January 23, 2009

Firefly's Name

At some point in Firefly's adoption, before we had met Ms B but after she learned that she was having a girl, I was on the phone with a counselor from the agency. At the end of the conversation, she paused.

"There's one more thing you should know know. B has named her baby and it's important to her that the adoptive parents not change her name."

Naming in adoption can be tricky. It can be emotional. I don't think I could have ever guessed exactly how I would respond to not being part of naming a child of mine until faced with the actual situation.

"Okay," I said. "We understand." Intellectually, we did. And a little bit emotionally.

All I really wanted to know was the name. When I heard it my heart sank a little. Not because it was a terrible name at all. It was actually quite pretty. But if Puppy's name were truly Puppy, then this name would be McPuppa. Puppy and McPuppa, the brother and sister with the matching names.

Especially in open adoption, naming is so often portrayed as an emotional tug of war between the two sets of parents. If the expectant mom won't compromise on this, I've heard adoptive parents ask, how will we know she'll be able to make an open adoption work? Perhaps expectant moms are asking the same thing in reverse.

It didn't feel like a power grab coming from Ms B. I may have mentioned before that she is an adoptee, adopted into her family when she was one year old. Only mere slips of that first year of her life still exist: a letter, a birth certificate, a name. A name that her parents changed. From things she has said, I think to her the re-naming represents an unnecessary loss in a series of losses, the final break with a version of her which no longer exists. Not that she would put it that way; she is much more matter-of-fact than I am. I asked her once what was behind her strong feelings about it. "They just shouldn't have changed it," she told me.

It never felt like she was trying to take something away from us. It felt like she was asking for something on behalf of Firefly. For continuity, for wholeness in her child's name. Recognition that this baby would be coming to us with an identity already in place.

So T and I did what we figured it was our job to do. We very deliberately got ourselves accustomed to that name. We practiced using it, we discussed it, we rolled it around in our minds. We more or less talked ourselves into liking it. By the time of our first meeting with Ms B several weeks later, I had actually grown pretty fond of it. It was how I thought about the two of them now: B and McPuppa, McPuppa and B. We sat across from each other in the tiny office, full of nervousness and excitement. Ms B said something about "the baby." "McPuppa, right?" I asked.

"Well, no," she aswered. "I decided McPuppa didn't really fit her. Now I call her Alyssa." And that was when I decided I just didn't have the energy to worry about it anymore.

In the end it happened organically that we all named Firefly together. The only thing that changed after her adoption was her last name. And there is something comforting in that to me, the fact that we gave her that continuity Ms B so very much wanted for her.

That's not what happened with Puppy. There are three names in his story, a hopscotch from pre-birth to certificate to an adoptive name we selected. But I don't regret those choices, either. Naming is just something too personal, too specific to say there is one right way to do it. And it's one of the many decisions we make that our kids will eventually also judge for themselves.

But you know what the kicker in all this is? As much as I like the name Firefly now has, I often look at her and think to myself that she's really more of a McPuppa.


Anonymous said...

This is something I haven't given too much thought to yet, and I confess: it makes my stomach clinch. It's hard enough to find names that my husband and I can agree on. The thought of a third (and maybe even a fourth) person in that equation...oy. Guess we'll just see how it all plays out.

luna said...

this is really interesting. we're just starting to think about this now and we have not discussed it with the expectant mom.

before we began this journey, we grasped tightly to the idea that naming is such a personal thing and that should be our choice. now as we think about possibly adopting this child, we'd like to give a special middle name to honor his/her biological mother. I'm still not sure how I'd feel if we had to all agree on the first name. as kendra said, it's hard enough to find one that we both like.

naming is also one of those things we don't talk about with anyone else, being so personal.

thanks for writing about this.

Anonymous said...

We got Rabbit when she was 13 months old and the birthmother didn't relinquish parental rights until Rabbit was 3 and a half years old. Her first name just couldn't be changed (and it's a cute first name). But we did have her middle name changed along with her last name when the adoption was finalized three months later.

Lori said...

Our daughter's birth mom shyly requested a middle name that has been in her family for generations. We heartily agreed, happy that this name would forever connect her to her birthfamily.

