V is for Victor... or is it?
It was a sparkling May bursting with new life, and we were going to be parents in two months. We didn’t have a crib, bottles, formula, diapers or onesies, but my husband Kevin and I had a name. Our son would be named Victor.
In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet asks, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” The gist of it is that a name is just arbitrary; a name does not alter the underlying identity, character or personality of a person or thing. Romeo would still be Juliet’s true love even if he were not called Romeo.
Yet names hold great meaning. No one takes the task of naming their child lightly, especially in adoption. We certainly didn’t. Names can bind or connect us to our ancestry or lineage (King Henry VIII, or George Foreman’s five sons named George). They can connote ethnicity (Tyrone or Antonio), nationality (Jesus or Luigi) or power and prestige (Kennedy, Trudeau). They can be quirky (Apple) or outrageous (Moon Unit Zappa). They can be safe and traditional (David, John). They can offer a clean break and point to the future. They can feel onerous or just right.
So how did we arrive at Victor? We went for a long walk where, instead of admiring the snowcapped mountains in the distance, we listed every boy’s name we could think of from A to Z. The pros and cons of each were discussed: too popular, too white, too black, too pompous, too weird, too androgynous, and so on. We both agreed that our future son’s first name would not be weighed down by the past, ours or his birth family’s. We vetoed related fathers, grandfathers, uncles and brothers. His first name would look forward, and his middle name could be a link to his past. This child with two families would need to forge his own path in a world of fused ethnicities, split and merged families, and a wild and unknown future where everything was possible.
We stopped at V, and unanimously and immediately agreed on Victor. It had strength and was neither overused nor so unique that he’d stand out. Most importantly, no one in any of our families shared it.
But, when we met next with the family prior to Victor’s birth, his birth mother, Sierra, and her mother told us that they wanted his name to be Francis. There were adopted relatives named Francis, it was a saint's name, and they felt a sense of connection to the name.
I was stunned speechless. It hadn’t occurred to me that they might want to name him, and it was in that long silence that I realized how much we needed to name our baby-to-be. The agency facilitator jumped in and told us all that the birth parents could name him whatever they wanted on the Certificate of Live Birth but failed to mention that we could change it at any time. We sat there quietly, thinking we would work it out later.
One baby, two names
A few weeks later, I suggested to Sierra that we use Francis as the middle name. She rejected this suggestion. Again, I didn’t pursue it. I was stressed out and tired, and I didn’t want to upset Sierra, who was a month away from giving birth. I started wavering and began considering the name Francis, but Kevin was adamant that we name and claim our son as part of our family.
Before we knew it, Victor was born with a Certificate of Live Birth listing him as Francis followed by the birth dad’s first and last names. When we applied for his new birth certificate as part of the process of finalizing his adoption, we changed his name to Victor Francis Taylor. We kept waiting for the “right time” to tell the birth family. For the first year of his life, they called him Francis while we called him Victor at home. Being a baby, he didn't really notice, but I felt guilty and ashamed that we hadn't told them.
Finally, when Victor was about 18 months old, we told them that we’d changed his name to Victor but that they could continue to call him Francis. For years, they called him Francis until one day, out of the blue, Sierra asked us what we wanted him to be called. I said he considered himself Victor. From that day on, everyone called him Victor.
By any other name
At around three and a half, Victor became obsessed with full names. He started calling Kevin and I by our full names, as in “Charlotte Gwen Taylor, can I have more milk?”
That night, I lay down with Victor and explained that he had two names: Victor, which we had given him, and Francis, given to him by his birth mother. I said we would call him whatever he liked: Victor, Victor-Francis, or Francis. Now, he often introduces himself as Victor-Francis and uses all three versions interchangeably. The conversation was surprisingly easy. I told Sierra that I’d explained his full name to him. She said she was totally fine with him being called Victor, but I know she appreciated the gesture. I felt a huge weight lift. I want Victor to know that naming him was very important to all of us, and if he ever wants to hyphenate or be called Francis, we will support him completely.
Like Romeo to Juliet, Victor will still be our true love regardless of whether he’s Victor, Francis, or both.
Charlotte Taylor is a mother in an open adoption with her son's birth parents. All names are pseudonyms.