What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet
-Romeo & Juliet Act II Scene II
I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately with friends about names.
A couple of people I know are often referred to by their surname and do the same with others, in a nickname type way. For me this always strikes a nerve. As someone who was fostered age 15, but never legally adopted, my name, in particular my surname, for me doesn’t always fit with my current family identity and life. I don’t share a surname with the majority of my ‘now family’, and sometimes that hurts or seems to jar. My name belongs to my birth father, his father and his before. It belongs to me in the sense I have always had it, but not in many other ways.
For most people their surname is part of their identity. It is part of their lineage, of where they have come from. It represents belonging and often ties you to someone else. When someone gets married, the lady often takes the name of her husband, representing becoming part of his family. Your mother’s maiden name is a common security question used. Your surname is something that is used to help identify you. At work I daily sign for packages using my full name, telling the courier my initial and surname. Yet is it really a major part of who I am?
I find it hard sometimes when I am identified through a name which in some ways is removed from who I am.
When someone is adopted they take on the name of their new family, their ‘forever family’. This helps the person feel a part of their family, and gives a sense of belonging and identity. Sometimes new middle names are given. Rarely is a new first name given however, as it is such an integral part of who you are unless you are very young.
Most people introduce themselves using their first name. It is often one of the first words you learn to say and write. It is ‘who’ you are. Yet is it?
I have many issues with Katie Hopkins, but the outburst of hers that made me beyond angry was on ‘This Morning’ when she talked about names. She suggested that a child’s name speaks to something of their parents. She said that it clearly indicates what ‘class’ a child comes from and helps her to decide if she want her child to play with them or not. This rant was beyond ignorant in so many ways, not least of which that if a child has been adopted, the family, circumstance, situation and class even that they now belong to, could be entirely different to the one they were born into. The name they were given is not and nor should it be a summary of who they are. She claimed she wouldn’t judge a child on their surname, but surely doing it on a first name is just as wrong?
A similar issue can arise for people of different race or nationality who perhaps change their name to avoid discrimination, or to ‘fit in’ more. Something which makes me sad they would feel they have to do! I recently watched a video where a brilliant actress was saying she wanted to change her name because friends couldn’t pronounce it. Her mother’s reply was “If people can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Dostoevsky and Michelangelo then they can learn to say Uzomaka”. http://www.upworthy.com/the-perfect-response-for-kids-with-hard-to-pronounce-ethnic-names?c=ufb2
When a new company is being started, the name is one of the most important choices- it needs to be amazing for the brand to thrive.
Often, now more than even parents look for significance, or meaning behind the name before naming a child. Baby name books are looked in, names whittled down, sometimes only chosen once the baby is seen. Children are occasionally named after family members, places, or significant things. More and more especially it seems in ‘celebrity’ culture, parents are trying to find the most unique names possible. Thought goes into a name.
But again I ask myself, especially for those adopted. How does it affect someone? That someone else has chosen your name, identified you in such a significant way, and then may no longer be a part of your life, or even was a negative part of your life. Is what you are called really part of who you are?
As I said for me this is a daily thought. I have a rather unusual name and even now people ask me if there is significance that it’s a French name, or do all my siblings have such unusual names, or what does it mean? And I struggle. I also struggle when my foster family are all together and people comment on our names. Or on occasion when people ask why my surname is different to that of my family.
But now, this is what the LORD says– he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
The names of people and their family names in the Bible have a great deal of significance. Someone’s name often spoke of their character or where they came from. What ‘house’ they belonged to. Adam means ‘human’, Eve ‘source of life. Jesus of course, before he was even born was given the name ‘Emanuel’ – God with us.
“Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands. Always in my mind is a picture of Jerusalem’s walls in ruins.”
Even in this promise from God to Israel; God speaks of Israel’s name written on the palms of His hands. Luke 10:20 also speaks of our names being ‘written in heaven’.
Do I believe that even if I changed my name or had a different name, that my name would not be written in heaven? No. Do I believe that if my name had been plucked from a list, or if my birth parents gave it months of consideration and it has a great significance (I don’t really know if this is the case) that I would be any less ‘me’. Again no.
When Christine Caine (Founder of the A21 Campaign) was born, she had on her birth certificate only a number, no name! She was ‘nameless’. Yet she was given a name by her adopted parents, and she could not have a stronger identity or such an amazing legacy. She is an incredible woman of God. Her name does not make her more or less so.
In Nazi concentration camps, Jews were often stripped of their names to try and take away their humanity or their identity, given only a number, sometimes tattooed on their skin. There were so many being put to death it was ‘easier’ to just identify them by numbers. Yet strong amazing souls still remained, even stripped of their names. Survivors who were influential in art, literature, theology and so much more. They were so much more than just a number or even their names.
I have a first name, 2 middle names and a surname, all dictated by my birth family. Yet my name does not define who I am. My character, my actions, my heart and the life I lead (I hope) do that. I may well one day change my surname to that of my foster families. I may get married and take my husband’s name. Or I may indeed just keep ‘my own’ and all of the identity that it comes with.
It is strange sometimes to think when someone calls my name across a room, that it carries with it so much of where I came from. But where I came from, and the first 15 years of my life, are as much a part of me and who I am as the recent 13.
…As Juliet says, ‘that which we call a rose’.
I would love to hear your thoughts, but please as ever keep comments respectful. Thank you!