As the country prepares for an historic inauguration, I was reading about the slaves who built the white house. Documents have been revealed, recording payments made to the slave owners for the hiring out of their slaves. The slaves were listed as "Slave John", Slave Tom." None had surnames. A surname makes a man a man; it ties him to his lineage, his clan. Slavery of course, systematically destroyed families.
Their is power of ownership and in naming. Expectant mothers often spend inordinate amount of time reading baby name books and deciding upon a "proper" name for their child - one that expresses what the child means to them and also its family heritage.
Names are carefully recorded in religious and legal documents and generally follow one for life.
Surnames, until recently, tied families together. Womens lib however, seeing it as a symbol of patriarchal "ownership" eschewed the practice of assuming one's husbands name upon becoming married and today many women hyphenate or simply continue to use their maiden name. Yet family or surnames remain important in helping one track his lineage or genealogy - a practice that multitudes of people take great pride in. Squeals of delight to discover one's great, great grand dad!
Prior to the 1940's, when an orphan, or the child of an infirmed or widowed mother needed care, a member of the community of parish came forward and The Smith Family raised the Jone's boy. All knew his rightful heritage and no one questioned his family ties, despite whatever affection the boy and his new family might have likely shared. He connection to his family tree remained unbroken despite care given him or the contributions he made those who raised him. Children were assets, but not possessions.
The days of the orphan train encouraged adoption as way to obtain indentured servants. Still their name was of little consequences - no more than the slave's.
Not until the tables turned and children became more scarce and having one or more, a sign of affluence and were desired as prizes for their own bragging rights: my son is smarter or a better ball player than yours - did naming a ward become important. Children have became possession and thus need to be labeled like one might adhere sticker onto a possession so as to assure its return if lost.
In adoption today the name a mother gives her child is often discarded and naming "rights" ate part and parcel of the transfer of ownership of the child to his or her new parents.
The idea of the child being an individual with any rights - even to his own name or ethnicity) in domestic adoption) - is barely considered. Though it is now becoming fashionably popular to keep some form of an internationally adopted child's name incorporated into his American name. But not as a "right to know."
An adoptees "right to know" is on par with that of slaves.
Yet the simple test of the importance of a name is to call a young child by a name that's not his and watch him get very upset! Or name is weho we are. Our unique identification....or, is it?