What’s in an NPE’s Name?
I have always hated my name.
Our name is one of our earliest identities. Often provided to us even before we are born. Names can carry an incredible amount of meaning – literal and figurative. In the Western World, names may represent eras, familial history, or popular culture. They may be created to be unique or be a recycled name given with pride (or obligation) to keep a familial name alive through another generation. There is literal meaning inherent in the origin of the name itself. Bookstores are full of baby books of alphabetized names and their meanings for expectant parents. I often do an exercise with students in a group at my high school where I ask them if they would change their name if given the opportunity. Most say no. The ones who typically want a name change are the ones who have the most common names of the time and have to also be known by their last name to identify them.
So here it is – my hated name: Regina Jo. My maternal grandmother named me and she told me the story of my name all of my life (if she reads blogs in the afterlife, she probably just rolled over in her grave hearing me say that I hate it). My first name means “queen.” I can get behind that. However, she named me this because my maternal grandfather’s name meant “king.” Since my mother was nineteen and a recent college dropout when she had me, my grandmother was working to get into his good graces with me as an unexpected first grandchild. I can appreciate these efforts. My middle name is an abbreviated form of my maternal aunt’s first name. My aunt was my grandfather’s pride and joy and she was named after her biological mother who died within hours after giving birth to her in the 1940’s. It feels like my name was built to manipulate my grandfather to support my imminent arrival – likely so my grandmother would be able to spend time with me. Again, not awful, but calculated.
My last name at birth, the name that will forever be on my birth certificate, of course, was that of my birth certificate father. It’s a very German-sounding last name and honestly rhymes with a very popular bad word. As an aside, when Regina is pronounced like the capital of Saskatchewan in Canada, it was changed by my peers to Vagina. Add that to the bad word version of my last name and it was a middle schooler’s nightmare. But back to the point…on an angry day, I believe all three of my names were meant to cover up my NPE status. On a less angry day, I believe that my grandmother was making sure I was accepted so that she would be in my life. A glaring question I had wondered for my entire life is why did my mother not name me? At 49, I believe I got that answer.
So fast forward to my own, adult married life. I love my last name and my husband. But it’s not my name. I married into it. For my husband and my daughters, this is the name they had at birth. At 49, I learned that my last name at birth is no longer accurate and honestly, never was. Yes, my dad raised me and yes, many others feel very strongly that their BCFs name IS their name. For those of you who feel that way, I applaud that. I just don’t feel that way. I have always felt off. I still have friends from childhood who recall me saying, “I can NOT be related to him” referring to my birth certificate father. I have always felt “other” than that side of the family and thought it was a ME issue with fitting in. WRONG!
And now I have a bonus father who is gloriously in my life. The new biological father has a last name that I a.) have no connection to, and b.) have not been invited to use. I don’t need it. I have a legal last name. I have stopped short of contemplating my full name had he raised me. I have no connection to it that feels genuine despite thinking he is a fantastic human. I honestly don’t think I would change my birth certificate or add his name into mine even if all of that changed. The quandary for me is feeling like my name is who I am but who I am is not the right name. It’s complicated. Does anyone else feel like this?
There are people working hard to change laws about birth certificates aligning to match biological connections. For genealogical purposes as generations of the future search, this is an important piece of the family history puzzle and I am so happy people are working to make this reflect the truth, particularly for individuals who were named at birth by their birth mothers/fathers and those names were changed. As an NPE, our names matter too. Some grieve the loss of a name they now are not biologically connected to and others, like me, easily shed the wrong name but have no other name to attach to. Names matter. Yes, I didn’t love mine for some funny reasons growing up but with my new NPE knowledge and reflection, my name feels emotionally heavy to me now too.
While I have a better understanding behind the meaning of my name, I still hate it.