I fall back into a vulnerable moment from my past, but I feel better equipped to acknowledge such moments when they arise in my adulthood.
I have no problem with people calling me AJ today. But I have embraced my legal name, Anthony, fully. By giving acknowledgement to that name, it’s an homage to my origin and my truth. It’s my way of showing myself that I’m not ashamed of being who I am. I’m not unique in any way. I’m not the first person to struggle with their identity as they grow up. We all have our baggage and this is part of my process to unpack some of that. It truly warms my heart to see a positive attitude toward the LGBTQ community, especially the youth still in school. Part of me wonders what that would have been like to be in such an environment. However, I still feel very grateful to have been born when I was and currently have the life I do today. Can you imagine if I was in high school during an earlier era than I actually was? I’m just happy to see messages that encourage people to be who they are and not feel ashamed of being different today.
A name can mean a lot of things. Whatever you want to call me, I’ve accepted myself for everything I am and I’m happy to be that person. Acceptance comes from within, no matter what I hear myself being called. It’s a message that took awhile to learn but I’m just glad I could share what my name means to me.