Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Adoptee Names (or) Things are Never Simple in Adoption--Part 2

Julie S. -- I currently go by my adoptive first name and married surname. Legally, however, my name includes my natural paternal surname. My original surname serves as a personal connection to my ancestry and heritage, which is different from that of my adoptive family. On my children's birth certificates, my maiden name is listed with both my original surname and adoptive surname. This way, my children will also have a legal connection to their maternal ancestry and heritage.

As with many topics in adoption, names seems to touch on many emotions. It is my feeling that all involved in adoption would benefit from supporting whatever it is that adult adoptees determine that they need to feel whole and secure in their identities. My ancestry and heritage did not change after I was adopted. I have very much needed to know this part of my identity and to connect with it. Legally reclaiming my original surname has made me feel more complete and connected to my place in the world. I existed before adoption. That's the truth. My truth.

Names can empower, or disenfranchise

C. Swett* -- The impetus for changing my name was wanting my children to be able to do genealogy. The cultural traditions, religion, and morals I know, and could teach my children, are what I've learned in life much of it from my extended adopted family. I wanted the next generation to be able to look back, and have more than a story that fit on the back of an index card: Mother: from Australia Father: unknown.

Changing my name was a way to build a bridge for those yet to be born. The records were and remain sealed - there is only my say so - after my death?

I now have the two first names given to me, and my genetic parents surnames.

I have done Grandparent adoptions as an attorney. The cases were presented to me as a way to keep at risk kids out of foster care. After the papers are filed a hearing is required, and generally everyone waits in the hallway. I'm not sure why everyone can't sit in on these hearings, its pretty transparent what is going on in the hallway. Everyone waits to hear court staff call their name and shares stories about other children they've fostered and did not or could not adopt, or the how far they traveled and how much they spent in pursuit of their own child.

One couple was told by court staff they were about to be brought in, and they shouted for "Joseph" repeatedly. When none of the kids playing at the far end of the hall ran towards or, or even stirred, the man called "Jamal" and one child's head whipped around. "We've been calling you" the man shouted. Jamal ran towards us, and was embraced by the woman "We've talked about this," she said and then put her hands on his shoulders so she could look into his eyes, "From now on you are Joseph, you are our son."

Naming oneself and taking back the control

Jaesun -- As for me I did start to contemplate doing a legal name change in my teens, back then I considered changing my surname. Only problem was that I didn't know what to change it to... I forgot about those thoughts for some time and after my first reunion with my Korean birth family the idea of a name change came back to me. I felt complete, like I belonged to something so I considered changing my given name.

I wanted to take control over something in my life that was just mine (in this case that would be my original birth name) I told my siblings about my idea and I was a bit surprised when they instead of supporting me tried to make me change my name... I thought they would be proud but it seems to have been the other way around. They used to be extremely proud that they had two siblings living in Europe by changing my name back I'm not sure how they felt maybe they were threatened thought I wanted to become one of them.
Naturally my adoptive family's reaction was similar I still remember grandma with tears in her eyes telling me "but you're Swedish why would you like to change your name"... my mum and dad had supported my name change when it had been just about replacing my Swedish name with a more international French version of the name but when I decided to take back my original birth name they said I would have to pay for it myself. They stubbornly decided not to use my new name and still use the name they gave me which means I have a pre-name-change life and everyone who used to know me before my name change calls me the same as my parents.
Then there's my post-name-change life were people can't spell it or pronounce it correctly, they are also not sure where I come from or if I'm an immigrant. To this day I know my mum and dad still hope that I one day will realize my huge mistake and undo my name change but so far I haven’t. My new name is a name I like and it's more than just a name to me it also represents my identity struggle I have a Korean given name hyphened with an international name one name my mum and dad gave me and a Swedish name I choose myself my surname isn't changed it's still the same.
I considered myself to be a citizen of the world and not necessarily a Swedish or Korean and since I've had thoughts of moving to Korea someday it also seemed reasonable to change my name into something less Western.

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*Guest contributor: C. Swett is a proud bastard, raised in the Bronx, relinquished at birth and adopted during the closed era through a Foundling Hospital. Placement was after some time in foster care for evaluation. Ms. Sweet is an attorney who practices in New York and New Jersey; interested in adoptee rights and stranger-assisted reproductive technology issues.