At a party two years ago, a man I didn’t know came up to me and delivered an extraordinary piece of information: his friend was legally changing her name to mine. I was a singer, and it turned out this friend had wandered into a recent show, seen my name on a record album, and literally left the venue calling herself “Alina Simone.”
My friends thought it was funny that another woman my age, who lived in the same city, would change her name to mine. I thought it was funny too, but for a different reason; Alina Simone wasn’t my real name. I’d switched from my father’s last name, Vilenkin, to my mother’s, Simone, when I was 24, after receiving an envelope addressed to one “Alina Vileskin.” Alina Simone was a better stage name, I decided, and besides, I’d grown tired of spelling my weird last name, and constantly explaining where I was born, and how it was that I’d come to America, which was hardly the most interesting thing I could think of to talk about.
At the end of the year, curiosity got the best of me and I decided to find the “other” Alina Simone and ask her out for a drink. We met at a bar in Midtown and she told me her story. She’d just been through a traumatic divorce when she happened upon my name. The man who she’d moved to this country to marry — leaving her family, her language, her country behind — had left her for another woman. She felt unmoored, but was ready to make a new life for herself. She’d moved to a new neighborhood, started running marathons and, after more than a decade in America, decided to finally become a US citizen. Now all she needed was a new name.
I came away inspired by the new Alina Simone, dazzled by the power of self-invention that a new name can help bring about. My only advice to her — one Alina Simone to another — was that if anyone ever accused her of stealing her name from the singer Nina Simone, to tell them Nina was born Eunice Waymon.