What is in a Name (Day)?
Posted by ni
22nd Jul 2020

December is my busiest month. It is a busy month for a lot of people but for me the special significance is that my name day falls in it (the date is debateable, depending on your country of origin). A name day is a day that is celebrated by people named after saints. I am named after St Nicholas.

As a young person my name day was my sanctuary. It was a day that went largely unnoticed by my family and peers (except for my grandma who was the widow of a Polish man who, as a result, adopted some of the customs). It was a day when I reflected on my naming, because my birth was a largely triggering subject. A birthday brought up feelings of frustration.

When we talk about origins, I wonder if we think about adoptees. We associate origins with family, genetics and culture. Of course, adoptees have some or all of these things in their lives, but the meaning can be very different.

I was born (obviously) and have a biological family (again, obviously) but my origins begin with my naming. My name – not my original name, by the way – is where my story began.

When I talk about adoption, which is something I often do, I witness a certain attitude. This is something I like to address. The idea of realness; “Do you know your real mother?” As soon as I hear the word “real” I cringe. It’s a word that invalidates my feelings towards my family – and when I say my family I mean my adopted family (I hate it when I have to clarify that). It’s a word that, as a child, gave me my first sense of displacement.

A couple of early memories that shaped me forever are throw-away comments in my school playground. A memory that particularly sticks out is feeling confused after my granddad died, I was sad but I was angry too. I didn’t have the words to describe how I felt. But a helpful classmate piped up; “He wasn’t your real granddad.”

Then it started. The change that coloured the rest of my school days and early adulthood. I was different. I was not wanted. I was probably a bad child because I went through the care system (I don't even know if this is true! I haven't been able to find out). The stereotypes came thick and fast – a decade before I even knew what a stereotype was.

The label came with certain assumptions; that my depression (when it was finally diagnosed) was due to loss, that I should be grateful and that my parents are saints for loving someone who was abandoned.

My name day was a time where I could celebrate a day just for me. My birthday was all about my mother. She wanted a daughter for a decade before she finally got an opportunity to adopt. My birthday was a day when she thought about her struggle – and it was a struggle – to become a mother. It was all she wanted for such a long time she never saw me as anything other than the infant she picked up in the hospital. Three decades have not changed that view.

My birthday should have been a happy day. But it was a constant reminder of the impossible pressures we put on each other; the pressure to conceive, to love unconditionally, to be grateful, to be a happy little family.

As I got older, my name day has become a symbol of my resilience. The fact I celebrate it instead of my birthday is the first part of the rebellion. People don’t understand it. My name day is also a day where I celebrate my definitions of my history. I have never felt loss – I don’t pine for a mother I never had. I feel sorrow for a woman who faced a difficult situation alone, and for a woman who only ever wanted a baby and built her whole life around that. The only rejection I have felt is that of society, who have never listened to my version of my story. A community that have misunderstood or belittled my anger.

My name day is a day when I think about St Nicholas. A saint most people associate with Christmas and/or Santa Claus. I don’t know his background, but I feel I know him. Which mirrors how I feel people react to me. I am often told how lucky I was to be adopted, or “saved” from the care system. The word adopted creates a narrative in peoples’ heads. I was lost and now I’m found. I feel like people see me as some sort of chubby tattooed Pretty Woman.

Sometimes I feel like St Nicholas is the badass saint people have misunderstood. They think of gift-giving – all fluffy and nice, but I think he was redistributing wealth. He was born in a coastal town just like me and he resurrected some pickled children which I haven’t done but I’ve always hated pickles. I found comfort in the stories of St Nicholas when I felt very alone. He’d probably read this piece I’ve written and throw coins in my window at night so I can feel like a successful writer.

Thanks, St Nicholas.

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