What’s in a name?

I have been dipping in and out of Claire Hewitt’s daily May blogging challenge and today’s prompt caught my eye – First Names.

For most people, their baby’s name is discussed over a long period, and during pregnancy. There are favourites. And names that are immediately discarded as too common, too strange, too much a reminder of that annoying kid from school and the list ebbs and flows. Opinions are sought and discarded and sometimes the poor kid causes arguments before they even come into the world.

I don’t really have any idea about how I got either of my names.

I have had two first names.

One was given to me by my 17 year old mother, prior to my adoption, and one was given to me upon my adoption. So which one am I? Does a name define a person?

Am I Sara, daughter of Andrea, my teenaged mother, who I know precious little about? (I don’t know anything identifying about my father.)

Or am I Annette, daughter of Brian and Dale, who didn’t have their own biological children until after they adopted two babies?

I don’t usually use different terms for my mothers and fathers, because I don’t want to – and I think labels have the tendency to compartmentalise or diminish significant roles in my life. This will confuse, or even rile some folks. Tough luck. These are my people, and the language I use about them is my choice. I have two mothers, and I have two fathers. I will not allow anyone’s discomfort with that to impact me. It’s the truth about who I am.

The interesting thing is that both my names have something in common.

Sara is a diminutive of Sarah, which has Hebrew origins and means lady or princess. Sarah was the wife of Abraham, the Old Testament prophet. She became a mother at 90. No thank you.

Annette is a diminutive of Anne if you prefer the French lineage, or Hannah for the Greek fans. Either way, the meaning is gracious, merciful or favour, grace. And Hannah was the mother of an Old Testament prophet.

So, which one am I? Who am I? According to my names, I’m a merciful lady, and on a good day I might brush past these characteristics. A very good day!

I can tell you that my thoughts about my names have changed over the years. I actually really like both my names, and in recent years I have toyed with the notion of making Sara more a part of who I am now. Perhaps a small tattoo? It’s only four letters. I hold the world record for weakest stomach/lowest threshold of pain, so no tattoo yet – it’s not something I need to rush into.

Inevitably, some of you will be thinking, “but how will that make your parents feel?” You may find the notion of me wanting to honour my first first name disloyal or even wrong. Adoptees spend a lot of time answering questions about how everyone else feels – their adoptive parents, their ‘birth/biological’ family, their siblings. Tip: ask adoptees how they feel please.

It’s so strange to be telling someone your story and have them seem more interested in the other characters in it than in the person standing in front of them. As an adoptee, often the role people see us in is of the grateful “orphan” or rescued wretch. This isn’t a musical! There are a million posts I could write about being an adoptee – I’ll try and stay on track with first names for today.

So, I’m Annette – one of five children that share family history, parents and our surname, yet we don’t all share physical characteristics or DNA. Most importantly, “they” all love vanilla slices and I find then gross!! Ergo, vanilla slice loving is 80% genetic.

My dad calls me Nett – you may not. My good friends call me Nettie – you may become someone who shares that level of friendship. I’ll tell you if you overstep. I’ve done it before! Mostly, people know me as Annette. That’s who I am.

I am also Sara, a woman with no idea about my origins, or family history. I have no clue whose blue eyes I have, who I might laugh like, or frown like, or LOOK like. I don’t look like my favourite aunt or my gorgeous sisters (I’m still super cute!). I know my mother’s name, and her mother’s name. I know that Andrea’s birthday almost coincides with my parents’ wedding anniversary.

And whatever you call me, I know myself pretty well.

So, what’s in a name? Plenty. Echoes of my mothers’ desires for my life perhaps, or their feelings about and hopes for me.

Names don’t belong to our parents for long, they may choose them, but we grow into them. I intend to keep growing into both of mine for a good while yet.

Thanks for reading. If you’ve got a question about adoption, please feel free to ask!


Annette, and Sara xx

30 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. Thank you for joining back in and sharing such an interesting post.

    I have no first hand knowledge of life relating to adoption but I do find the concept and conversations around adoption really interesting. There are many angles, many dimensions, there can be much pain and such enormous happiness and love, but also so many questions – such as this, quite simple yet so complex a question – what’s your first name?

    I guess there are many answers to the question too, but I always wonder why it is that adopted parents choose not to keep the babies name? But I ask this as a mother now, and if for some terrible reason I was in the position that your birth mother was, I would think the only thing I could give you, in some way, was a name. If I was wearing other shoes, and beside myself with excitement and love that I was given the honour to raise you as my own, I too might like to provide you with a name that was also especially chosen for you. I see all the sides.

