This month's Grown In My Heart blog carnival is about names. I've blogged about names before. It's said that to know someone's true name is to have power over them. That is never more true when an adoptee's birth name is hidden from them.
Growing up, I hated the name my adoptive parents chose for me. It wasn't ME. It was the person they wanted me to be, the child they never had. When I got married I changed it to one I preferred. I might have changed it to my birth name, had I known it at the time. Apparently I don't have an official name on my original birth certificate, not even "Baby Girl", but in our brief anonymous correspondence my birth mother told me what she called me in her mind. But that name, also, is not mine. It's the person I might have been if I had been raised in my original family. So I'm glad I picked a third name that is neither adoptive nor birth but uniquely my own.
Still, the re-naming of adoptees bothers me. A while back I posted about a couple who is effectively replacing their deceased child with an adoptee. They gave this Chinese girl an Irish name, when she is old enough to know her Chinese one. Being adopted causes enough identity confusion without having your name taken from you.
It seems like a lot of adoptees change their names, either to take back their birth names or to do what I did and re-name themselves entirely. I see this as a reclaiming of our destinies, a way to have a choice in something that, for us, was choiceless. I respect adoptive parents who make their adoptees' original names part of their adoptive names. It's a nice way to synthesize both. But, I think we as adoptees have to forge our own destinies, and for some of us re-naming ourselves is part of that. The first time I tried to re-name myself, I was in third grade and tried to get everyone to call me a nickname based on my initials. The second time, I was in high school. The third time was when I took on the name by which people know me today. Names, for many adoptees, seem fluid. Perhaps it's because there is often this assumption, sometimes true, sometimes not, that we must reshape our identities for the benefit of the people around us lest we be "rejected" once more. Adoptees are very, very good at putting on the masks of expectations, and our names are part of that.
There is also this notion that if we adoptees know the names of our birth parents, that somehow armageddon will insue. This is another way in which names are used as power over others. The adoption industry uses our birth names and the names of our biological relatives to maintain control over us, even after we become adults.
When it came to naming my own children, I had a hard time. I wanted to give them names that would reflect their heritage from both me and their father, but I had nothing to offer from my side. So I picked first names that were vaguely Irish, that being the only heritage I was aware of at the time, and middle names from my husband's family. I wish I knew some names on my birth family's side so I could have considered those. Some people might think that's wrong. I don't see why. People name children after family members all the time, but if you're adopted it's like you're suddenly a crazed stalker merely for suggesting it.
One thing that greatly annoys me is that I cannot get rid of my maiden name, my adoptive parents' surname. It appears on my children's birth certificates, for crying out loud. Having been disowned by that family, I think I should have the right to change it. But there is no ability in the U.S. to change one's maiden name; it's considered something that never changes which is why it's used for identity verification. If they are allowed to disown me, I should be able to rid myself of their name, yet I'm stuck with it.
Names do, indeed, have power, and it's that power that the adoption industry wants to deny to adoptees like me, whose records are sealed. I want the power of my name returned to me in the form of access to my original birth certificate. Until then, I will remain less than those for whom the power of their names has always been their own.