In olden days your last name often described your family’s occupation and reflected your status in the community. The Bakers baked bread. The Carpenters built things out of wood. The Smiths crafted items from iron, silver, and gold. For as long as I can remember I’ve known I was adopted, so my family name was not my own and seemed to reveal nothing about me.
That’s not to say I wasn’t treasured as a longed-for baby adopted at nine months and an adored only child until I was six when my adopted brother joined our family as a four-year-old stranger.
Let’s say my family’s name was Farmer. Although I was unconditionally loved by the whole Farmer clan, I never felt like a Farmer. My mom had a laid-back temperament. Mine was more intense. My mom liked to sew. I had no inclination as a seamstress. Fitting my dresses, she often commented on my wide shoulders and narrow waist, so unlike her own figure.
When I was in fourth grade, I discovered I had a different first name before I was adopted, and growing up, always wondered what was behind that name. Who were my people, and what were they like? (For the details of that fourth-grade episode, see my blog “Carried.”)
Out of respect for my adoptive mom and dad, however, I never searched for my biological parents while they were alive.
But when my adoptive parents passed away, my husband said, “Your bio mother and father are getting old too. If you want to find them, you better hurry up,” so we opened the green metal box always kept in the downstairs closet of my childhood home and dug through official papers to find my adoption agency.
When I read the family history they shared, I discovered a great uncle was active in community theatre, and so was I. Another great uncle was a teacher of foreign language who later became a diplomat to Uganda. I got my masters in language, literacy and culture, and my favorite job later in life was teaching English to brand-new immigrants.
When I finally met my bio mom, she invited me on a family vacation. We walked a Cape Cod beach, and I marveled that her body was shaped just like mine. My husband videoed us chatting, so I could see how our animated mannerisms mirrored each other. She shared my grandmother's favorite flowers were lilacs, my favorite scent, and that my grandmother was a DJ for a classical music and public affairs radio station. I’d just gotten into opera, but when my mom played my grandmother's favorite arias, they were mine. The icing on the cake was when she told me, a writer, that my great, great, great grandfather was Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Recently, my husband urged me to do a 23 and me DNA test, to locate my bio dad's family we’d never been able to connect with. As a result, I found a bio half-brother and subsequently the rest of his siblings. Neither of my maternal half-sibs look like me, so when I saw my paternal half-sibs, I was stunned. Let’s call my father’s family The Jones. There was no denying I was a Jones.
Recently someone told me, “Trauma can be not only something bad that happened to you, but the lack of something you desperately needed.” This average family resemblance flooded a gaping void I was unaware of. In fact, I felt more connected to the half-brother I just met than to my adopted brother who’s felt like a stranger all my life.
All this to say, whether you’re adopted or not, there is power in knowing your name and everything behind it!
My adoption simply highlighted the security of being connected to your family by blood, seeing your image reflected in another, and understanding that the way you’re designed is clearly a gift from God, above and beyond any influence from your environment.
I didn’t realize how much I needed to be acknowledged by my real father. Without a father you are unclaimed, unnamed, and unprotected from the shame that labels you a misbegotten, out-of-wedlock bastard. Harsh, but those words are synonyms for illegitimate, the term that lived just beneath my skin my whole life.
That’s why my most important name is still not my own, but it reveals everything about me.
Under the banner of Christ, no matter my origin or circumstances, I am a chosen, holy, beloved member of the family of God with a blood connection to Jesus, the first born of many siblings. Together may we reflect his image above all others for the rest of our days.
Thank you Ann for your beautiful words and vulnerability. May God continue to bless you and your family.