I had chosen names for the children I would never give birth to. I only chose what would be first or middle names so that they could be adapted to names desired by my would be husband/life partner.
Those names were so important to me; each had special meaning. Each were strong names on which my children could scaffold their identities.
And then, one day, the realization set in that I would not get to use any of those names for biological children.
Even now, writing this, the sting of quiet tears fill my eyes.
And then Hope came along.
Hope got her pseudonym from being my “Hope Kid.” When I started the blog, I had just received her profile. I remember sitting in my office, opening the email, reading the little bit of information attached and then opening the attachment to see her picture.
I immediately fell in love with her.
In my heart I felt like she was my daughter. I just knew, which was ridiculous because she was the first profile I received having just started the national search with my agency the week before.
I also knew that there were many steps to be made before she and I might be matched. I dubbed her my “Hope Kid.”
After we were matched, I started just calling her Hope in this space.
It’s turned out to be a good strong pseudonym for her. She and I are both so hopeful.
At 12, I never once thought about changing her name. Her in real life (IRL) name is unusual and lovely.
A few folks asked if I considered changing her first name.
No. I mean, she was 12 and It. Is. Her. Name. And well, Hope had lost everything else, everything, why on earth would I take her name from her too?
And she’s feisty, why on earth would I want to start our life with a fight about changing her name?
As we neared the date of our finalization, I did have to make a decision about her last name.
Sounds like a no brainer, right?
I mean, she would just drop her given name and take my name.
It was her given name. It was hers. It was given to her by her parents, who loved her even if they didn’t always love themselves.
I thought about all those adoptees who talked about their birth names and the surnames of their birth family. How hard it was to find people when names changed. How challenging taking on a new identity could be.
Because Hope is an older adoptee, I had the luxury of having a real conversation with her about her name. I’d like to think that even if she had been younger, I might have come to the same conclusion because it works for us.
Hope had just assumed that I would make her change her name. She understood why I might do that. She has resolved that it was just the way of the world, or rather the way of her world. In Hope’s world, she rarely got to make decisions, she lost lots of things and well, she supposed she was just happy to be getting a forever family.
I asked her what she thought about a third option.
I asked her what she thought about just adding my last name to her existing name.
The first thing she did was write it all out and count the letters.
There were a total of 29 letters in this proposed name. Four names, two of them last names, no hyphens and 29 letters.
She asked if the name would fit on forms.
So, I cruised the internet and found a few forms that we would have to eventually fill out and printed them and let her practice filling them out.
I asked her if taking my name would be hard for her; she said maybe. I told her that she could drop it she wanted, and just sign things with her birth name. The four-name thing would just be her “government name.” I explained the times when she would need to use it.
I asked her to think about it.
When I told folks that this third option was on the table…well, there were so many questions. So many.
Why couldn’t I just change it? Why didn’t I want her to be fully a part of the family? Wouldn’t this be confusing for her? How would this help her move on?
There was a lot of criticism.
I stayed focused on me and Hope during the whirlwind.
In the end, extending her name was our choice.
During our Facetime finalization, Hope exclaimed to the judge that her new name was 29 letters.
She continued to use her birth name for a while, and then one day, she didn’t.
I’m not sure exactly when she started using both last names, but I know that now she wouldn’t dare sign her name without both.
When her birth family found us, they were surprised that I didn’t drop their name. I think it brokered some trust with them; I had no intention of erasing her identity.
Again, I have the luxury of having an older child who is capable of telling me her feelings. I know that even during the worst of times she endured, she would leave me in a flash if she had the chance to be parented by her birth parents again.
I’m hardly a saint and I’m judgmental as hell, but I’ve also had the luxury of having my birth family my whole life. I get it and I don’t blame her at all. If I had known them before, and known what I know now, I would’ve been rooting for them.
But our paths were different, and all I can do now is honor her family by supporting her in keeping the names she was given.
Our family is stronger for it.
And what have I really learned from this part of our journey?
I learned that I’m glad that we didn’t have to make a choice based on her safety and a desire not to be found. I think this would have been so much more difficult for her if that was necessary. For her to have to change her name, her identity, to remain safe, is a whole other level of trauma. We are fortunate that we were not faced with that situation.
I learned that even though I have replaced Hope’s birth parents in parenting her, I am additive in her life. For Hope, I didn’t just replace them. I am her mother, without question, but I am her second mother. I can never replace Hope’s birth parents; I can’t erase them. Even with a name change, that history, however brief, is still a real part of her life.
I learned that Hope’s name is her name. I am honored that my name has become a part of her name and a part of her story, but her story didn’t start with me. It won’t end with me either.
I imagine that her name will change again sometime in this lifetime.
And again, it will be Hope’s choice to shape her identity.
I learned that there are various ways to integrate a child into your family.
I learned that a last name can be more than enough of a connection to a new family.
I realized just how much power adoptive parents have…to change a child’s whole name…or just to get to name a child…it is a privilege that should be acknowledged as such.
I learned that the sting of not being able to have biological children rears its head more often than I care to admit. A discussion about changing a child’s name precipitates asking what might you change it to? And then your list of dream names springs to mind…and it drags that little bee sting with it.
I learned to treasure my own name even more. I love thinking about the origins of my name and the story my parents tell me about naming me.
I don’t know that at this point in my life I will change my name even if I get married. I’ve been with this name a mighty long time.
I do know that I’ll still be ABM whatever name I chose, and that Hope will always be my Hope and joy, no matter what her name evolves into during the course of her life.
