I never expected my last name to be permanent.
Having grown up in a traditional family, I assumed that one day I would marry and take my husband’s last name and subsequently our children would also carry his name. Of course, life rarely goes as planned, and it turns out that I’ve become a mother on my own through adoption from foster care. What this means is that I fostered my daughters for years before I was allowed to adopt them. So far, I’ve only adopted one of them, Clementine, and I’m still waiting on the courts to adopt the other.
This has left me with a lot of time to think about names.
Like many parents-to-be, I’ve been a bit obsessive about selecting names for my two daughters. I love discovering new lists of baby names and pondering over what kind of significance and cultural identity I want to provide my girls through the names I select.
Clementine’s birth parents asked me to select a name for her before she was even born. She is half-Jewish, half-Puerto Rican, and I spent hundreds of hours considering various combinations of traditional ethnic names. Eventually, I also came to realize the importance of giving her a name that I identify with and that would reflect the new family we were creating together. I settled on Clementine for her first name, as it reminded me not only of my Southern roots but also of my home state of Florida and our many orange groves. I selected Ruth for her middle name because it beautifully merges her Jewish heritage to her Puerto Rican side, which includes a beloved Aunt Ruthie.
Things get a lot trickier when it comes to my other daughter, who is still a foster child. She already has a first name, so I’m considering only changing her last name to my own when her adoption is finalized. This got me thinking about my last name and our family identity.
As an adoptee myself, my last name actually conflicts with my own ethnic background — so who does it really represent? I’m not opposed to my last name, in fact I really like it, but what if I created an all-new last name to represent the three of us?
I admit, the idea kind of has me excited. As a transracial family that is composed of Hispanic, White, Jewish and Black origins, what name might bring us all together? It was time for some research.
I ended up reading all about name changes and I found a particularly interesting article on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. After combing through the site, there are quite a number of reasons people have changed their last names over the years. During the early 1900s, as immigrants flooded into New York City, many chose to change their names to reflect a new beginning in the New World. Some sought to shorten their last names and hide the ethnic sound of them with the hopes of having a better chance of securing a job. And yet others wanted to disguise their identity all together as an escape from family or a military obligation in their home country.
So on my quest to discover a new last name for my own family, I began fielding ideas from my friends and received quite a few responses. My babysitter is adamant that our last name become “Jolie” — she thinks that almost any name goes beautifully with it. Fair enough, but I think I’m going to pass on that one.
Another idea was choosing an adjective that would ground us in the family values that I hope to uphold. Like “Trustworthy.”
Or perhaps “Giving.” Or “Zeal.”
Rebecca Zeal has a nice ring to it.
I have no doubt a name will eventually come to me. And I look forward to one day explaining to my daughters how I chose it and what it means for our family. Most of all, I hope that they’ll enjoy having a unique history to their family name and embrace the virtue of our new beginning.More On