A name origin story

If you know me, this is a familiar story. When there’s a different name in your passport than people know you by, they tend to notice. It's also slightly embarrassing, so I figure that might appeal to some of you.

You could say it all started with Scotland. I only lived there for a few months, but wake me up in the middle of the night and ask me what place feels most like home, I’ll answer Glasgow, even before questioning how dare you talk to me before coffee. 

When I started traveling, I always introduced myself with the Swedish way of pronouncing my name, which was surprisingly difficult for my Scottish friends. They over-accentuated the vowels and whenever they called on me, it sounded like a general yelling order. “SAH-NAH!”

The obvious solution to this problem is to just say it softer, like how you usually say Anna in English. I, being me and taking things too far, went another direction. I changed the name in my passport. Possibly inspired by my cousin who made a big debacle during her baptism ceremony at age 15 by throwing in a new middle-name, Sol, Swedish for sun.*

Since I’ve always wanted to live somewhere else, I naturally wanted a name which did not feel connected to Sweden. It also had to be easy to pronounce in both English and Spanish. And, let’s be honest, something that sounded a bit cooler than the one I already had. I don’t remember which names I disregarded in the process but landed pretty quickly on Angelina. 

At this point, I want to remind you that I was about 18 years old. 

Picking a name clearly inspired by a famous icon and movie star might not have been the most strategic decision for someone who preferred standing on the sidelines, far from the center. Whenever people first heard the name they would respond with an impressed nod, as if they appreciated my parent’s unusual name choice for their time. When I felt obliged to explain I had chosen it myself, I got the look saying “really hun, you’re comparing yourself to her?”. But that might also have been my wallflower self speaking. 

 That hair though. Mirror selfie, Edinburgh, 2006.

That hair though. Mirror selfie, Edinburgh, 2006.

When I moved to Scotland I introduced myself with Angelina. Maybe it was more about shedding who I was, my Swedish way of being, into someone completely different. Angelina lived in West End, Glasgow. Worked in a pub, had favorite regulars, knew their preferred whiskey. Shared an apartment with a Scottish woman who was obsessed with crystals, a German brain surgeon, and a friend from Sweden. She could pronounce garage like she was born and raised in the Highlands. She could be whoever she wanted to be.

Then I went back to Sweden. It’s been twelve years and I never introduced myself as Angelina again. But it still says Angelina Sanna Stefansson in my passport. It reminds me of how much I wanted to be someone else and how much I now enjoy being me.

Also, the initials A.S.S. are just too good to give up.

*It’s a family thing, apparently. It can be traced back to my ancestor who founded the last name I carry, Stefanus Jonsson. I’m forever grateful he settled on Stefansson and not Stefanusson.