What’s in a Name?

First name Emily. Last name Ávila. First half American. Second half Portuguese. Just like my life. Totally one, and totally the other.

Here, no one mispronounces my last name. They don’t say “uh-VEEY-uh,” forcing a fake Spanish accent. Or start off with the flat, whiney ‘A’ like “apple.” They know to emphasize the Ahhhh. But you need to be fluent in both languages to pronounce the whole thing correctly.

The civil servants here are perplexed by the paucity of my short name. First name, last name, the end. No long string of ancestors’ names to carry around. Those were left in unmarked graves back on the islands. No room for them in the first American-in-the-family. My name is light, unburdened by history or tradition.

It’s a mouthful of vowels. The lips barely touch as you repeat it over and over like tongue twister.

I didn’t change my name when I married. I could only ever be Emily Ávila. Totally one, and totally the other. Nothing in between. Nothing else.

I don’t know what inspired my parents to give me an American first name. My father’s sister was Emilia. But they went with the American version of it, providing me with this split identity that I have spent the better part of my life trying to make sense of.

Perhaps this is why I am fascinated with thresholds and liminal spaces. My name is the bridge between the old world and the new. I am the threshold between two languages, two cultures, two identities.

Photo by Azmarina Tanzir on Unsplash

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