In the summer of 1992 I was desperate to forge an identity for myself, as most teenagers are, I suppose, so I came up with a bright idea to make it happen. “Call me Anthony,” I told anyone who cared to listen, trying on the name for size and finding that I liked it. “But for god’s sake please don’t call me Tony,” I began adding on when the questions started their avalanche after my first proclamation. Sadly for me it didn’t stick.
For as long as I’ve had conscious thought I’ve been “Sam,” a name chosen by my mother before I was even born. Not Samuel, but Sam. And I always loved the story, how she wanted a boy so badly that she started calling me Sam from the moment she realized she was pregnant. Then of course I was born, a whopping 10 pounds, on a cold December morning, in the middle of a blizzard, and she decided to name me something completely different. But here’s the kicker — she kept calling me Sam. In fact, she’s always called me Sam, and still does to this day, birth certificate be damned.
And “Sam” has done well by me over the years, once I finally figured out how to say “Sam, not Samuel,” and how to maneuver around the gag gifts of Dr. Seuss’s beloved classic, Green Eggs & Ham. It sure beats having a nickname like Muriel, or Roy, or Dick (apologies if any of my readers has one of these nicknames). But it’s not my real name, and every once in a while I wonder what would happen if I did in fact use my real name. Would it be just so alien that I would laugh every time someone used it? Would I even turn around if someone shouted it in a crowd?
So I went with my middle name during that summer, which seems like an eternity ago now. I printed it on 3×5 cards and handed it out to people like business cards. “Anthony McManus.” I thought it had some cache to it, and it seemed to me a way to take control of my life. If I could define what people called me then I could define my place in this world too. There was only one problem: it was never going to stick. Going against a whole lifetime (even if that lifetime was only 15 years in the making at that point) was just an uphill battle I was never going to win.
Two people began calling me Anthony that summer, and they were gone soon thereafter. Maybe that was a sign. I guess I’ll never know.