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Discussions with your children may one day involve the question, “Where did I get my name?” They love to hear about being named after a family member, or the story of how you heard their name in a movie or a song, or that you read it in a book and just knew you would name your child that name one day. They want to know what inspired you to name them what you did. They want to know why their name mattered to you when you gave it to them, what made it special. They may also want to know what made you change the name their birth parent(s) gave them.
Shakespeare once wrote: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet." He used this line in his play, Romeo and Juliet, to convey the idea that the naming of things is irrelevant.
Each of our journeys began with being born and given a name. Not all of us kept our birth name. Some children were named by their birth parent(s). Some children with adoption plans were named by their workers or by nurses as their birth mothers had left without naming their baby. Some children were named by their adoptive parent(s). According to government records, my birth name was Marie Yvonne. In my third foster care placement, I was introduced to my foster mother as Marie, and that is what she called me in the months I lived with her and her family. My adoptive parents then named me Lynn Dianne at the age of nine months, and that became my legal name. I was named Lynn after my maternal grandmother.
Think about the story of your name, do you know it? If you don’t know the story, who could you ask about how you got your name?
When I met my maternal birth half-sisters, they wondered if our birth mother had named me after two of the Dionne Quintuplets, (some of you might need to look up who they were). According to her daughters, our birth mother had been very interested in the story of the Dionne Quintuplets who were born in in 1934 in North Bay, Ontario. Very recently I had the privilege of meeting my third foster mother; a story for another blog. She was 86 years old when I finally met her and she called me “my Marie”. She would correct herself and call me Lynn. I explained to her that she is welcome to call me Marie because when she thinks of that name it means someone important to her . . . me, and I’m ok with that.
When (as an adult) I was seeking out my birth half-sibling, whom I thought was a brother, my assigned worker constantly asked if I was just trying to find him so I could find my birth mother. She referred to this as a ‘back door approach”. This is also a story for another blog but in the meantime, know that the worker made a ‘deal’ with me that if the boy had been adopted by his grandparents, I would consider letting the matter drop, but if he was adopted by strangers we would proceed. Out of the blue one day I got a call, and when I answered, the worker was quite excitedly stating, “It’s a girl and she was adopted by strangers! Guess what her name is????”
As you can imagine, I was floored by this sudden story change; a story I had understood to be the truth all my life. A story my parents believed was the truth. “Guess what her name is??” was the last of my concerns. I remember saying something like, “well out of the hundreds of possible girl names, I can’t even begin to guess.”
The worker said, again excitedly, “her name is also Lynn but spelled Lynne”. Isn’t that neat?” Neat? People who know me will not be surprised to hear that I said to the worker, “Actually, I think that it is very sad that two sisters would end up with the same name. I’m sure you think it is “neat” because no matter which one of us you are speaking with, you need not worry about getting our name wrong.” Neat! I do not know what the odds are of having two adoptive families name their adopted daughter the same names, but it has to be remarkable. Imagine for a minute, when we met each other and were introducing each other to our family members and friends, “This is my sister, Lynn(e).” Many awkward moments. Many people thought she was my sister-in-law. After 30 years of knowing each other, we now finally find some humour in telling people that our names are both Lynn/Lynne but they are spelled differently; so that is how you can tell us apart.
At our births, our birth mother gave Lynne the name of Mary, and had named me Marie Yvonne when I was born. So, I guess, in fact, our birth mother had also given us the same first name, though also different spellings. Oh, the irony, right?
My brother’s name was changed because his first name did not go well with his new adopted surname; he was almost three years old when they changed his name. Imagine moving to a new family and having them instantly call you by a new name; I feel like there may have been some trauma for him in that experience. So many losses in terms of identity and sense of self.
In my career as an adoption worker there were rare occasions where we needed to change a young child’s name upon placement (usually for safety reasons) so we did it gradually, first using both names together until there was recognition by the child of the new name, and then gradually dropping the original name. It is still a loss, gradual versus sudden; perhaps a mitigating factor. I have also had older children want to change their name, usually as a claiming behaviour, and in those cases, we usually added or changed middle names.
So, what’s in a name? Plenty!
Think about your name and if you have a story that goes with it that you would not mind sharing. If you like, please put it in comments, I’d love to hear your name story.