I remember when I got married I felt a brief twinge at losing my maiden name as I took my husband's name as my own. Was I giving up my identity? What about that feminist pride I held dear to my heart? Would I be an equal if I was giving up my name while he gained a wife? I miss-spelled that name the first time I tried to sign it after our nuptials and wondered quietly if it would ever feel like MINE or would I always feel like an impostor carrying a name that was not my own.
That twinge was forever erased when I stared at the hospital bed that held my newborn son. Next to his perfect little body was a name tag and that name tag held OUR name. On that day I became part of a family. We were a family. We were THAT family. That family included my precious first born son and I could not ever imagine holding a name that was different than that of my child.
Naming our adopted sons continued to be important rite of passage for claiming in our family. Eric's name was not going to be changed except for the addition of our last name but for our oldest, changing his name was crucial to his healing. He was a "junior". Named exactly after his abuser, in his mind, at that age, he needed to know that he wasn't the same person. We kept his first name essentially the same (changing it from Greg to Gregory) and added a new middle name. Initially we were told that he had no legal middle name, and at 4.5 we let him choose one (with some guidance because Tarzan just wasn't going to be OK with this mommy). He chose a name we loved and he was thrilled with the princely connotations of his new middle name.
Home with us three months, he suddenly realized that his new middle name was not the shared middle name of his new daddy and new brother, and he demanded immediate recourse. "Jon" was added to his name, and that of Eric's name as well. Jon is a family name. The middle name of my father, also their great grandfather as well he boys' cousin and of course their dad and both of our biological sons. At the adoption finalization ceremony the judge literally penciled in Jon as a second middle name to both of the boys and over the last decade, that has been an important part of their claiming our family as their own.
I have talked to the boys regularly about our decision to change their names. They are PROUD of their (our) last name, and it does come up often enough in conversation that I know it has meant alot to them as they grow up that they share the same middle name with so many of our extended family. They have their original birth certificates. They know what their original name was. They know why we changed their names, and they know they are forever a part of our family. They also know they have the legal right to change their name to whatever they want when they turn 19. But I do believe that being of one name has been an important part of their claiming us, and us claiming them, as family. A permanent, forever, an ALWAYS family.
And so we face a decision. A name change is not automatic with the legal procedure that brought our girls to us as daughters but it is a decision we need to make. We don't make this decision lightly. We have talked with a psychologist, we have talked to long term foster parents, we have talked to children raised in foster care and we have talked to social workers. Universally they state that having the same last name is a psychological benefit for children with this life experience. Naming means permanence and claiming and legitimacy. It labels us as a family to the entire world we will interact with. But I question if I am taking something that isn't mine to take, or am I simply giving something that they rightly deserve to have?
Certain images ring clearly in my memory. There is the 12 year old (foster child) who cried on my shoulder that all she wanted was the same name as her (foster) parents, not that she didn't love her mother, not that she didn't value that connection but just that she wanted to be part of a "normal" family. She didn't want the stigma of every classroom friend, every teacher, ever coach knowing that she didn't "really" belong to the family that was raising her. There are my facebook friends who also happen to be kids raised in foster care who change their last names to that of their (foster) parents as time goes on. Taking the name that the system has not bequeathed them, yet life has.
There are my sons who are adamant that the girls' names must be changed, and changed quickly. My 14 year old who can't express why but just tells me through watery brown eyes that is is IMPORTANT and he doesn't know how to say it any different than that. There is my 15 year old who asks if he can change his own name to Xavier 'cause it's SOOOO COOOL but that he definitely is keeping Jon and as such the girls should get my middle name.
Alas, that is the angst of our decision. I will bequeath our last name easily because I do feel that there is strong evidence that being visibly part of our permanent family will benefit the girls. But my secret heart has always dreamed of a daughter. A daughter to whom I can give my middle name as my husband gave his. Joy. My middle name. And merely stating the desire makes me feel selfish.
I do not want to rob my daughters of their heritage, their name as a gift from their other parents, their first parents, but I do ache to give them this connection to me. My "experts", the adoptees I live with and raise and call my own, unanimously vote I should. But I know others would believe differently. And so we debate and discuss and pray.
What am I missing? Is it a gift or a theft?
There are three options we can do (well four if we don't change anything).
Birth First Name - Birth Middle Name - My Middle Name - Our Last Name
Birth First Name - Birth Middle Name - Bio Mom's Last Name - Our Last Name
Birth First Name - My Middle Name - Bio Mom's Last Name - Our Last Name
I am looking for input here.