I was named Emily Patricia by my birth mother. I don’t know the story of why she picked Emily, but I do know that the middle name—Patricia—is her first name. I’ve heard that is common practice, for a birth mother to put her name in the child’s name, either first or middle, as though to keep a piece of herself with the child she may never see again. Also knowing that the adoptive parents can, and often do, change the name.
In a letter she left in the adoption file for me, she addressed me affectionately by “Em”. In a blink I can call to mind her sloping E and tight little m easily, so touched was I by the nickname. Such familiarity, given by the person I’d known the longest in the world at that time and from whom I would be separated. She had probably whispered the name in my ear those first days after birth when we had brief contact before relinquishment.
I can say in the same breath that adoption caused grief and complicated things at various points in my life and that I was very much blessed by my adoptive family. I’m sad that I didn’t get to grow up as Emily, though I’m happy in many ways that I grew up as Liberty. Strictly in terms of names, I like my adoptive name better. It’s more unique (though as a youngster there were times I hated its uniqueness, of course). Often when I tell people what my original name had been, they say, “You’re not an Emily!” Of course I’m not. They’ve only ever known me by my other given name.
Also, Emily, to me, feels like a very white name. I’m sure there are African American Emilys out there, but it seems rare overall. Liberty does not announce a particular race in my opinion. If anything, it seems uber “American” to some—as evidenced by how many people asked me if I were born on the fourth of July. That is not, in fact, why my parents chose it—they liked the meaning they’d found: freedom, in Christ.
Although Emily Patricia isn’t my favorite name, I do find the attachment with my birth mother special. The fact that it was her name for me and it included her. My adoptive parents are present in my current name, as well as my husband (I took his last name upon marriage.) It’s unfortunate that there wasn’t any footprint of my birth father, Rodney, in any of my names. There’s a loss in that absence. He recently passed away, before he was able to meet his only granddaughter, but one thing he’d told me was that he loved the name we’d picked for her. It was his favorite name, he said. It was like I had telepathy and could read his mind, because that’s the name he would have picked, he said. He often spoke in magnified terms like that, but I knew he was being honest. I hadn’t known that when we were hunting for the perfect name, and actually she was named in honor of a grandmother on my husband’s side, but I smile every time I’m reminded that it’s a name he would have chosen. His footprint is there, in her bones and breath and in her name too.
There’s the notion that to name something is to make it yours. Perhaps this is why so many adoptive parents change the names of the children they adopt. I can understand this. Naming feels like an important “rite of passage” as a parent. It took my husband and me months to settle on a name for our daughter. We began calling her by name before she arrived into the world and I’ll always remember how special that felt.
My name’s journey mimics the journey of my life in some ways. Loss, acceptance, choice, family, footprints.