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

Why I can’t feel the love for LoveChild

We Aussies love a TV series, especially a home-grown one. This year’s breakout smash seems to be LoveChild – and it’s the stuff of a television producer’s dreams. I can almost hear the pitch now ‘Imagine this, a show set in an era that evokes nostalgia for more than one key demographic of our audience, with awesome music and vibrant fashions, it will be a visual feast. We’ll have a really sexy cast – we might even lure that Rafters girl back from the US. And there will be romance and drama played out in an iconic Australian location, all set against the backdrop of huge social upheaval – and the cherry on top, evolving storylines surrounding unbelievable adoption practices. People will lap it up! It will be a smash, a ratings bonanza.’

And so it is. It is also my story, and the story of thousands and thousands of other Australians, those who were adopted, or who relinquished their babies, those who gratefully became parents via adoption, and those who had their potential parenthood ripped away from them, and of the people who allowed these things to happen.

Since the teasers started last year, I’d been wondering what LoveChild would be like – would it be true to the times, would it show the reality of what happened, would people want to watch that…. and I think it’s doing a pretty good job of being great television, which nods towards some of the ugly reality of what happened, but keeps the audience from feeling it too deeply – with great costumes, a feel-good soundtrack and other story lines that bring relief to the heaviness of the adoption aspects of the show.

I watched the first two episodes, and I really wanted to like it. I thought it might be a great way to bring the topic of adoption to a wider audience and give people opportunities to talk about their experiences – perhaps for the first time in decades, or ever.

I coped pretty well with it, until Annie was giving birth and they put that sheet up so she wouldn’t be able to see her baby. When that nurse rushed out of the room with Annie’s baby girl, and she couldn’t even catch a glimpse of her – well, I don’t mind telling you – I broke out in an instantaneous, head to toe, hot and cold sweat. I don’t expect people to understand that reaction fully, heck I don’t understand it fully, but what it proved to me, again, is that my adoption, which happened almost 46 years ago, still has a profound impact on me, at a cellular level. So much for the ‘clean break’ theory, or ‘getting over it’.

Sometimes when adoptees speak about adoption, people are quick to rush to the defence (perhaps unwittingly) of everyone but the adoptee – I can’t tell you how many adopted people have recounted stories about being asked how their desire to discuss their adoption openly, or search for their families, or express anger at past practices, is met with ‘oh but how will your (adoptive) parents feel about that?’ Then there’s the old ‘well darling, there was no single mother’s pension at the time, so your mother did the best she could for you and gave you up’. How the fuck would you know what my 17-year-old mother was feeling at the time? Seriously. The knee-jerk cliché thing is NOT HELPING anyone. If you don’t know what to say, say that – simply say, ‘I don’t know what to say’, and keep listening. And I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for those teenage girls, now in their sixties, to open up about having their babies taken, to be listened to and not shooshed or told ‘it’s all in the past’. It isn’t, it can’t be left behind.

Here’s what they didn’t know about adoption then, that is being realised and felt across the country, and the world – adoption has life-long ramifications. These are felt by adoptees, natural/birth/original parents and their extended families, adoptive parents, siblings, partners and children of adoptees. Perhaps one of the saddest, most heartbreaking revelations is that sincere, deep love for adoptive children actually hasn’t been enough to make adoption a once-in-time, impact free event.

It pains me to say it, but love isn’t all we need. We need to accept reality, we need to face up to the impact that the past has had, and is still having, on hundreds of thousands of lives here in Australia. We need to have a frank, open, continuing dialogue about adoption, and the commodifying of children, which is ongoing. We need not to be swayed by movie stars who have made intercountry adoption ‘trendy’, nor by politicians who will do anything to make themselves appealing to the electorate. We need to listen to the stories of adoptees, of those mini-skirted teenagers of the 1960s (and their counterparts from surrounding decades), we need to undo the myths around adoption and open our eyes to the ways in which similar mistakes are still being made.


This is the extent of my family tree. This document wasn’t even typed until I was almost 10 years old. I guess the authorities hoped they’d never need to type it. All babies have families of origin, to deny that is utterly destructive.

For my then 17-year-old mother, who is now 62, I wonder if you’re watching LoveChild and thinking of me….. I wonder if I will ever muster the courage to search for you, and if you would welcome that, or if it would be too heartbreaking for you to face it….  I wonder.

I won’t be watching LoveChild anymore, I don’t need to watch it, I’m living it.


For anyone tempted to comment about how I haven’t told the full story, to take me to task because not all adoptees feel the same way, of course I haven’t, and I know that, but this is part of my story, and nobody can ‘shoosh’ me or judge my experience. Nothing I’ve written here makes me ‘ungrateful’ or disloyal to my family. This happened to me, and if that makes you uncomfortable, there’s nothing I can do about that. I welcome your thoughtful questions and comments. 

If this post raises any issues for you, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14.