So we were prepared when the counselor told us our son's birthparents had a middle name selected. Again, I told her it was wonderful! And then we entered mediation and his birthmom insisted that it be his firstname instead. Unexpectedly, my heart sank. I never in a million years thought I would feel so strongly about having the priviledge of naming my child. But when the moment arrived, I couldn't get past it. Fortunately we later agreed to find a mutually acceptable name and use their choice as the middle name. But after weeks of back and forth, he arrived nameless. It wasn't until he was a few days old that we finally landed on a name filled with significance. And now we all love it.

Lavonne said...

Thanks for posting about this. My husband and I have spent a great deal of time talking and thinking through this one. I am of the opinion that a name should, if at all possible, be kept. I try to think about this as if I was adopted and I don't think I would have wanted my name changed by an adoptive family. Just like you mentioned it is one more loss. This is a very personal thing but I think once you enter the adoption world there are things that we have to let go of and this is one of them.

What I'm really hoping for is naming of the baby jointly as happened with Firefly. But again, we don't really have the control in this one. Guess we'll see how it all works out in the end!

Anonymous said...

Naming was very important to us, but keeping the name Little Lassie was given by her birth family was just as important. We ended up simply adding our own middle name and calling LL by the middle name her birth parents gave her. I know it probably appears complicated to some, but for us it fit. I hope LL feels the same when she is older.

Thanks for talking about a sensitive topic that deserves discussion.

Rebeccah said...

Squeaker's birthmom specifically did not name him because she wanted us to be able to have that honor. I felt a loss in this for both of them. I am so curious what she would have named him and wonder how we would have worked that name into his adopted identity, either partially or entirely. It seems that once a child is named, changing that name could be very difficult. (Or not -- I can imagine the situation playing out both ways in the abstract.)

In the end, we took her family names into account when we were naming him, and I'm so glad we did. I hadn't expected to do that, but once we'd met her, it just seemed really important that we help keep a tie between them in that way. Naming is a very personal and person-specific decision.

JJandFive said...

Fabulous story. Even more wonderful that it's real. ; ) You are such a good Mama... so considerate.
Adoption really is convoluted, isn't it?

Guera! said...

I never would have thought of this and find it all so interesting. Since we'll be adopting from the foster care system and the kids will be a little older it was never an issue because the kids would obviously already know their names and that would be that. I can see how this would be a pretty big deal if a child is adopted as an infant. My aunt adopted from China where there was no knowledge of the birth mother but she kept the middle name the orphanage gave her so she would always have that identity to her origins.

melissa said...

this was an awesome post, you write beautifully. I am glad you talked about this too because we havent thought about the possibility that the expectant mother could name the child. We have been talking about names from day one. Sounds like we have some stuff to think about.
Thanks again for bringing this up

cindy psbm said...

Ya know, I find it so surreal that we mere, imperfect mortals get to NAME other people if we become parents.
I mean, think of your own name, I know I take that my name is my name forgranted. I mean, most people find it heart-warming when someone remembers our name. Really though, who you are is not really defined by your name.
I like to think my name defines me a little bit, but really it should be the other way around.
As for what happened with my birthson, I had a name for him when I was pregnant, but I never felt worthy to even think of naming him or even think of him as truly mine. I wrote letters to him addressing him with the name I had for him.
When the birthfather and I met with the adoptive parents when I was pregnant we discussed names quite frankly. They choose a name that is quite different from the name I had for him in my heart.
I didn't mind the name they choose though, they are the ones calling him the name he has, I believe they should be calling him something that they are most comfortable with.
The thing is that kind of by happenstance the name I choose for him was legally his first name because I let the birthfather fill out the paper work and the birthfather and I were very open with each other (still are, mostly) so he knew everything about everything. I let him fill out forms in the hosiptal after I gave birth because I was too tired and the nurses kept bugging me to fill them so I just signed the bottom and the birthfather filled out all the info because he knew everything anyways.
Sorry for the way to big comment.
Just felt like I had to tell my side of this 'name' issue.
I think you are awfully generious to keep the name that Ms B wanted.

Anonymous said...

I love Vintage Girl's middle name (chosen/suggested by her birthfather) and I especially love that he chose it, and that I can tell her that (he has since died, so any connection is important).

(A)Dad said...

Wow, thats such a crazy time to remember. I think going through the process of learning to love "Mcpuppa" as a name was helpful in that it forced me to acknowledge the history and family that Firefly was bringing with her. Still the fact that "Firefly" was a name that everyone liked and could see working was bonding as we began our new relationship with Firefly's birth mom.

