My name is Dan D’Agostino. On my birth certificate, it says Daniel in place of Dan. For most of elementary school, I signed my name as Danny on book reports and other assignments. In 4th grade, I decided I had matured sufficiently to begin signing my name as, “Dan the Man.” While I wish “the Man” portion was a joke, I embarrassingly went by “Dan the Man” for a good year or so. Sometime in 5th grade, I decided to drop the gender identification and have called myself Dan D’Agostino ever since.
Many of you will read my last name and fail miserably to pronounce it. Don’t worry, you aren’t the only one to struggle as I have heard every iteration from “Dan D-god-stene-oh” to “Dan D-nag-oh-s-ohh.” It’s a challenging name to pronounce for sure and I don’t blame anyone for butchering it. Shoot, my own family can’t even agree to the pronunciation (some say “de-ag-a-stene-oh” and some say “dag-a-stene-oh”). Whatever the pronunciation, my name is my name and it has been that way my entire life (the D’Agostino part that is).
The D’Agostino name derives from Italy, where after a search on surnamedb.com, I found out that it is one of the oldest of all recorded surnames, dating back to 1273. The name was and still is associated with St. Augustine and the monasteries that he founded in the 7th century. Having a strong Italian name (strong like garlic), I have always been proud to “be” a D’Agostino even though the apostrophe is brutal on computers systems and I have to correct 88% of all people who try to pronounce it. However, my pride in the name doesn’t have much to do with its Italian roots.
I have gone about my life feeling a little guilty for not having a closer affinity to all things Italian. While I was a huge Italian soccer fan (go Roberto Baggio!), have had wonderful trips to Tuscany and Rome and think Ferrari’s are some of the sweetest cars out there, “being Italian” always felt a little off for me. I don’t particularly like eating pasta, Chianti isn’t in my top five of red wines, I’m not Catholic, I can’t stand Opera, I’m not particular fashionable, I don’t say “ehhhh” at the end of every sentence and I’ve never slicked back my hair. Somewhere, Al Pacino is hearing this and probably wants to cut my throat.
I am proud of my name because I like that it’s different and it reminds me of where I came from. Namely, the genealogy of my Grandfather. As a child, I looked up to my Grandfather and the stories he told of “hustling” on the streets of New York to sell apples during the Depression, fighting his way into Brooklyn Dodgers baseball games, and defying orders during WWII to provide toys to children in orphanages. My Grandfather had to use charm, wit, and sheer determination to scrap out an existence during an era when Italians faced much discrimination.
All of this “hustle” can be seen throughout a story he told where numerous restaurant owners refused to give him work. After nearly asking every restaurant in town, he finally found an owner willing to take a chance on him and who gave him one single table to provide service to. In a matter of weeks, my Grandfather had “out wined” and “out dined” every other waiter in the restaurant that patrons would return and demand that “Jim” be their server. As a result, the owner’s revenue had never been better, and he was able to add to the space of the restaurant. My grandfather parlayed this ability to provide outstanding service to his guests into a life-long career managing restaurants.
Knowing I “come from” and share the blood of my Grandfather has often given me the strength to “work hard,” “fight,” and “dig deep.” I identify with the persona of my Grandfather and know that I too am a short guy with Italian descent, who can hustle his way towards whatever he wishes. The thing is, I’ve been living a lie.
I am not “Italian” and other than sharing the same last name as my Grandfather, we barely share any blood. This realization became obvious when my parents gave me a DNA analysis kit over the holidays. Tracking my DNA through ancestry.com (I have no agreement with this company), I was able to see “where” my DNA derives from. I’ve always known I was a European based mutt, but I always assumed my Grandfather’s 100% Italian blood would reign supreme. Boy was I wrong. Here’s what I “am”…
- Germanic Europe: 36%
- Ireland & Scotland: 26%
- England, Wales, Northwestern Europe: 19%
- France: 7%
- Italy: 5%
- Norway: 3%
- Eastern Europe & Russia: 2%
- Sweden: 1%
- Middle East: 1%
As you can see, I am only a measly 5% Italian (this must explain my lack of interest in pasta) and as my Grandfather’s parents were both 100% Italian, we share very little blood. Therefore, the persona I thought I shared with my Grandfather, that of “Paisano Hustler,” was a myth.
Based on my DNA results, I am more likely to encompass genes that give me an identity title more along the lines of; “German Orderer, Irish Drinker, English Stiff Upper Lipper,” or “French Joie de Vivre’r.” For obvious reasons, I think I will pass on the identity of “German Orderer.” I’ve been known to go to sleep after a couple of Guinness, so “Irish Drinker” won’t do. Most of my blog posts prove I don’t have a “Stiff Upper Lip,” so toodles to that. And pronouncing “joie de vivre” is harder than D’Agostino, so I’m going to have to say “c’est la vie” and move on.
Similar to the experience of losing my CEO identity, “losing” my Italian American identity has been a bit unnerving. It has me asking the question, “who am I really?” This time around, I’ve been a little more prepared and know these identities are all in my head and not real. Which makes choosing a new identity all the easier – I can be whoever I want to be! Until that is stripped from me as well.
Author Bio: Dan started Fired and Free in 2017, to provide his “truth” after being fired as CEO of the company he started and led. After a diverse 17-year career in management consulting and entrepreneurship, Dan now leads 3Sixty Leadership, where he provides coaching and consulting to business owners with 5 to 500 employees, helping them to work “on” their business not “in” their business.