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Jo's trip to Rome where her name was officially changed.


My Name, My Destiny:

The Power of Changing One’s Name          

By Jo Brunini


The right name, the one touch of “red,” that singular element Degas anchored within each painting, needs no justification; it belongs there without qualification.


As a teenager with lusty passions, I wanted more than my name, Joanne, delivered. I noticed words that both sounded and looked right. I read all the time. I collected words. Maybe it was growing up in an Italian household—the lure of a romance language, even in the periphery.


I was an older sister with an outsized sense of personal responsibility. “J” names carried justice, championed the weak, maintained social harmony, had a solid set of core values, pursued intellectual stimulation, and took jobs as nannies. All valuable characteristics built into the backbones of great societies by conscientious members—and the heroes of biblical stories alike. Though if I had to be a nanny, I’d be a nanny with mystical powers, and then make order out of domestic anarchy.


I felt unadorned in an environment where the related females bore names ending in the vowel “a:” Vittoria, Linda, Lisa. When I heard “Joanne” called, I heard a command to “get to business.” Not the adventurous dreams of an unconventional soul. Maybe what I needed was to run away with my emotions?


What’s in a name?


Robert Zimmerman ran away from Hibbing, Minnesota seven times: at ten, twelve, thirteen, fifteen, fifteen and a half, seventeen, and eighteen. In a “dying town” he hadn’t fit into traditional institutions. He tried on Elston Gunn, Robert Allyn (“the name of a Scottish king), and Bob Dillon. Eventually, I penned “Olivia” in my teen diary.


A different name, and I’d listen to life in a different way. I wouldn’t hit the road and officially leave home until my nineteenth year. My Achilles heel is a stubborn-streak. I didn’t have time to waste trying to convince others of the importance of my ideas, not as a thirteen-year-old, nineteen-year-old, nor at forty.


How would my name influence how other’s thought of me? Who would I be if I altered my name? Prosaic or profound, how would I be remembered, and how would I be perceived, even before introductions were made? Could I wear my name inside out and would it still fit?


Misnomer: something that is incorrectly, or unsuitably applied. Something that was named before it’s correct nature was known. It wasn’t an outsized sense of destiny I sought; it was the possibility of a red-letter day. A saint’s day, holy days, one marked on calendars in red ink. A rubric: words or larger letters, which introduce a guide listing specific criteria for scoring academic papers. It all circles back, the color red can’t be overlooked.

                                                                        Rubric; ruber, Latin for “red.”


Rethink your name through the lens of the present.


When my name didn’t suit, the way I moved through life was hindered. The right name imparted a sense of wholeness. I tucked back inside a sense of belonging. My sister Lisa, must have known, she gave me the childhood nickname “Jo.” (Thank you Lisa.) As Jo, I ceased living in an exterior form that was misaligned with my interior being.


Each of us strives toward both autonomy and connection. Even with a name chosen by someone else, a name we question. A new name, the right name, is a metamorphosis of sorts. It frees you to become your own person. Robert Zimmerman, the non-conformist, hitchhiked to New York’s Greenwich Village, and in1962, legally changed his name to Bob Dylan.


If your name feels too common, and you seek the ability to realize bits of your personality or inner world otherwise overlooked, any and all of it—do not deny the immeasurable influence of names—perhaps rethink yours.


“The most important anchorage to our self-identity throughout life remains our own name.”—Gordon Allport, 1961, (founding figure of personality psychology)


A new name is a new road.


In 2000, I took a sabbatical from my marriage, traveling with my three youngest children to Rome, Italy, where I taught at an alternative school for seven months. It turned out to be a seminal experience in my life. When I left Italy, I still carried with me the creative, intellectual, unselfish, and companionable qualities associated with the name “Joanne,” but arrived home making a little more noise about originality of one sort or another—a female with a stronger sense of agency. I came home and began my first blog, then work on my first novel, Never a Cloud.


My Italian neighbors had shook my hand and called me “Giovanna,” the Italian of Joanne. As though marking time, and an important transition in my life, a piece of me had gained authenticity. You’re not aware of what’s inside you, until it suddenly emerges. I hadn’t become a wholly balanced individual, or a Zen master overnight, but it was enough then, for me to know that I was quietly understood.


If a name suits you, another name suits you more. I wasn’t going to shed the biblical connection, or pull a slightly silly face, and that was fine. Names represent passages in our life. Twenty-two years later, and I feel most at home as “Jo.”


If a name suits you, another name suits you more.


My mother chose not to give my sister and me middle names, and when asked, replied, “This way, if you don’t like the name I’ve given you, you’ll have the freedom to choose a new piece of your name.”


“Nominative determinism” or the link between who a person is and what they’re called, states that our names do indeed shape who we become. The wrong name impedes the power of our psychological adjustment. I equate it with being in-flight with inertia.


George Sand / Amantine Aurore Dupin

Ringo Starr / Richard Starkey

Carravaggio / Michelangelo Merisi

Yusuf Islam/ Cat Stevens / Steven Demetre Georgiou

El Greco / Dominikos Theotokòpulos

Mark Rothko / Marcus Rothkowitz

Voltaire / François-Marie Arouet

Lewis Carol / Charles Lutwidge Dodgson

George Egerton / Mary Chavelita Dunne

George Eliot / Mary Anne Evans

bell hooks / Gloria Jean Watkins

J.K. Rowling / Joanne Rowling

Maya Angelou / Marguerite Annie Johnson

Helen Mirren / Ilyena Vasilievna Mironoff

Whoopie Goldberg / Caryn Elaine Johnson

Lady Gaga / Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta


Jo Brunini’s paintings and poetry can be found at Among her regrets are losing the handwritten letter addressed to her from William Steig and not taking Tasha Tudor up on an invitation to tea. At various times in her life, she’s lived in Mexico, and Italy. Jo lives in Vermont with her family.

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