What’s My Name?
Our names: our school pegs, our register entries, an ID badge, a passport, a bank account, a driving licence, how we introduce ourselves. Of course, all of our names are given to us, some a gift, others a curse, some that don’t quite sit right with the face in front of us, or for the body that the person inhabits, but it’s something we all have.
For people who have been adopted we often have two, or perhaps more depending on the nature of our transitions.
Multiple surname changes are common throughout life, through marriage, partnership, divorce, re-marriage, maybe divorce again, but adoption brings something different, another first name, maybe it’s known through a life-story book, maybe, more likely, the birth name has been kept to foster a consistent sense of identity for the child, but, if like me you were born before the language of ‘forever families’ and ‘therapeutic parenting’ it is likely that you had one name before adoption and another after.
What does this mean for a sense of identity?
I hated my name, it was so stuffy, formal, most definitely not me – but thankfully my adoptive parents gave me a name long enough to play with, so for my formative years I was known by at least 4 different versions of my name, some of which I had encouraged and one of which was a piss-take-but-in-a gentle-way kind of version (funnily enough, the one I am really fond of now). I wasn’t at all surprised when, aged 5, my adoptive mum told me whilst cooking tea, that I was adopted. I knew that I wasn’t biologically theirs (it was fairly physically obvious) but more than that I just knew at some primal level that something was amiss.
One of the only reactions I clearly remember having to this news was wanting to change my name – finally, I thought (at the grand age of 5) I can be who I want to be and that person was Debbie (!) so I rolled into school the next day and announced that henceforth I would like to be known as Debbie – much to the amusement of my classmates, who of course ignored me and carried on using my given name.
But this feeling has never really gone, this sense of just not feeling at home in my own name, because – it isn’t my own name.
I got hold of my birth certificate aged 18 and there in black was my name. This was the name I had been given at birth, I didn’t know by who.
A Dutch first name and an English last name, I practised my new signature, to perfection.
Intrigued, I continued (on and off) my searching process until finally, 9 years later I found my birth mother. She confirmed it was my biological grandmother who named me, after her own adoptive mother – believing it was a fitting way to memorialise her.
At last I felt I had some roots. Some grounding in a name that takes me from the lowlands of the Netherlands, to the post-industrial towns of the North of England, to the middle of nowhere where I was raised. I had something that signified my journey and marked me out as ‘other’ (which is how I felt anyway).
And I use it now, not all the time – I have never plucked up the courage to go the whole way and change my name ‘back’… maybe one day, but for now, I use it for my writing, for my poetry – for the things that I do that feel like they come from me, the authentic bit, the part that’s emerging, because everything else is just layers.
(A version of this piece originally appeared on ‘The Adoption Social’ in June 2015)
Anneghem Wall is, amongst other things, a researcher and a therapist and a mental health trainer – when she grows up, she would like to be a writer and less scared of the sea.
Essay, Non-Fiction, Personal
Adoption, Anneghem Wall, Burning House Press, Essay, Health, Identity, Magazines, Names, Personal, Testimony, Writers, Writing
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From Unwanted Companion to Respected Friend
By Mark Liles
With long and deliberate strokes I signed my kindergarten masterpiece, M-A-R-K, narrowly missing the puddle of wet white glue above the floppy plastic eyeball. I paused with a familiar thought: it just didn’t fit. Mark was just too short and awkward sounding and such a great tissue paper turkey deserved a better signature. I couldn’t escape the disappointment because Mark followed me in bold letters everywhere. On my lunch box, the tag inside my coat, my baseball glove, etc. The name Mark was like the annoying neighborhood kid you get stuck with over summer vacation and just can’t get rid of. I had no idea that over time, this unwanted companion would become my respected friend.
Why couldn’t I have names like my brothers? Richard was the oldest and his name was strong and confident. Best of all he could be Rich or Richard, a multifunctional name; Richard when he became president and Rich with his buddies on the playground. And then there was Russell who could always be Russ when the need arose. What were my parents thinking? Did they just run out of letters? It was obvious to me that my name should’ve been Robert. This theory was reinforced by my Sesame Street logic: Richard, Russell, Robert, Mark; which one of these just doesn’t belong? I wanted Robert… not Mark, and like that unwanted tag along there didn’t seem to be anything I could do to get rid of it.
As years went by, various experiences made me more accepting of my name. One of the most memorable came on the first day of middle school when the teacher called out our FULL names in the roll call. I’d always kept my middle name a closely guarded secret, fearing certain humiliation if anyone ever learned what is was. I expected a room full of laughter as she called out “Mark Harold Liles”, but to my amazement everyone was quiet. Then something totally unexpected happened. The quiet girl I secretly admired turned to me and said, “I like your name, it sounds cool”. That day marked a turning point. Maybe I’d been wrong about Mark, maybe the name was ok.
There was a time when I lost my name all together. I had joined the military and had to pack up all of my civilian clothes and personal effects into a cardboard box that would be stored until completion of basic training. My name Mark was put in the box as well, having been issued the new name “Private”, courtesy of the United States Marine Corps. That passage was tough and through it all I developed confidence and greater self esteem. Shortly after finishing boot camp I was given dog tags. Stamped deep in the simple metal tag were the words: Liles, Mark H., USMC. I’d been given my name back, only now there was more; I had earned the title of Marine. Going through this period of losing my individuality made me appreciate the uniqueness that I possessed and gave me a new appreciation for my name.
