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PRIVATE LIVES

I've often wondered why parents bother to name their children at birth when so many become dissatisfied with their given name. As soon as they are able, they change it.

Having made a careful scientific study of this subject, I've concluded that more than half the people on this planet go by names other than those on their birth certificates. In some cases, circumstance rather than choice brings about the name change. Mine began by circumstance and ended by choice.

My parents labeled me Benvenuta. Nuti (Newty) for short. A nice enough name if one lived in Italy, which we did at the time, but unusual in the United States. My sisters and brothers, born in the states, didn't escape being given Italian names. They were Iolanda, Mafalda, Aldo and Bill.

How did Bill get in there? Well, by the time he came along, I was old enough to object to my parents' selection, Umberto, and insisted that he be given an American name. And, yes, he has thanked me many times.

My name wasn't a problem until my non-English-speaking father was registering me for the first grade. He pronounced my name very slowly to the teacher.

"Ben-ven-uta," he repeated over and over. The teacher asked him to spell it. He looked at me, puzzled. Spella, in our dialect, means "to peel," and spelling is not a subject taught in Italian schools as words are written phonetically.

In Italian, he asked me, "What does she want? What is this spella? How do you peel a name?"

I didn't know how to answer his questions. They continued going round and round, with me translating, until, unable to come to an understanding, the teacher firmly said, "Benvenuta means Anna."

My father knew perfectly well that Anna, forward or backward in any language, is Anna, but tired of the confusing exchange and intimidated by the teacher, he agreed. So Anna it was for the next eight years.

When graduation time came around, I confided to my teacher that my real name was Benvenuta and that it meant "welcome" in English.

Imagine my embarrassment when on graduation day, Welcome was asked to come forward and claim her diploma. Everyone wondered who the heck Welcome was, and for a moment, so did I.

Later, when I entered high school, I dropped the "a" from Anna.

Anna, I thought, was a "fat" name. Perhaps if I dropped the "A," I could become a slim/trim Ann. It didn't work. Nevertheless, I kept the name and made it legal some years ago.

And now, except for family and close friends who call me Nuti _ and others who remind me of my Americanized name every time they say, "You're welcome" _ I'm known as Ann.

Ann Scheitler lives in Largo. Private Lives is edited by Mary Jane Park.

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