She captured our hearts from the moment we first looked at her photo in the referral packet. From that second, she was ours. And the very first thing we did? Before we even held her? We named her. This precious child, who already had a name, given at birth by the woman who carried her inside of her for 9 months. She had earned the right to name her. I assumed I had, too.
There was nothing wrong with her birth name. Andrea is a perfectly fine name. But it wasn’t a name we chose. She was ours now. We were claiming her. And we were naming her.
And then a few years later, looking at the photo of the infant who would become her sister, we did it again. Catherine is also a nice name. But, no thanks, we’ve got our own name picked out.
Scripture recounts several instances where someone goes through a name change. In Genesis 13, God changed Abram to Abraham and Sarai to Sarah; four chapters later he changed Jacob to Israel. Jesus renamed Simon, Peter and John, the brother of James, got the new name Boanerges. (Thankfully, it translated to a cool nickname, Sons of Thunder.) King Nebuchadnezzar’s official renamed the Israelite Daniel and his friends, Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 1). In each instance, the renaming signified ownership, a repurposing of the individual, a setting apart.
It’s no different when we rename our adopted children. We have a right. We are claiming them, we are setting them apart as a member of our family. We are repurposing their life (or at least we like to think we are). As a parent, it makes sense.
But then that sweet infant becomes a teen and this happens:
“When I turn 18 I’m changing my name to Catherine,” declares Daughter #2.
You are, huh?
“Yes. I’m changing it back to what my birthmother called me.”
I nod silently.
I’m not surprised by her statement. I’m not angry. I’m not hurt. I’m not threatened. I understand her consuming desire to connect with her birth mom. We don’t know much about this woman and it’s unlikely that we’ll ever meet her. But we do have my daughter’s birth certificate from Guatemala and on that is her birth name. That name, and a fuzzy old photo, are her only connections to her birth mother. And we took half of it away. If she wants it back, I’m OK with that.
If I understood then, what I understand now, I would have kept my daughters’ birth names—or at the very least tried to incorporate them more into their adopted names. I would have done it out of respect for their birth mothers, and as a future source of comfort for my daughters. But I was too proud, and too insecure as a new mother.
It’s interesting that in Acts 13, we learn that Saul of Tarsus “was also called Paul.” In the first half of the book of Acts, Luke refers to him as Saul; from chapter 13 on, he’s Paul.* It was fairly common for 1st century Jews to have more than one name. Why not our adopted children?
What about you? Did you change your child’s name at adoption? Did you retain any part of his or her birth name? If given the chance, would you make the same choice?
*If you want to dig deeper, Doug Ward offers an interesting discussion of Why Luke shifts from Saul to Paul in Acts 13.