The Dads, the Birth Mother and the Naming of Jacob
In every culture, the naming of something or someone is a powerful act. It is an act of responsibility to both the namer and the one being named. Personal histories have been made and re-made with a name change. Many religious and cultural celebrations like weddings and christenings involve the giving and taking of a name. Most parents take great care in selecting names for their children.
When our first son came home, he was 3½ months and had already been named by his birth mom. I’ll admit we were not in love with the name and had the ability to legally change it. However, to honor her place in his history and that time of his life, we kept the name as his first name. We added two second names and gave him my husband’s family name. In total, he has four names on legal documents. Not exactly bubble form friendly, but it celebrates his unique adoption story in a memorable way.
With our second adoption, long before we began to be matched with birth moms, we selected names for either a girl or boy. For a boy’s name, we choose Jacob. It was my paternal grandfather’s name and so we let my parents know to gauge their reaction. My usually stoic father, a retired pastor, was visibly moved that we’d honor a man he never got to know as he died when my father was only six months old. We also chose Sophia for a girl’s name, the name of one of my grandmothers. By choosing these names, we hoped we’d connect our adoptive family to our biological family’s history.
When we were matched with our birth mom and learned she was expecting a boy, we let go of Sophia, the girl’s name we had chosen. Although we were very careful not to refer to him by Jacob because of all the things that could still go wrong, I’ll admit we began to think of the unborn boy as our son.
After a very tough couple of weeks with our birth mom, quagmired in the unavoidable bureaucracy of adoption and being snowed under the brutal winter of 2013-'14, she emailed me with a simple request: Could she name the baby she carried for nine months? As I read the email to my husband, we both knew that we could not refuse her. With all she was prepared to give to us, we could not deny her the honor of naming him. He gently reached for my shoulder and asked, "Are you okay with letting the name go?”
I lied and said, "Yes.” I emailed her immediately and explained how we named our first son and the meaning of his four names. I wrote that we’d be honored if she’d named him and asked her what name she had in mind. Quite honestly, I read and re-read the email a dozen times. I didn’t want her to sense my disappointment or sense of loss. I hit the send button and said goodbye to Jacob and went downstairs to get a glass of water and grieve a little. Yes, it was a selfish and petty grief.
While I was sipping my water, an alert notified me of a new email. I saw it was from her and with a deep breath I opened it. She had written a lengthy email, explaining her choice of name, but in all honesty I scanned past it all and my eyes settled on the simple combination of consonants and vowels that would become my son’s name. When I arrived at it, my heart burst.
She asked if we could name him Jacob. Despite living over a thousand miles away, coming from a different cultural and ethnic background and being in a completely different stage in her life, she choose the exact name we had chosen. Yes, I know it is a common name; in fact, the year before he was born, it was the most common name for baby boys. But still, I found it cosmically uncanny. When I told him, my usually stolid husband was visibly moved. We knew that it was a sign that he was meant to be part of our family. Our birth mom said it best when I told her we had chosen the same name. “Well then, it was meant to be,” she said peacefully.
Biological parents have that moment when they see their baby’s ultrasound or feel their baby kick in the womb. That moment, I felt my son’s heartbeat for the first time even though he wouldn’t be born for another six weeks. Despite the lessons our adoption journey had taught us, I gave myself the gift of hope and secretly I began to refer to him as Jacob.
We would have many more twists and turns ahead of us before Jacob would come home with us, but I carry that moment with me every day since. It has become interwoven in the myth-truth of my son’s homecoming. Its significance would only be rivaled by the moment when my father baptized my son with my grandfather’s name. And the usually unemotional men in my life were visibly moved by the power of a simple name tying four generations of my family. For those of us who rely on science, logic and hard facts to understand our world, moments like these are truly humbling.
Wherever you are in your voyage, whether your child grows under your heart or in it, know this: What’s meant to be will find a way of happening in its own time. You may not even know when it’s happening but that which is named cannot be unnamed.