#MayaAngelou: She Gave Me My Name

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Maya Angelou Walking Along Beach

By Mia Legg

I was home schooled when I was a kid. Each morning I aligned my thoughts with swirls into the pictures I drew and the poems I wrote. I even recited collections of words from people I never met before. “The Snail’s Monologue” and “ The Kangaroo” became my friends; not imaginary, but tangible and clever.

I like that I was a writer and a poet well before I digested the depths of Dr. Maya Angelou’s legacy of love and truth and of honesty. My mommy named me after her, which has always made me feel enveloped in an aura of magic. Yet, my name has also been a detrimental and devastating aspect of my earthly being.

As a creator, and as a creative person, my mom instinctually spelled my name M-I-A, instead of M-A-Y-A or any of the other variations that would not be easily mistaken with the pronunciation of Mia Hamm, the beloved female soccer legend from the 90s. Being that the name Maya is in fact pronounced like ‘Mia’ Hamm’s in various languages including, French, Italian, and Spanish, I was doomed to a life of dramatic duality. My French and Italian professors by principle called everyone in class by their foreign names. So I learned to answer to ‘Mia,’ which unfortunately spread like a drop of colored ink in a puddle of aged rain; outside of the classroom and into unwelcomed realms of my life.

My favorite band in the whole world Incubus dedicated a video to their supporters, in which the lead singer Brandon Boyd, my dream guy, personally thanked me and called me, ‘Mia.’ A guy I play creative tag with through the passing of poems and music once introduced me as  ‘Mia’ to his friends at a bar. (And I was like, um, we’ve known each other for a year and we’ve slept together). The baristas at Starbucks even say ‘Mia’ when the cashiers spell out M-A-Y-A on the cup encompassing my tall, white mocha with peppermint syrup, which I no longer have the ability to enjoy.

I remember every time someone I have affection for pronounces my name wrong. Specifically when they have said my name correctly in the past and when we know each other. The mistake makes me feel that the care and attention for me begins to dwindle as time extends. So early on I decided to take on both names: Mia and Maya. This way, no one could decide what to call me, or give me something that my mom created, something that was always meant to be mine.

Being one person with two names quickly turned me into two people, switching between actions and characteristics depending on whom I felt like being and sometimes, who other people wanted me to be. I’ve spent my entire life trying to coincide the dualities of my existence; Returning home from private high school in my friend’s Mercedes Benz, then falling asleep to prostitutes yelling at each other from the street corners. (One time while feeding a squirrel a chocolate chip cookie on the bus stop, I saw a woman sneaking in an early morning hustle, half naked. That was the first time I consciously saw a pair of boobs). On that very same street I lived in a rented, white house with a ten foot high, floating, walk-able catwalk in the middle of the living room, a kitchen that had a secret entrance accessible by pushing a hidden button underneath the shelf of a bookcase and a loft in my bedroom. The house was topped off with 5 bedrooms, yet, my family did not own a car. So I hitched rides with friends and sometimes found myself stranded and lost in the Syracuse snow.

I feign for grime with elegance. I yearn for contradiction. I’ve enjoyed being loud and quiet, nice and aggressive, innocent and risqué, ‘Maya’ and ‘Mia.’ But lately, things began to change when I realized my love for juxtaposition has always been a choice. And on receiving the news that Dr. Maya Angelou had past away, on feeling her energy leave the physical world, I felt her name, our name, lift away from me. I felt sadness that I had not fought harder to always claim myself as ‘Maya,’ to define who I am.

The first thing I tell most people when I meet them is that Dr. Maya Angelou is my namesake. I am proud that she has brought me closer to mastering the appropriate proportion of numbness to negativity and lasting awareness of the level of ignorance in the world, so that I can digest that colorblindness and social class irrelevance are the true forces that magnify love, elevate time, and permit acceptance of change.