For nearly 30 years, I wasn't aware that my true and legal name was ANDREA. I was enrolled in first grade as ANDREW, was called that for 12 years throughout elementary and high schools.
At home, from pre-school years, parents and siblings addressed and referred to me as BUDDY or BUD. So did aunts, uncles and cousins, neighborhood playmates. I didn't like the appellation, and when I asked my mother why I had it, she explained that an older sister, told to call me BROTHER when I was born, couldn't manage it, kept repeating "Brudder," which became Buddy -- and stuck. The nickname followed me into elementary school. Though the good nuns at St Paul's School, Baltimore, used Andrew, classmates -- most from my neighborhood -- persisted in calling me Buddy. I didn't particularly feel like I was everybody's buddy, wished I might be a Tom, Dick or Harry like so many other boys I knew.
Not only my given name, the family surname Bacigalupa underwent drastic if not, fortunately, legal change. In the 1920s and 30s, prejudice against foreign-sounding names ran high, and first and second generation Americans were pressured to anglicize their surnames. My father was under such pressure, accepted whatever his employer -- The Pennsylvania Railroad -- wanted to call him, and Bacigalupa became BASS. Consequently, I became BUDDY BASS. I hated it. It wasn't me. Though teachers at Baltimore City College (really a high school) addressed me as Andrew, and my byline as Feature Editor for the school's newspaper The Collegian was Andrew Bacigalupa, I remained Buddy Bass to most friends.
In the army (1943-46), officers and enlisted men wouldn't attempt to pronounce Bacigalupa. Andrew was deemed much too formal for men in training and brutal combat; I was summoned as ANDY from the first day in Basics and for the next three years. Even at Roll-calls, when full names were shouted, mine lacked the surname, was simply Andy. I doubt that many comrades in my Battalion even knew my last name except for those few working in Headquarters with personnel records. Andy for me was as unacceptable as Bud had been.
But during the Bulge in Belgium, I became very friendly with a war-ravaged family in the town of Thuin. My high-school French, though not particularly good, allowed me to communicate well with them. And in their home I was not Andy, not Bud, but ANDRE. This was more like it, more like who I felt I truly was. World War II was my first introduction to Europe. Despite the horrors, sufferings and despair, and despite the fact that I did not serve in Italy -- but in England, France, Belgium and Germany -- the first stirrings of lost heritage had me wondering about what I might have missed with my family's rapid assimilation in America.
After the war, enrolled at Maryland Institute College of Art under the GI Bill, my teacher there, too, stumbled over pronouncing Bacigalupa, said she'd merely call me Andy. Echos of the army. I said No Way. She responded that Andrew was too formal, could she call me DREW. That seemed less offensive than Buddy, Bud, Andy or Bass, and I accepted. It followed me to other schools where I supplemented winter terms with summer courses at the Art Students League, Woodstock NY and Alfred University, Alfred NY. I was also writing under the name Drew Bacigalupa at that time, in order to avoid gender confusion (Andrea) with publishers. But though first-published feature articles and short stories were so credited, I signed paintings and small sculptures with surname only (Bacigalupa), avoiding use of a given name.
Post-graduate work at L'Accademia di Belli Arti in Firenze first introduced me to the pleasure of being addressed as ANDREA. With no previous knowledge of the language and no instruction in it at the Accademia (classes were taught in Italian), I was forced to learn it quickly in the streets, among friends, and with my landlady and other lodgers at the modest pensione where I lived.
1950, only 5 years after the end of World War II, was the period of La Miseria in Italy, a time of severe privation, perhaps most accurately documented in Vittorio De Sica's masterful film The Bicycle Thief. Foreign students did not escape the hardships.
But Italy immediately seduced me, the life-long love affair was passionately underway. A big part of that seduction was being known as Andrea, being called Andrea, realizing that I'd at long last found my identity, the Me I'd always surmised lurked somewhere. As my skill with Italian improved, I took pleasure in all daily activities, not only classes and critiques, but shopping, exploring the city, meeting new friends during passeggiate. I liked being told sei uno di noi, you're one of us. Even the babies and children of my friends called me Andrea!
On return to the States after a year at school in Firenze, still another surprise awaited me regarding my true name. Preparations for marriage required obtaining various documents, among them a copy of my baptismal certificate. Thereon was written not Infant Andrew Bacigalupa but Infant Andrea! My mother's explanation was that her Italian-born father had most likely given that form of the name to the priest at my christening. Thank you, Nonno.
My future bride Ellen Williams also preferred Andrea to Andrew, having heard me called that when visiting Firenze during a tour of Europe and summer study in Greece. We married under that name, I had all my past legal records reverted from Andrew to Andrea, and it remains my favorite form of address. I truly don't mind being Drew when in the US, that's my American persona. But how heartening it is on every touchdown at the Rome or Milan airport to be again Andrea, to feel in my gut This Is Who I Am. SONO IO, SONO ANDREA.
Nota Bene: Blessings in late life brought me grandchildren. And with those lovely holy innocents, still another name change. Much as I'd once detested nicknames, each time any of those four darlings summon GRANDPA DREW, call from near or far, run to me with that newest of appellations, I'm flooded with happiness.
© 1997 firstname.lastname@example.org