What's in a name?

Kindergarten was an idyllic time for me. My teacher was a wonderful woman who was on a perpetual hunt to dish out amazing hugs. The only negative was when I brought my first report card home with the name Giovanni Palmiero written on it. Who was that?! I had been called Johnny my entire life. My best friend was baffled by that fact and mispronounced it Sfanni and I rushed home crying. The next day my mother went up to the school and changed it to John. Crisis averted.

Fast forward 15 years. Two years of college had not left me in a good place so I joined the Army. My Army recruiter came by one day puzzled. He could not find a birth certificate for anyone named John Palmiero. Oops! He had to go back and find a birth certificate for Giovanni. I had forgotten what was on my birth certificate.

Another interesting tidbit that made basic training even more rewarding was that some brainiac had decreed that anyone joining with two years of college could start out as a Private First Class instead of a buck private. Apparently not a lot of Rhodes Scholars were enlisting in 1975. We had two drill sergeants, one black and one white, both Southern. The two of them may have driven past a college campus once but they immediately drew a bead on that target on my back.

Because of my rank they made me the platoon guide which meant they would chew me out in their office then I'd go out and relay the bad news to everyone else. Drill sergeants have a way of cutting you down. "Three hots and a cot" were guaranteed but before you could sit down to that meal they grilled you. "Palmiero, what's your third general order?" "Palmiero, who's the base commander?" Every wrong answer resulted in push-ups. It worked wonders. The heavy guys lost weight, the thin guys bulked up. I got into the shape of my life.

Lucky for me because one day the fire-plug looking Sarge told us to make a circle as he held two sets of boxing gloves. He called out two names and they had to duke it out in the middle of that circle. I guess it was payback time. He'd show the college boy who refused to put in for a name change. To oppose me he picked three of the toughest guys. First was a tall slim black kid from Chicago. I was fortunate to get up under his defense and deck him. Next, he picked a solid boy from North Carolina and I rocked him with a straight shot to the jaw. Lastly, he picked a guy nicknamed "Sexy," another black Chicagoan who was missing a front tooth and had this giant head. He got the best of me so drill sergeant was pleased.

I think after eight weeks of hell, err Basic Training, this child of Southern Italian immigrants proved to those two Southern Americans that we were pretty tough and hard-headed, too. When I got home on leave before deployment to Germany, my future bride saw my Army I.D. "Wait! Your real name is Giovanni. That is so cool! You've been going by John by choice? What kind of dim bulb are you?" she inquired incredulously.

After all that I began to proudly use my real name. Then on a visit to my father's hometown of Coreno, Italy, I stayed with my cousin who interestingly called me Gianni. Is that the circle of life? I'll let greater minds than I to figure that out.

giovanni palmiero

in my retirement I'm a nanny to my niece's two boys, ages 17 months and 4.

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Volume 12, Issue 24, Posted 9:56 AM, 12.15.2020