Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What's in a name?

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

William Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet

What's in a name?  Quite a bit, as it turns out.

Recall this, from an earlier post:

The birth notice my parents mailed to my Great-Grandmother

At birth, my parents chose the name "Sharon Kay" for me, and for the first 16 months of my life my mother called me "Sharon."
I think most reasonable people would agree that 16 months is long enough for a child to become accustomed to and associate him/herself with a name.  Right?


So, of course, when my grandparents took me in, they let me keep my name.  Right?


Kind of.  Sort of.  Well, not exactly .....
This gets a little complicated, so bear with me.
When the adoption was finalized, my last name was changed so that it was the same as that of my new parents.  That's fairly common and generally accepted as a good thing. 
They didn't change my first name, so even now, my given name is still Sharon.
What they DID change was my middle name.  It started out as Kay, and they changed it to Kyle.  Now, Kyle was the middle name of my grandmother's late father, so I'm pretty sure this was her idea.  It was, unfortunately, also the name of a then-famous football player, Kyle Rote.
These days, many kids have names that are "gender-neutral":

          Dakota     Jessie     Sidney     Skyler     Emory     Casey

                    Riley     Sawyer     Reese     Corey     Jordan     Morgan

But when I was born (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth), girls had girls names and boys had boys names and that was that, period, end of discussion. 
And Kyle was NOT a girl's name.

OK, I hear you say, but it was just your middle name, and lots of people have unusual middle names.  What's the big deal?

Well, the big deal is that my grandparents starting calling me BY that name.  To them, and to everyone else, I was officially known as "Kyle."

It wasn't a problem until I started preschool, where my female classmates were named Susie.  And Vicky.  And Nancy.  And Mary.  And Patty.  And Cindy.  And Kathy. 
There wasn't a single other girl named Kyle.
Hoo yeah, I got teased.  And I grew to really, REALLY dislike the name.

The name change was always a puzzlement to me, and I know that it must have been terribly confusing for me.  Imagine having this conversation with a toddler:

"Your mommy isn't your mommy anymore, I am.  Where you were living isn't your home anymore, this is.  The brother and sister you had aren't your brother and sister anymore.  And your name isn't Sharon anymore, it's Kyle."

I'm so confused .....
Did they think that my name (Sharon) wasn't good enough?  Was it ugly to their ears?  It certainly wasn't uncommon (it was the 14th most popular name that year), so why wouldn't they use it?  Fifty years later, I still don't have an answer.
When I started junior high, I decided to start using the name Sharon again, and I did so throughout high school.  (That's when I discovered three or four other girls with the same name in my graduating class!)  In college, I went back to Kyle in an effort to, I guess, assert my individuality.  However, because I had such a negative view of the name, it didn't feel right.  I started signing things with just the initial "K" and eventually started calling myself that.
"K" -- the same pronunciation of the name "Kay."
My birth name.
When I started using that, it felt right.  Like I was coming home.  Like I was ME again.
I did make one change -- I added an "e" at the end.

I can't explain why Sharon doesn't resonate the way Kaye does, but that's how it is, and Kaye is who I am.
So, this last summer I went to the local court, filed the appropriate paperwork and paid a nominal fee and am now officially and legally "Kaye."  It feels good.
Warning -- preaching ahead!
Adoptive parents want to name their children.  I get that, I really do.  But when adopting an older child (and let's define that as a child who already recognizes and identifies with his/her name), please do so with care and consideration for who the child is and who the child will become. 

What's in a name? 
A child's identity, that's what.