A while back, before we passed court, when I had already quit my job (well, temporarily. Maybe.) and had lots of time, I got all scrapbooky and posted what I hoped were 'safe' pictures of our babies with just their little feet / hands and no identifying features. These pictures also had their names - I'm not wanting to keep their names a secret, but I want them to be jpegs rather than text because I don't ever want this blog to be searchable by googling their names. This is what is behind the whole anonymity thing, actually - I don't want someone to type in my name, or J's name, into google (and considering the number of random people that *I* google, frankly everyone I went to school with and then some, it's not impossible that someone will one day do it) and find this blog. But if they do find it, despite my anonymising - it will be my fault, and I will deal with it. I write this blog after all. The babies, not so much. I think it will be a while before they write anything, and I don't want their peers at school finding what I have written in years to come and using it as a reason to make their lives difficult.
The pictures were originally part of this post, but in the end, I took the pictures down because I had a small freak out and realised just how badly I would NEVER forgive myself if those little innocuous pictures were seen as inappropriate and jeopardised our adoption. But now that the babies are home, I can post them again so here they are: (exactly the same - no faces. I can post whatever pictures I like now, obviously, but making scrapbook pictures has gone WAY down my list of priorities which is probably not a surprise).
So, why those names? Naming babies is so personal. I guess that's why it's so interesting making the choices. Crassly put, it's your opportunity to 'brand' your child - what is this name going to SAY about them? And you? Because naming is so personal, the opinions I'm going to share are exactly that - my personal opinions - and it's no surprise that not everybody is going to feel the same about these issues. I guess that's why we find the issues interesting, too. But that's one of the best (and worst) things about parenting - choosing a name, like making every other choice, is YOUR decision about what is best for YOUR child. These are my choices and my thoughts - I am absolutely not saying that everyone should come to the same conclusions.
When I started this adoption journey (o, long ago day!) I was adamant that having a family by adoption wasn't going to be any different from having a family the 'normal' way. I'm going to be cautious about what I say here (see above re: personal opinions - I'm really not trying to offend anybody) but this is what I've come to think of as the 'telling people you're paper pregnant' phase of adoption waiting. What I mean by this is - this is the phase when I was convincing myself that sure, the baby would come into the family differently, but otherwise it wasn't going to be a big deal that we were adopting. I think that maybe this is a necessary stage for those of us who come to adoption after fertility losses - I'm not sure that I could have faced starting the whole horrible process if I hadn't thought that in the end, the paperchase would get me to exactly the same point that a healthy pregnancy would have - home with a baby who was ALL MINE. We all know the poem, right?
Not flesh of my flesh
Nor bone of my bone
but still miraculously my own
Never forget for a single minute
You didn't grow under my heart
But in it
At this point, those were the kind of thoughts I was having. Except not usually in rhyme. So, J and I had always talked about having a little girl called Katy (full name Kathleen, maybe, after his mother) or a little boy called Peter (after his uncle and my father) and at this point, I guess I was thinking that little Katy or Peter was coming home, but they were going to have brown skin. .
And then time passed and I realised a few things. Firstly, this baby would not actually be born in my heart. This baby's existence would not begin when they started to have a relationship with me. They would not spring into full being in my arms. Instead, this baby would grow under somebody's heart - just not mine. Obvious, no? And yet it didn't really feel obvious to start with. I'm sure I'm not alone in this. Don't misunderstand me - this baby was definitely going to be MY baby, or what's the point? I was definitely going to be his or her 'real mother'. But not his or her only real mother - there would always be another one who came first. And my love for this baby doesn't cancel that first real mother out.
Secondly - this baby would not be white. I mean, I always knew that the baby wouldn't be white, but it took me a long time to realise that this meant they would not be White. Again, this should really have been obvious. But to my shame, I need to admit that white was never a big thing for me - it just always felt 'neutral'. And normal. It was other people who had colours. And if white was the default, why would I think about it? And knowing that about my own previous attitudes is all the proof I need that my black child is going to find their path in life less smoothly paved than mine was. I wish it wasn't true, but I know that it is.
These two things had a big effect on how we started to rethink naming. Firstly, we decided that if our baby had a birth name given by a parent, we would keep it if at all possible. This was hard to decide (*I* wanted to name the baby!) but it felt like it would be wrong to take away the last thing their birthmother had given them. The second was that if this was not the case, we wanted to choose an Ethiopian name for the baby.
In the end, the second case is what happened: you can see from the names above that we chose Ethiopian first names for both of them. After all the thought we put into it, and number of hours spent making shortlists from My Ethiopian Name, it all made so much sense to us! And we're really pleased with their names - she has turned into L.u.l.u for short and the two of them now feel like they couldn't be anybody else. And of course, we have consciously decided that if at any point either of them want to use either of their middle names as their main name - that's great. There's a wonderful line in 'Does anybody else look like me', a book about raising biracial children, where the author's young son talks about how his three names are his 'three selves'. We had that very much in mind when we named them - their two middle names represent their past and their new family, and their first names are all their own. Whichever of their three selves they want to be at each point in their lives, I hope they find that they have a name that will help. (If they want to change their name altogether to Captain McSpaceranger, aged 4, I hope I will be equally understanding).
One thing that has surprised me, though, since we have had them home, is this: many of our friends seem wary of their names. I know they are unusual, but they aren't difficult - that was one of our criteria. And lots of people have been great about checking pronunciation with us. But others? Well, one thinks they are called Isaac and Lolita (errrr... no, especially not Lolita, thank you Nabokov). But much more surprising is that a few have outright rejected their Ethiopian names and refer to them as Heather and Peter. I cannot tell you how much this weirds me out - one said 'oh, I just assumed you would use their English names'. I find this really upsetting, because no, they are English kids for sure but they are Ethiopian-English, and it really worries me that some people seem, very gently, not deliberately, and probably quite unconsciously, to want us to erase the Ethiopian part of them. And while they are young, it would be so easy for us to do this, and pretend they were white babies in brown skin. It would be the path of least resistance, and I do not want to take it. And that is one of the reasons I am really glad that we did give them the names that we did - every time someone says 'so, how do you SAY that?' I get a small shock of discomfort and am forced to remember that yes, their names are unusual. They are Ethiopian names. Because, more fundamentally, so are they. And calling them Katy and Peter wouldn't change this. They are from a different place. They will have a different experience from me. They are part of our family now, but they didn't grow inside my heart and miraculously turn white in the process.
So, this is why they have the names that they do. But now I have to go and eat my dinner!