Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Rose by Any Other Name

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?


*Peach* said...

Thank you for writing this excellent post. Hope you have a wonderful New Year!

Laurel said...

There are so many things I would like to say to you but you won't agree with me so I won't. As an Adopted child I would like to remind you that not everyone holds the same beliefs or ideals that you do and that should be o.k. However, it is not o.k. to be mean or cruel to others who do not believe what you believe. I am somewhat offended by your views but I am not going to bombard you with my thoughts on how YOU should be. If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all to others whom you might hurt.

AdoptAuthor said...


Your choice not to elaborate, but I re-read my post and i understand that some might not agree...but I see NOTHING mean or cruel in what I posted.

It is a FACT that adoptees denied the right to know their original names. What is mean or cruel -- not "nice" about stating that fact?

I wonder how old you are Laurel that you refer to yourself as a "child"? Enlightened adult adoptees eschew such labels. When they reach adulthood they are adults, just like non-adopted persons. Are you not yet 18?

If you are over 18, it seems you have bought into some ridiculousness notions and have absorbed it as truth. Adoptees are human beings! Amazing! They were actually born just alike all other human beings. They did not sprout form cabbage patches or magically appear when their adoptive parents prayed for them! As such they deserve the same rights as all other human beings.

And, yes, now, I am being a bit sarcastic because it disturbs me when grown women call themselves "girls" and adults call themselves children. Self-discrimination can be so very subtle that we are not at all aware that we are putting ourselves down and denying our full potential by using others' language and not our self-defining.

This is true of many populations: gender, age, ethnicity, size and and physical ability.

ALL human beings deserve equality, dignity and respect! For adoptees that includes not being denied the same right as non-adoptees to their own birth certificate!

No matter how old you are: Think about it. Adoption is intended to be children's best interest. To better their lives. Why then give with one hand tale away with the other? Why tat them LESSER than adopted citizens? THAT is mean and not nice, Laurel...not anything I said.

The Improper Adoptee said...

LOL, there was nothing cruel or mean about this incredibly insightful post AdoptAuthor. Me thinks Laurel is a slave owner herself. An AM...I have been comparing Adoption to slavery for years, and it makes me really happy when others see the correlation. You tapped into a subject concerning both that I have overlooked however, about names, and how the DENIAl of a name, both surnames for the poor slaves and OUR Real names is a form of emotional abuse, discrimination and screams out that we Adoptees, you Real Moms and the slaves were deemed less important, less valuable and more worthless as human beings. Absolutely wonderful points in this blog that should imo be sent to President Elect Obama.....
White House comment line anyone?....

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