    I probably have a million questions about adoption.


    • Thanks for popping in, reading and commenting Claire. Great prompt!! When I first read the list I thought yep, that’s one for me.
      Adoption is definitely an area that I think people may think they have some grasp on, but as you peel away the layers, there are at least a million questions to be asked, some of which may never be answered. And some of the ramifications aren’t felt for many, many years by adoptees and those around them. Giving people, particularly adult adoptees, permission to explore their complex feelings about adoption, free from the burden of divided familial loyalties and expectations, is something I’m passionate about.
      Seeing all sides includes seeing the child’s side – aside from my mothers desires about me and my names, what I feel about them both, the names and the women, is an evolving thing! Adoption is not a once in time event, that’s for sure.
      Questions are really good – if they’re asked openly and with a real desire to understand, I’ll answer them as best I can all day long.
      It is one of the reasons I’m blogging. Thank you for the prompt to delve into this again today. I enjoyed the writing process.


  2. Hi Annette / Sara
    As an adoptee myself I read your post regarding names with great interest. My names on my original birth certificate are Catherine Mary, Catherine being my mother’s name and Mary my grandmothe’s. I like to think that this was because she cared enough for me that she wanted to give me some small part of herself. Sadly I will never know as Catherine died before I could meet her. I was briefly named Denise by my adoptive parents but after a week they changed their minds for some reason.
    As you say there are many layers involved in the area of adoption, lots of feelings and questions, many of which I’m only now becoming aware of.


    • Hi Robyn,
      I know the feeling. I do!
      The biggest hurdle can be simply allowing yourself to voice the questions, even if no answers come.
      I hope you have somewhere you can do that.
      Thanks for taking the time to share. I’m so sorry that you couldn’t meet your original namesake, Catherine.
      Annette x


  3. What a great post. My sister and I work together, our desks have been side by side for 18 months. We don’t look alike because one of us is adopted. A lot of people are surprised when they find out we are sisters and you can see their confusion. Some say, oh of course, I can see the resemblance now. We have a good chuckle about that. A few people we’ve worked with for a long time know the real deal and they are great. Some who find out ask who is the one and we tell them, but if they haven’t been there they can never understand. I don’t fully understand the depth of her emotions on the subject and she can’t fully understand mine. How could we? There are just the two of us, we don’t know what a biological bond is like but the one we have is pretty bloody fantastc. Own all of your names Annette/Sara they make up part of the fab being that is you.


    • Thanks Michelle – I’ve had people tell me I look like people in my family too – ahh, no, look closer!
      There are lots of us out there!
      And I am embracing both, for sure.
      Annette x


    • I’m still processing it too, and it’s my experience!!

      Really appreciate you taking the time to comment. Feel free to ask me anything you like!


  4. A very thought provoking post if I may say. A name is definitely something we grow into…after all we don’t get to choose our names do we? I was named after a Hollywood actress and the name was very unusual when I was young…it’s much more common now. I hated having a name that everyone had to ask how to spell. I’ve bestowed my youngest with a name that denotes his Scandinavian heritage, don’t know if he’ll thank me for that!


    • They carry a lot of weight don’t they, but I think eventually we embrace them – or visit the deed poll office!! Appreciate your comment.


  5. Your riggt names mean so much. I remember choosing my first daughters name to be Sade but once she was born and I looked into them eyes I knew that she was an Anna. She fits all the qualities of Anna’s that I have met. Sje is the sweetest teenager. My second I named her Ashley after living with her for 10 days. And so on with the last two. I believe that when choosing a name you need to take great care for this person will habe to live with this name. I tend to pull from a feeling that I get when I meet them for the first time.


  6. Hi Annette,

    It’s an interesting one isn’t it? The name thing.. My eldest (half) sister from my dad’s first marriage was so hurt by our father that she no longer wanted to share his name or the one he named her at birth. Obviously, for her, her name held strong feelings and associations with unpleasant things from the past.

    We have a foster daughter who, in the not too distant future will be in our care permanently! I couldn’t imagine her having any other name than the one given to her by her birth parents.. but if she decides some day that she wants to be called something different we’ll of course support that. Our other daughter, wants to change her name to a boys name… that’s another story altogether!

    Great post.



    • Thanks Ashley. Names are pretty powerful, I agree. I know people who have cast off given names to become someone they feel is more who they are on the inside. It’s great to have a place to talk about these things. Blogging rocks!