Thanks for sharing this with everyone.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm one of those who wouldn't match if the e-mom wanted to choose the name for the baby. I feel as though to give a child a name is to welcome them into your life and family. To claim that child as your own and to make them part of your history and life and family. It’s the same whether you give birth or adopt. For my daughter, we chose the first name (her bmom said she liked it, but she made it clear that she would go with whatever name we wanted). We used the name bmom liked for a middle name. It’s a beautiful name, but sometimes I still regret not giving my daughter a middle name that we chose. Sometimes I feel like we are saying, “you’re not really part of our family because we didn’t give you a middle name that had significant for our family.” We were going to use June after the month we were married, or Marie because that is my middle name, but we didn’t. Sometimes I wonder if she will be upset that we didn’t give her a name that meant something to us as parents. I don’t know if she will be happy about the connection to her birthfamily. I hope she is and I hope she knows that we chose that out of respect for where she came from and not because she is somehow less our daughter.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I have been waiting for a year to adopt an infant (via domestic adoption). And like Kendra, this post also makes my stomach lurch. I'll be honest and admit that it taps into one of my biggest fears as we move through the adoption process!

We'd really like to have the honor of choosing our child's first name as a way of making a connection and welcoming him/her to our family. At the same time, we want to use a name that the birthmother/father likes as one of our child's middle names.

I don't know what we would do if we were in a match and later found out that a condition of placement would be using the first name that the birthparents gave their child. If we really liked the name and it was also meangingful to us, it would probably be an easy decision to keep that name. But if the name just didn't feel right to us and we couldn't imagine using it day in and day out. . .that might be a deal breaker. I feel a little guilty for admitting that, but naming is a huge deal to us.

I think my emotion about naming taps into the deep thread of loss that runs through the adoption process for everyone involved: the birthparents, the child, and the adoptive parents. For me, not getting to choose my child's first name would be one more loss. And it would sting even more because naming is one aspect of this incredibly complex process that can be negotiable.

call me mama said...

We named our first child with the great blessing of his birth parents. S was so kind when, after a day and a half we were still calling him Tiny- she asked us what we were naming our boy. We told her A and she cried and laughed and cried. The name we chose was the last name of the man (who she considered to be her grandfather) who had actually passed two days before A's birth. So we were happy all around.
Our second son we named. His birth mom asked us to consider a name two weeks before his birth. Unfortunately it was a name there is no way we would ever name a child. We tried it out, considered it, tried, laughed, cried. The problem was, it was a name a friend of ours called her husband- even though it wasn't his name. So it had a huge ugly backstory for us. We didn't explain this to H's birth mom, and told her the name we were thinking of. She laughed and said, "That's my dad's name (we didn't know this because he goes by his middle name)- and my brother's middle name!" So we asked permission to use it. And got it. However, days after our son's birth, we found out his birth mom named him the name she had suggested. It broke my heart- for my son. I was so distressed that we had changed his name. Plus, I was a little irked that this information had been kept from us. And we only found out about it offhandedly because of an unpaid hospital bill.
To make a long story longer, C kept a photo album with the name on it- where she kept the photos we sent her. It all got so convoluted for me emotionally with that name. But now- 21 months later, we all call him H. I haven't seen the album the last few visits. I feel better- but I worry for her and for our little man with the second hand first name.

Brown =) said...

I just wrote a post on my blog about how M's name came about. For me, it was all about her having one name, and her last name be the only one changing. It was an identity thing in my head, she is one person who is changing families, not changing identities (in my head, it was like a marriage) and so much of your identity is wrapped up in the name At first I was pretty much game with anything they chose, becuase I never had a strong connection with any specific name, and her parents were going to call her the name, I felt they should like it. But I was asked, which meant a lot to me. We discussed it, and when she told me the name she chose, I LOVED it. To the point that I wish I could use it for one of my future parented children, but it isn't common enough and it doesn't work as a middle name. (tho I might have to make it one day :) ) It's also the name of one of my favorite characters, so it just fit.

Her middle name is my middle name. It's also an important family name on her side. Her mom wanted to honor the connection and felt this was a perfect way to do that. And I still feel proud and honored that she felt that it was important to "bring" something from my family with her. If she was a boy, she was almost named after her birthfather.

I love that you were keyed in to the continuity and what Ms. B wanted. I think that showing of respect is one of the reasons you have a great relationship with her :)

Mama King said...

It is interesting to read your entry - to see another side of adoption. I am familiar only with international. Thank you for sharing your story.

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