Names are a strange thing, we get one before we are born. Sometimes before we are conceived. And then you have to take it and make something out it, make it your own.

It took me 40 years to own my name. To accept it, to embrace it, not be ashamed of it.

I was named Lavinia after my godmother and Elena because you have to have a saint name (some extra protection can’t hurt). But since I was raised mostly by my grandmother she refused to call me with any of those 2 and decided to call me Alina. I don’t think anyone knows why she did it and she took this “secret” in the grave with her. 

So my new name was Alina and that got stuck with me for the first 14 years of my life. 

Me and my godmother during a picnic by the river
me and my dad and his mom, my grandmother

Some things never change

Fast forward to my move from Romania to Italy. Here the name thing happened again. Under a different form, but it happened. Nobody knew how to pronounce my name.

But I wanted to blend in, so I let it go, again and again. This affected me more than I was aware of.

You never know how much “sh!t” you’ve got buried inside until you go into therapy – or start blogging.

Almost 10 years ago I registered the domain I don’t really know why. I was “just” a street photographer with no desire to share my work. I know I wanted to write but I never hit the publish button because my words were never “perfect” enough.

So I let it sit there, almost empty.

I didn’t want to use it, not even when I decided to go pro as a photographer.

I thought I’ll start “new” so I thought the best thing I could do was to officialise the Mani surname I had been using. So the Ma.Ni. Photo Studio was born.

But then 2019 came and hit me hard in the gut.

I felt there was something missing in my photography. I thought I was missing experience, knowledge. What I didn’t know it was that what I was actually missing was me: my past, my voice, my personality.

My name. My identity. Me.

I spent the entire 2019 working with a mentor. Jenna Shouldice! And slowly, photo after photo she opened up a door into my soul. She helped me find my identity, and how to embrace it again. She made me see how proud I was of my name. She took me by hand and guided my steps, teaching me to stand tall. Stand on my own two feet, proud and sure of who I am.

And here I am in 2020 at the end of 4 decades of life with a brand new website built on the domain that has my name on it with a portfolio that gives me butterflies in my stomach every time I browse through it.

The Ma.Ni. will continue to exist because it’s part of us, of Filippo and I, and will appear every time we share a project.

But my name will be the signature under the story of your family. The photographic story of your family.

It will be the guarantee that I see you just as you are. That I’m giving value to your memories – just like I give value to mine.

Lavinia Nitu, best italian documentary family photographer