Adoption Survivor

dealing with it

Female, Unknown

with 3 comments

A name is something most people take for granted.  Unless, of course, you are an adoptee.  We recognize that names, along with so many things bestowed upon the biological, are a privilege we may never know.  Many of us have many names – the names we had as so-called orphans, our nick-names as orphans, our new legal western names, the bastardization of our orphan names, new westernized spins on our nick names, the marriage of orphan names and new western names, etc., etc.  Often, when people would call my name out loud, I wouldn’t even recognize my own name.  I just didn’t know what name to expect, as I’ve always had too many, and none of them felt right.

And then I got married and had yet another name.  And then I got divorced and wanted a new name but couldn’t think of anything meaningful, so went back to my maiden name.  And then I had a nervous breakdown and realized HEY!  I am carrying the name of my abuser around as my own name.  Every time I hear MY OWN NAME, I think of my abuse.  I decided I absolutely had to come up with something different.  It didn’t even matter to me anymore about meaning, as long as it was different.

My daughter broached the subject of a name change recently.  She was tired of our culture’s insistence on names of ownership that are tied to the patrimony.  She wanted her name to have meaning, and she wanted to honor women in her family.  She’s known I’ve wanted to change my name too.  I told her I would change  my name at the same time, maybe we could all take on the same new name together.   When I told my son about this, he said he would go along with it too, since he honors both the women in his life!  (I love my kids!)

Together we traced the history of all the women in my adoptive family.  The names were uninspiring, and their stories were uninspiring.

I asked my daughter if there were any famous woman she wanted to honor, and she felt that was too arbitrary, searching for inspiration instead of just being inspired.

I did a little research on the history of matronymic (when the names follow the mother’s side of the family vs. the father’s) surnames, and I ran across an interesting little something found under a wiki about Indonesian names.  Specifically, when the colonists didn’t know how to deal with an inconsistency in how they traditionally record births in Indonesia vs. how they are referred to in daily life:

In the Netherlands, for example, a person without an official family name would be given the surname Onbekend (which means Unknown)

My new last name could mean “unknown.”  I got all excited and forwarded this on to my kids to see if they wanted to go along with being daughter of unknown and unknown’s son.

Of course there were difficulties – I didn’t have to have it literally say unknown – I just wanted it to MEAN unknown.  So I looked for its meaning in other languages to find a name with a musical quality I could live with.  Let’s just say the kids were not too thrilled with the choices.  For one, they didn’t like that I was following the practice of a colonizer, and “picking the name’s language based on how it sounds is too arbitrary!” my daughter complained.  “too bad ‘x’ was used by Malcolm.”

Yes.  Too bad indeed.  ‘x’ a placeholder for an unknown.  Being a pure algebraic symbol, it was free from any cultural connotations. It was, indeed, perfect.

Later I told a KAD friend about what I wanted to do and she, too, said “it’s just like Malcom X!”  and she sent me the following link:

I watched/listened to Malcolm ‘X’ and I felt something stir in me – something like love – something like that thrill in your chest while simultaneously becoming an invertebrate on the plummeting side of a roller coaster, crashing to earth.

I decided whether my children join me or not, I WILL be named unknown soon. It not only frees me from my owner and  abuser, but it means something profound.  It represents my identity on this planet.

Recently, I found out that my Korean adoption records state that even my earliest known name was a provisional name.  That even the one name I’d always used as the datum of my identity was a total fabrication.  At two years old, someone erased me and someone else made me somebody else, and I was forced to live somebody else’s life with people who renamed me and made me somebody else yet again.

Then, just yesterday, a fellow adoptee mentioned her pseudonym as an author:  unknown female, which was her name as a relinquished newborn at the maternity hospital where she was left.  I asked if I could user her pseudonym as my real name, and she was all for it.

I’ve yet to decide whether I will go for literally being called unknown female, since i know that’s obnoxious and it will make everyone around me uncomfortable.  yet the joy of writing that down on checks and forms is sooo appealing.  I am also in search right now and don’t want to offend my first family should I find them, so I will wait until after my trip to Korea this spring.

But something about this name, this unknown female, makes me feel like i AM coming to terms with my identity and all I’ve lost and all I’ve been through and it’s a tribute to that.  It feels good to have a name of my own choosing, something that has meaning to me.  It will feel good to have a name which reflects the truth of my life, and to finally , once and for all, own my name for myself.

Written by girl4708

October 3, 2008 at 5:13 am

3 Responses

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  1. I seldom comment, however I read through some comments on Female, Unknown | Adoption Survivor.
    I actually do have some questions for you if you don’t mind.

    Could it be just me or do some of the responses
    come across as if they are written by brain dead folks?
    :-P And, if you are writing at additional sites, I would like to
    follow everything new you have to post. Would you list of
    all of your public sites like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?


    August 31, 2014 at 5:17 am

  2. Could it be just me or do some of the responses
    come across as if they are written by brain dead folks?

    Privilege sometimes resembles brain dead…

    Would you list of
    all of your public sites like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

    I’m pretty much finished with identity exploration or the desire for adoptee community, having experienced both in concentrated form for an unrelenting four+ years, and my position has changed a lot. I’m pretty much content to leave my already bumpy, messy process up as a document for anyone interested to follow. I’m enjoying not having a following and the responsibility that goes with that, so I got rid of all those things except for a small FB network of only people I know in real life.

    But I DO appreciate your appreciation! :) I hope I’ve been of some help/comfort. Thank you!


    August 31, 2014 at 6:19 pm

  3. Apropos is this Salmon Rushdie quote a friend shared with me yesterday:

    Names were things of power, and when they did not fit the thing named they acquired a malign force.


    September 2, 2014 at 9:26 am

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