Recently on an adoption forum, I got into a pissing match with a potential adoptive parent of a sibling set. Okay, there was no pissing, at least from my direction, because my intentions were genuine.
I tried to explain why she shouldn’t change the names of the children she will soon adopt just because one was “too girly” and the other “too ethnic.” Why should anyone have the right to erase another’s name?
Admittedly, I was on the heals of having just ordered a copy of my own amended birth certificate, aggravated about having to check the “ADOPTED” box to prevent the State of Washington from mistakenly mailing me my original birth certificate. (Because god only knows what kind of National Incident would ensue were I to get my hands on my own name.)
And, admittedly, I am rather raw with the recent death of my birthmother and the realization that, with both parents gone, so too is my birth name.
So, with full awareness of my frazzled nerves, I attempted to explain why a name is so important and how it might be the only remnant of an adoptee’s history; a history greater than the minutes, days, months or years a child spends within his family of origin. A history anchoring them to their ethnicity, nationality, tradition and heritage; a history that connects them to their natural place in the Universe; a delicate thread woven into the fiber of their identity that says, in some way, their place in the time continuum remains, uninterrupted.
A name says: I mattered to the people who named me. If only for a moment, I was in my rightful place; a recipient of family traditions, of memories and meaning, untainted by the human foibles preceding and following my birth.
And, frankly, for most adoptees, a name is all they possess of their roots and the difference between knowing and not knowing, having and not having, awareness and unawareness might be the difference between them feeling their identity is rooted in reality, rather than pulled from the ethers and worn like a shirt that doesn’t fit just right.
I didn’t expect her to drop her needs as a new parent and rush to embrace this. I waited for the questions to come . . . and they did.
So, you like the name your birth parents gave you more than the one your adoptive parents gave you?
So, you hate your adoptive name?
So, you consider your birth family to be your ONLY family?
So, why don’t you just change your name back if you hate it so much?
She insisted not all people feel as I do. Herself, for example: she doesn’t care about her history. Genealogy means nothing to her. And, in a great act of irony, to illustrate this point, she shared how she’s never even opened the family history book handed down to her from previous generations of her clan.
Ah, but, I explained, you grew up so enmeshed in your history you don’t have to seek it; you choose not to seek it. It is simply there; an integrated part of you, so integrated you feel no need to peer into the pages of that book. No surprises lay there; no mysteries. It shall not be the same for your children.
And then, of course, she chastised me. My feelings were nothing more than the result of a “bad attitude,” a “snarky” disposition. Her children shall be spared my pathology. She will see to that. She will reason with them and, because they shall be reasonable children, raised by people far more adept than those who raised me, they will understand.
God help them.