December 10th, 2016 at 7:27 pm
This is a beautiful post! For us, adopting an infant, we were told by everyone in the adoption world just to change his name if we didn’t like the one his birth mother gave him. That never felt right to us, and I’ll admit I worried endlessly about this in the time before our match because naming our child was so important to me yet I wanted/needed to honour his birth name. In the end, his birth mother asked us what we wanted to name him and asked us to chose his entire name. His first name is a name that we loved and so did his birth mother. His middle name is part of his birth mothers name, again she gave us the choice and she was thrilled and honoured when we told her the middle name we wanted him to have. And his last name is ours. She put it all 3 names on his original birth certificate, so he will never have a name change. We didnt expect this and were so honoured when she gave him our last name on his birth certificate. He was born with a name that was given to him and loved by all his parents. And I treasure this so much and I hope he does too one day.
December 10th, 2016 at 11:12 pm
Beautiful and fitting with the upcoming season.
December 11th, 2016 at 4:36 pm
Lovely post. As someone who is raising someone else’s kid (she’s my kid but also their kid) I really loved your line about Hope’s parents “who loved her even if they didn’t always love themselves.” That sums up my kid’s parents in one perfect phrase.
Thank you for continuing to share your story – I find comfort in reading about others raising teens with traumatic backgrounds – it helps not to feel so alone.
December 12th, 2016 at 4:50 pm
The name thing is complicated. We gave our girl the option of changing her last name, but she just could not decide and kept putting off making a decision. All she wanted to do was change her first name because the first time she was adopted (at age 7) she had chosen a new first name then, so it felt like “tradition.” But she couldn’t even decide what new first name she wanted. Her indecisiveness was prolonging the finalization because we couldn’t submit paperwork without her final name.
Furthermore, in our case it was particularly complicated because my husband and I have different last names. So even if she wanted to change her name to reflect her new family, she would have had to choose between her new parents or come up with some difficult hybrid. In the end, we told her that if she didn’t decide by X date, then we would proceed with her current name. And that’s what we did. So we are now a family with three different last names. Just one more way that we are an unconventional family.
I’m glad you and Hope have found a way to honor both streams of her family through her name.
December 12th, 2016 at 6:05 pm
Something kept making me think about this post but I couldn’t figure it out, today, it finally came to me. I don’t know Hope, but I do know loyalty that comes from love and that sure sounds like what you guys have, never bet against either, or both. If that makes any sense.
December 13th, 2016 at 10:10 am
When my son was adopted I left the choice of his name up to him. He was 16 and I truly thought he would keep his name as it had always been. I had asked if he would consider incorporating my name, but my maiden name (when he first moved in I was still using my married name, which he liked better but I hated) is 13 letters long. We found out, once the county procured his original birth certificate, that his first name was misspelled, making it a different name. So, we corrected that spelling. Then, he discovered he had two last names. He never knew his mom had given him his father’s last name and her’s as well. Eventually, what he chose to do was take his mother’s last name, drop his father’s last name and add mine. His full name is also 29 letters! Generally, he omits my last name and more often than not, it is shortened on forms because it is so long (this happens to me too and I don’t have a second last name).
I have two smaller foster children who’s case is moving towards adoption (TPR is this Friday). The baby has lived with me since he is 3 days old. If/when he is adopted I would change his middle and last name but keep his first. His sister, who will be 6 next week, and I have been discussing options. She uses a nickname more than her actual first name so we’ve been talking about easier spellings or versions of her first name. I like cohesion so I want both of the little ones to take my last name. I feel like this is a way of including them into our family. I’m giving the little guy my father’s middle name, so he will also have the same initials as my father and brother. I’m hoping to do the same for my daughter. I see it as a way of belonging. But, I also think, just like so many other aspects of adoption, it’s very personal and has to be done in a way that makes sense for your specific child.
And, I totally get you on the not being able to name your own child sting. It hurts, it’s not fair and it’s hard to get over. I think you’ve done it more graciously than I have!
December 14th, 2016 at 8:58 am
Love this. Thanks for sharing. Merry Christmas to you both!
December 14th, 2016 at 11:57 am
*A* and I had this conversation. He wanted to change his name to Sonic the Hedgehog. This is why you shouldn’t ask 5 year olds open ended questions, lol. We’ve settled on hypenating his last name. Like you said, *A* was a fully formed person before we met. He’s added so much to my family and hopefully we’re adding to his as well but I could never (and would never want to) try to ‘erase’ his history part of which is his birth name. Since he’s younger, the compromise I’ve made is that if he ever wants to change it later, I’ll pay for it because essentially I’m deciding for him right now.
December 15th, 2016 at 9:56 am
This is a beautiful read. Having her practice filling out forms is also genius. You are the best mom! Having a choice (just because she didn’t perceive herself having one- she absolutely should have all the say in this decision) was probably huge for her.
If hope ever decides to write a memoir I will now imagine it being called 29 Letters. Tell her I will be her first sale! 🙂
I’m so glad I have some time today to catch up on all my bloggers- I’ll be listening to AWAS today as well!
December 15th, 2016 at 9:58 am
Whoops! I didn’t capitalize Hope’s name while talking about her name. My bad.
December 15th, 2016 at 10:19 am
It’s all good! 🙂
December 15th, 2016 at 8:55 pm
Oh, I love this!
My husband adopted my biological daughter and she had the choice of changing her name – at first she didn’t want to, but she ended up going for it. I told her I’d change my name, too, when she got hers done… But I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it yet.
I like my name.
I both understand and don’t understand the tendency to change names. But I’ll never be in that situation to make that call, so it’s really none of my business, IMO!