My time in the military has long since passed, and today my name and I are fully engulfed in the working world. Mark still follows me everywhere, only now it’s on my office door, the cover of business papers, and on the introduction slide of corporate PowerPoint presentations. My name in many ways has become a list of attributes and accomplishments that people associate me with and that I associate with myself. I work hard to make sure that when people hear my name they think of a dedicated employee, a pleasant neighbor, and a good father. I understand the value of a good name and work diligently to protect it.
Sometimes I think back on my days in kindergarten when I didn’t like my name and I laugh. I’m so happy to be Mark and not Robert. I like the person I’ve become and am thankful for the people and events that have helped shape me. I realize how it was never really about my name but instead about personal feelings of self confidence and self worth. There are times in life that I see obstacles and wonder how I’m going to overcome them; I worry about who I can count on to help me. But then I pause and remember that dependable friend that has always been there, I think of my respected friend, Mark Liles, myself.
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Sam: The Motorcycle Chick
By Samantha Miller
On a hot and sunny Arizona afternoon, I stand next to my shiny lime green two wheeled machine and swing my right leg over the hot black seat. I start the engine and listen to the deep exhaust as I twist the throttle. Maneuvering my way out of the parking lot filled with big lifted trucks and neon sport bikes I feel a sense of people watching me. As I look to the left, I see two tall men wearing baby blue collared shirts with looks of confusion and excitement. I begin to realize this must be the first time they have seen a girl who is five feet, four inches tall with long brown curly hair and a small waist controlling what has been traditionally seen as man’s vehicle. My name is Samantha, and I ride and repair motorcycles. Samantha may sound beautiful, soft and caring; however I am brute, loud and hardhearted female in a man’s world of mechanics.
As long as I can remember, I have been labeled as a tomboy. I believe this is how I adapted the nickname Sam so easily. Sam is a short version for the masculine name of Samuel. A particular memory I have using the name Sam over Samantha was on Monday, June 6th, 2005. It was my first day of class and I remember entering a classroom full of men ranging from a young smug football player to a kind simplistic looking grandpa. I sat down in the closest blue plastic chair that was available, not realizing it was broken. I began to wonder if this was a place for a “Samantha.” Surely they would accept a “Sam” as a serious and strong person in the motorcycle industry. So, as the potbelly forty-year-old man with short gray peppered hair and a five o’clock shadow called our names, I simply replied with “Here” and “Call me Sam.” Throughout the rest of my training at Motorcycle Mechanics Institute, my bully attitude and dirty clothing tagged me, Sam, as one of the guys.
Even though I respond to a masculine sounding name, I use my gentle feminine Samantha side to listen and express myself to others. Whenever someone is talking, I listen with full intent. The words inhabit my brain as I imagine myself in that person’s shoes. However, I do not like to repeat myself. If I have to repeat something to a person, who has clearly not listened, I will repeat it very loudly to express my irritation. Maybe it’s just me or the fact my name means listener, but listening is not hard. Listening is very beneficial because absorbing and maintaining information is useful for solving problems. For example, I would yell across the service shop to a very tall barbarian classmate who constantly forgot to put the special tools into the large red metal cabinet. When a man hears a woman’s enraged voice yelling, he soon remembers her words.
In combination with yelling, my blood starts pumping and my mind begins to take over responses, leaving all feelings aside. My heart will give a little when someone is hurt or in need. However, if a person carries out a dim-witted decision, I feel they should learn from their actions. This stubborn method of thinking symbolizes my German last name Miller. My German grandfather, Leroy, fell in love with a beautiful but stubborn Norwegian woman named Marjean. Even to this day, at the age of 76, my short, plump and snow white curly haired grandmother will not take “no” for an answer. Sometimes I wish my last name was a softer one, like Bloom. I could than be imaged as a flower, which is the Greek definition of Samantha. Samantha Miller, a girl who is a flower that blooms. But, I am not Greek and all eventually flowers die.
In the end, people will remember me as Sam Miller, a strong woman in a man’s world of mechanics. I am a tomboy who enjoys wrenching and repairs anything that produces speed. I am also a beautiful girl who listens well and expresses irritation when others do not listen. My family brings out my stubbornness that allows me to be tough on others when they make bad decisions. I am a brute, loud and hardhearted who thinks like a boy and acts like a boy. But, I still turn heads when people see a small figure on a lime green two wheeled machine with a long brown hair waving in the wind.
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Paola: Your Instructor
By Paola Brown
Paola Brown is an enthusiastic woman who enjoys wearing many different hats throughout her week. Every day, she is a wife and a mother. Having been married for almost five years, her husband and she just welcomed their first son, Mateus, into their family about a year ago. While she loves spending the day at home with Mateus, she sincerely enjoys teaching her online and night classes. Currently, she is teaching freshman composition at Glendale and Gateway
Community College. Paola also loves to write. She has recently submitted an article, an ethnographic research study she conducted in 2007, to a professional magazine, and it is under consideration for publication. While this kind of academic writing can be a creative outlet for her, she also enjoys writing children’s fiction. As a Brazilian-
American, much of her fiction is bilingual, weaving English and Portuguese within the story’s plot. Indeed, Paola’s variety of hats brings her life exciting opportunities for spending time with wonderful people and for expressing her creativity.
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