  7. LOOK at your blog. What a beautiful little community you have created here!

    My sister’s name is Sara. And my great aunty is Annette. That has to mean something amazing about us being connected, I am sure!


    • Pip, thank you! You helped me get this baby off the ground. People engaging with my writing is such a mind blowing joy.

      And yep, I reckon there’s some good wu-wu in our connection.


  8. Oh Saranette 😉 … my head is spinning a bit after reading this. Very poignant and thought provoking indeed. I confess I had never really considered the impact on names for adoptees. I should have, because there is power in names. Now I will. I have a feeling I will be thinking about your words here for a long time. Thank you for sharing.


    • Naomi, thank you so very much for this comment. Part of why I’m blogging – as well as it being fun and creative – is to shine a little light on the adoptee experience, by telling my stories. I am so glad that my words can make people ponder an experience outside of their own. Or maybe very close to home.

      Really appreciate your contribution to the conversation.


  9. I have had friends who have changed their names and it was always something I couldn’t get my head around. Like it or loathe it, to me a name is an identifier that goes far deeper than a label. It was chosen for us by someone who wanted the best for us, a favourite name. Whether we identify with that name or not doesn’t take away from that gift. x


    • That’s usually the case with names, but not always.
      We may not understand it, but if someone feels they need a new name, or to reclaim another name, I say go for it.
      Thanks for reading!


  10. I think it’s beautiful that you want to grow into both of your names. You have great insight on the value that comes from the names you have been given, not just their meanings, but from the people who gifted the name to you.


  11. I’ve never really thought about my name, I guess i did when I was a lot younger I was curious as to why I was called Paula (apparently my mum heard the name whilst she was in hospital having me and my sister, I am a twin, from a lady opposite her in the ward – an American lady called Paula so you kept it). But as I’ve grown, I guess I’ve been called Katherine (my twins name) plenty of times so I haven’t really grown attached to it that much. My name is just my name, it doesn’t define me or make me who I am – its a label – so people recognise me, call me and find me when they need me. Me, I’m more than my name and I am growing into that person every single day…. but I guess a lot of people have names that were thought about a bit more than mine was! Who knows…. an interesting post, something different, thank you 🙂


    • Hi Paula, they are quite utilitarian really, a way to differentiate us. I’m glad to bring you something a bit different to read, that’s what I love about blogging. So many things we’ve never thought about, or think differently about, to consider and enjoy.


  12. What in interesting post! I’ve thought about my name a lot, and I like it more the older I get. My mom didn’t name me until I was born; she said I just “looked like a Natalie.” I think it’s beautiful how you have and embrace two names. I look forward to more inspiration from you!


    • Hi Natalie, I think lots of people do wait for their babies to arrive – I know friends who had a named all picked out, after lots of arguing about it, but after he arrived, nope it didn’t ‘fit’, so they changed it. Hoping to provide more inspiration to you ASAP!


  13. Oh my goodness!!!! I feel so related to in this moment. I, Michaella, am not Michael-La or Michelle-ah, Mik-kay-ayla. My sister calls me Kaila – nope, you can not. You might be able to earn calling me Mick, Mickey – we’ll see.

    People often ask me about my name. How do I spell it, where does it come from, how old am I. Yes, the last one is weird, but in the last 5-10 years the name has become increasingly more popular. When I was in high school particularly and we had a substitute teacher, they would almost always pronounce my name wrong and the whole class would burst it out the right way. It was a strange way of saying they know me, or at least that’s how it made me feel.

    My name has definitely held something for me and with that… it was quite the responsibility when we had the opportunity to name my daughter…

    I love what you said about not wanting different terms for your mothers and fathers. About your take on why. It’s such a powerful stance and reminds us that that we get to design our lives, our relationships, even our names. 😉 Beautiful!


    • Names are so powerful aren’t they – I guess like all words they can be weighted with different stuff. Thank you so much for taking the time to not just read, but ‘hear’ what I was saying.


  14. My gorgeous girl and beautiful boy are both adopted. We decided early on that we would honour the names given to them by their birth families. So our children have the names given to them prior to adoption. I have often wondered where those names came from. How the decision was made to bless them with their names. I imagine one day the will also wonder where their names come from. Thanks again for sharing your world with us


    • I think that’s beautiful Sonya.
      Yes there will be questions, I just want to encourage you that none of those questions come from a for or against place… we just need to know stuff, as adoptees. Some stuff we can know, some we can’t but we seek, we ask, we ponder, as we’re ready.
      I wish you and your family the very best.


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