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.