Category Archives: names

What’s in a Name: Inked Edition

Louis Comfort Tiffany, Window of St. Augustine...

Image via Wikipedia

Earlier this year I waxed somewhat poetically about the names that were given to me by my parents.  Names (not just my own) still are somewhat fascinating to me.  I thought of this the other day when talking to my son.  Before he was born, my wife and I were leaning heavily towards calling him “Gus”.  My grandfather’s nickname was Gus, and it was one that not only we both liked, but would most likely be unique among his peers.   The only issue was that we could not agree on what Gus should be short for.  I wanted Augustine, after St. Augustine, the great theologian, philosopher, and church father.  Lovely Wife leaned toward Gustav because, well, she liked it.  When he was born we settled on a different name, but then it was suggested that we use Gus for a middle name.  The debate was renewed.  Finally, after several minutes of back and forth, Lovely Wife said, “What about just Gus?” So Gus it is.

Well, interestingly enough, often times now Little Guy will seem to ignore you if you use his first name, but pays immediate attention if you call him Gus.  Maybe it was meant to be in the end.  It will be up to him what he goes by as he gets older, but for myself, it turns out that I find myself calling him Gus about half the time.

That got me thinking about my own name.  In the Catholic tradition it is commonplace to give your child at least one saint’s name.  Alas, to this point there is still no St. Ryan.  My middle name is David, and while there are a few St. Davids, none are particularly well-known (King David of the old testament is not a Saint.)  This got me curious about St. Stephen (Stephen being the name given to me at birth).  I knew his story well–he is often known as St. Stephen the Martyr, as he is recorded to be the first martyr as seen in Acts 7:58.  I looked on the list of saints on catholic.org, and learned that St. Stephen’s feast day was December 26.  Most people would think “Oh yeah, good King Wenceslaus looked about, on the feast of Stephen…”, but my first thought was that December 26 was my parents anniversary.  Not only had they adopted a son originally named Stephen, but had also nearly named me Stephen themselves.  One of those odd syncronicities that I have run into quite a bit.  Curious, I looked up who feast day fell on my birthday, and found out that it was Sts. Joachim and Anne.  If you are unfamiliar with them, they are the traditional/legendary parents of Our Lady.  Interestingly enough, from my point of view at least, St. Anne is the patron saint of mothers.

Finally, today, I wanted to share with you my tattoo that I got a few weeks ago.  I wanted something that would be unique to myself, while honoring both my names and families.  With the help of Erin at The Electric Crayon, this is what I was able to come up with:

It is located on my right shoulder.  A couple of quick explanations.  I put it on my arm in tribute to the passage from the Song of Solomon “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion as fierce as the grave” (8:6).  While the narrator is talking about romantic love, I none the less connected it to love of my family as well.  The author is talking about the “tattoos” of the time, and their permanence, so to set oneself as a seal upon another’s heart was to make them permanently theirs, just as I belong permanently to my families.
Secondly is the letters themselves.  The big initials are the initials of my name, the ones seen everyday, by which I am known.  Inside those are inscribed the initials of the names given to me by my birthmother.  They are somewhat hidden, known to few, but still indelibly part of who I am.
Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under adoption, names, personal, Tattoos

What’s in a name?

Have you ever sat back and pondered if your name makes you part of who you are?  I once heard it said that the thing that people most like to hear is the sound of their own name. 

Growing up I would think about this.  I liked my name.  Ryan.  Even if others had the same first name, it branded me as an individual.  Although now it appears to have been gaining popularity when I received it in the 70’s, it still seemed unique enough to me growing up.  My middle name (I will only share my first, sorry) was more traditional, but it had meaning to me as a place in my family.  It was the same as my favorite uncle’s first name, and the middle name of both of his sons, my cousins.  For an adoptee, it tied me into a history of sorts.   Of course my last name created even more of an identity.  It officially made me part of a family, of a tradition.  Almost a reference point for my life.  It made me proud to share it with my family, as I am proud now that it is carried by my wife and children.

An interesting discovery for myself as an adoptee searching for my roots was the discovery of my name given to me by my biological parents.  In fact, learning my name was an impetus for making the search.  Originally I had petitioned the adoption agency for my medical and non-identifying information.  Part of the information that agencies give for non-identifying information is the adoptee’s original name (minus the last name, of course).  So, as I pored over the information, there it was in black and white.  My first name was Stephen.  Somehow, it felt like I always knew that.  I remember thinking back to grade school, when the teacher asked each of us if we were to give ourselves a name, what would it be, and why?  Stephen is the name that I picked out, but I don’t remember the rationale.  My Mom and Dad had also mentioned that they had considered calling me Stephen before settling on Ryan.  Was it preordained?  It turns out that I, like many that would go on to be placed for adoption, was named after relatives.  My father’s name is Steven.  A small difference that is philosophically interesting.  A small change that ties me to him, yet makes me different.  It is almost as if it acknowledges the “good” parts of his personality, while giving me a clean slate to wipe away the “bad”.  Although I don’t think this is what they had in mind.  I can think of three more likely reasons.  Being Catholic, it would have been more traditional, i.e. my patron saint would be St. Stephen.  It may have reflected the family heritage of my mother’s side of the family–it being a more traditional spelling given my ethnicity.  Finally, my mom also has a brother that is named Stephen.  Of course, it could be none of these things.  I also think about the possibility that if I hadn’t been placed, I may have gone by “Stevie” as a differentiation from my father, at least while I was young.  I like that too, even if it is total conjecture.

My middle name was so unique, I was almost certain that it was after someone else.  Actually, it was one of the puzzle pieces that led me to finding my mom.  It was my grandfather’s name–although he went by a nickname.  The first time that my mom wrote me back she confirmed this–I was named after my father and my grandfather. 

My last name was a mystery, though.  I had found my mother’s maiden name, and I was pretty sure what my father’s last name was (I was right).  Which would I have been given?  I tended to like my mom’s.  I tried them both on, saying them to myself in my head.  When we did meet, she placed a piece of paper in front of me and said “Here, look at this.” although I was sitting down and she was behind me, I could hear the smile on her face.  It wasn’t my official birth certificate, but one of the commemorative ones that the hospital gives to new parents.  I did have her name.  As I have gotten to know my siblings, I find it interesting that they all seem to strongly identify with her side of the family.  Perhaps, having two different dads, it is the thing that ties all four (now five) of them (us) together, in spirit and in genetics.  An unbreakable fraternal bond. 

I have always kicked around the idea of writing a book, and thought that if I did so I would write under a pseudonym.  I could never think of one that I liked.  It turns out that I have the perfect one, and it isn’t “pseudo” at all.

FRIDAY FUN: Photo Favorites

Sunset over a rural Iowa skyline.

6 Comments

Filed under adoption, family, names