Yesterday someone said, “my you have a lovely last name. So musical.” As he waved his arm through the air… “Is your family from Italy? Are you Italian?” I chuckled a little and said well, “my dad made that last name up. I can’t take any credit for it.” And so I told them the story. I forget how the smallest of things to me, is such a funny story to others.
My dad always told me he changed his last name from Gaines to Carabella because Carabella was his grandfathers name and Gaines was his step-fathers name. He told me his father’s family was from Sicily, that he was born on the boat over here and I was half Italian. He said his mother was crazy and she’s really Italian and not black like she’s always claiming to be.
He’s my dad right? Why shouldn’t I believe him?
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that ALL the puzzle pieces came together. His sister laughed when I told her about the Carabella name. She said he told the family he changed it because he could get better music gigs playing the French Horn with the last name Carabella rather than Gaines.
The real story?
He wanted to deny his entire life up until a point in time. He changed his last name in 1976. The year I was born. My birth certificate says my father is white and born in NYC. My father is at minimum of mixed race and was definitely born in Alabama. He didn’t want that stigma so he reinvented himself.
When my aunt and uncle took legal guardianship of me I thought seriously about changing my last name to my mother’s maiden name. Carabella meant nothing to me. But then again, it’s all I know me to be. So “Mary Spencer” is my great great grandmothers name and has a long history and Carabella is made up. I’m Black, Irish, English which translates into AMERICAN.