I have gone through life with two unusual names. Doubly unusual and regularly misspelt and mispronounced in the UK, but unusual too in Italy. My surname, Dallanegra, would fill an entire post on its own: suffice to say it is rare even in Italy. And then there's Silvana... a name which pops up here and there in Italy, a name which defies fashion and fads (though it had its moment in the 1950s in homage to the beautiful film star Silvana Mangano), a timeless, classless, placeless name. It is the sort of name which refuses to be pinned down or categorised: its English equivalents would be names like Cora, Elaine and Justine. Not an outlandish name, but not one you'd meet very often - and one which doesn't define its owner's age or background.
It's a rare thing to meet another Silvana. In England I have met two (though one was Sylvana, so she only counts partially); in Italy, too, only a few. Unlike Mary Smith or Mary Jones I have never had to rely on my surname to distinguish me; I am usually the only Silvana for miles around.
Until now. There are only three Silvanas in the Society, and for the past month, two of them have been in Oxford! "The other" Silvana is a young Argentinian sister, here for English language study. Like me, she too is unaccustomed to sharing her name, as it is probably even rarer in her country.
It's been a month of trying to get used to saying and hearing my name, and knowing it isn't me. Even when I can tell someone is addressing the other Silvana, I still find my head snapping up in response. I suppose Johns and Marys grow up used to this; Marys especially, who say and hear their name in prayer, maybe on a daily basis. But when you normally only ever say your name to introduce yourself; when you only ever hear your name when someone is addressing you... then sharing it is weird, and would take much longer than a month to get used to. Weird, but also nice. I've asked the other Silvana how it has been for her, and she says the same - so we are unanimous in that!!
I've also been thinking how often, when we meet someone who shares our birthday, perhaps, or our name, we instantly say we have something in common. In truth, beyond an 'accident' of birth or naming there is often very little in common, and this is certainly true for Silvana and I. She is tall, dark and musical; I am short, fair and only sing in the shower. She grew up in the country; I'm a thorough townie. She jogs; I don't. And yet, there are some similarities: we are both extraverts with a strong sense of humour... and, of course, both RSCJ, following a common call, even though in different countries and contexts.
That call is now taking Silvana from Argentina via England to India, for her "international experience" - part of her preparation for final vows. She's busy cramming stuff into her suitcase, clearing her room, sending final messages. In a few hours we will each go back to being the only Silvana in our contexts, back - for me at least - to how things were. For her, new horizons and new experiences. Will we meet again? Only God knows. But for now we will hold the memory of almost five weeks in which we have shared life, prayer and laughter... in other words more than just a name.
Adios Silvana, mi hermana querida - y buen camino