Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What's In a Name?

In an earlier post I touched on the subject of changing the names of adoptees, I was pointing out that this was tactic used by slave owners to strip the pride, identity and culture from their slaves.  Linda (not my mother, Linda) talks more about her perspective here.

My intolerance for name shenanigans goes back to when I was about 5 years-old and the family a cross the street changed their name form a very long polish name to a VERY nondescript name which was only four letters long..  (Not to be confused with being changed to a four letter word)

Our families were very close, so close in fact that shortly after their respective divorces my dad and the lady a cross the street were engaged for a couple of years, but didn’t end up married. Anyway…Moving on…I just did not understand why they would all change their family name. 

But why would they change their name? I would ask.
Because it is hard to spell.
So, is my name (I was 5)
It is hard to pronounce correctly.
So is Koffron
They want to have a name that sounds more American.
I thought they were proud to be polish. 
They are but they don’t want to stand out.
Oh, so they don’t want people to know they are polish. 
Tell my about your REAL name mommy…
When I was born my name was Jacqueline Jean Lessard.  When your Grandma and Grandpa Andrews adopted me at 12 the judge asked what I wanted to change my name to, I didn’t know, I did not have much time to think so I picked the most common sounding name I could think of.  I told the judge I liked Linda Lee.  So that is how I became Linda Lee Andrews.

I like your old name better, why didn’t you keep it?
I don’t think I had much a choice, besides I liked my new name, I thought it was cute and I wanted to fit in.  And you guys named me SUNDAY?  What were you thinking?
I think you should have kept your old one.  Why don’t you change it back?
It is too late now, I have been Linda now longer than I was Jacquie.

Years later my mother found and went to see her natural father when I was 15 or 16.  I did not live with her then.   He told her he was called Jack Minor for 14 years, until his parents died.  It was then he found out that his birth name was Jerold Lessard, and that his “sister” was actually his mother.  To those out side of the adoption loop, stories like that seem fantastic, but they are more common then one might think.

The Koffron part of my family have not been free of name shenanigans and drama either as I had mentioned in an earlier post.  My youngest (s)brother was two or three when my dad and his wife got married.  When my little (s)brother started school his mom let him use Koffron (my dad's last name) as his last name.  The way I understand it his real father got wind of this took offense and the issue of his name made it to court and the court ordered that my (s)brother and my parents use my (s)brother’s legal name.  His “parents” told him for years that he would just legally change his name to Koffron when he turned 18; and he did. I am not sure he really chose to change his name on his own or were years of being told he would the subtle coercion and manipulation of an innocent child. My guess he will never truly know either.

Was my (s)brother’s real dad a dead beat who was out of the picture? Nope.  Dr. J was very much around.  Not only did his name change remove his connection to his real father, it disconnected him from his two older brothers who he no longer shares a last name with.  Did my father legally adopt him?   Oh no, no, no, that was not the case at all, that would have had caused “ramifications”.  

Nobody wants “ramifications” for their actions.  Hell, I dare say “ramifications” could cause discomfort.    

Some people change names
To hide their ethnicity
To appear more ethnic
To strip identity
To appear to be related to people you are not.  (without the “Ramifications”)
To irritate and punish ex-husbands
To seem more interesting or exotic
To stand out
To fit in
In my opinion the roots of each of these is contempt (for reality), illusion and deceit. 

And some I respect do so to take back what was rightfully theirs in the first place.

But then again maybe I should just change my name to “Candy Cain Surprise” and call it a day.  I bet that would make some people very happy. 


Linda said...

"I have been Linda now longer than I was Jacquie."

I know the feeling. I have often said it would be such a pain in my butt to change my name back. Im self employed and actually have 2 different names I go by for each job, lol.

One of my adopte friends from AAAFC said she wants to change her name so her tombstone will reflect who she really is....that was so profound to me.

Sunday Kofffon Taylor said...

Oh great, now I have to make another call to my mother, to find out what she wants on her tombstone. She already has two birthdays too. It is so complicated. If I am not careful, we just might end up having a relationship.

I read the autobiography of Malcolm X when I was in 6th grade (the year I decided to home school myself). When he changed his last name to X to represent the tribe (which he descended from) that he would never know, I totally got it. But, then I was already versed in the name game and what it was about by then.

My name is the one thing my parents haven’t managed to pull out from under me, it is mine damn it, and I am going to keep it.

It does seem like a pain, it is a personal choice.

I just wish APs would stop it, I doubt most haven’t even really giving it much thought. Maybe I am naive.

But changing the name of a child (especially a verbal one) is about what the parents want and are comfortable with not about “the best interests of the child”

Von said...

Best interests of the child come way down the list for most people.I've had 5 name changes and would love to go back to my real name.It would cause me no problems but is difficult for everyone else!Stymied again!I could just say 'get over it' but it's not that easy.It never is with names hey?

Sunday Kofffon Taylor said...

Lol, apparently not in my family!

My mom was also called “Penny” in some foster homes. Jacqueline was just to un-America maybe…

Margie said...

"I just wish APs would stop it, I doubt most haven’t even really giving it much thought."

One explanation, in my opinion: The message adoptive parents have traditionally gotten from adoption agencies is to help your child assimilate into your family. Given names being a big part of family identities, they then seek a name that will help their child feel more connected to their family. Being entitled (and in the case of transnational adoption usually white), they take this message and run with it, not stopping to think about it from their child's point of view.

I know I didn't think long and hard enough. Our children's names are their middle names. I wish I had dispensed with additional names and kept them as they were.

Anonymous said...

When my son was born I named him Jason, it was an anagram of my last name with the change of a single letter. When I received the mandated letters from my son's aparents when he was 3 months, 6 months and 1 year old, they referred to him as Jason in every letter, and again when I begged for a letter when he was 5 and finally after months of waiting received one, they again referred to him as Jason throughout. When he had just turned 18 I received a call from the lawyer who had facilitated his adoption and she said "MATTHEW is hoping you would send him a letter." I honestly thought she had the wrong first-mom, then I realized that they had changed his name. In the second e-mail a-mom asked me "Did Matt tell you why we had to change his name?" "NO" I replied. She went on to tell me that a-dad's parents had a dog whose name was Jason and "of course we couldn't have a child with the same name as the dog."

Trumped by even the extended family dog. No surprise.


Sunday Kofffon Taylor said...

Anonymous – sadly I believe it! If I had the same name as my father’s wife’s dog he’d have been trying to change my name too.

Jen said...

Do adoptive parents ever take their kids' last names? I mean, hyphenating the adoptive parents' last name with the last name the kids were born with?

If the birthparents aren't some scary abusers from whom the child needs to hide, and it's an open adoption, maybe integrating names would help a bit to integrate the family. Maybe this would be especially important if the child is older and has clear memories of his/her past and is uncertain about belonging to the adoptive family and the adoptive family belonging to her/him. Just an idea...

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