Lydia. My beloved great-grandmother bore that name, a name I hoped to bestow upon my little girl. When my husband and I decided to adopt a child through the Department of Human Services, a social worker handed us a thick binder bursting with photos and profiles of adoptable foster children with legal names such as "Peanut," "Lil' Debra," and "Squirrel."
We laughed and shrugged off the bizarre nomenclature. "It doesn't matter what her name is," we told each other. "We'll change it."
"The court is profoundly concerned about the very poor judgment which this child's parents have shown in choosing this name," Mr. Murfitt wrote of the girl, who is currently involved in a custody battle. "It makes a fool of the child and sets her up with a social disability and handicap, unnecessarily."
Her name? Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii.
New Zealand law doesn't permit names that would offend a child. Murfitt cited other names blocked by the registrar, including "Sex Fruit," "Yeah Detroit," and "Fish and Chips."
When compared to "Number 16 Bus Shelter," a name that the New Zealand registrar actually allowed, the name "Peanut" sounded positively conservative.
Nevertheless, I wanted my Lydia. Then our social worker called and told us we'd been chosen to adopt an 18-month-old girl named Mariah from southern Oregon. "Mariah," I groaned to Jonathan. "It reminds me of that song from the musical, 'Paint Your Wagon.' "
"They call the wind Mariah," he sang.
I clapped my hands over my ears. "I hate that song!" I said. "We're changing her name to Lydia."
But then I spoke to Eileen Nittler, a social worker at Holt International, an adoption agency in Eugene, Ore. "Your daughter's biological mother relinquished her," she said as she looked at me soberly. "That's an incredible loss for a child. Her name is the only thing she received from her mother."
Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii so disliked the name given to her by her parents that she told friends to call her "K." But the name Mariah wasn't an embarrassment. What right did I have to change it simply because I preferred another?
Slowly, reluctantly, I began to understand Ms. Nittler's point. "I guess we could keep Mariah's name," I told my husband.
He nodded. "We can call her Maia for short."
Adoption, like birthing a baby, is never what parents expect it to be. We imagine what our children will look like, act like, grow up to become – and we hope that we weather each surprise with grace. I saw that I was going to have to wave bye-bye to the idea of having a little Lydia. I knew it was wise, but I was undeniably sad. And then I remembered something.
My great-grandmother wasn't at all happy with the name Lydia. At 18, she left the family farm to join the circus as a bareback rider. She changed her name immediately to one that struck me as so banal and uninspired, so deplorable for its lack of imagination and its tedium that, had it been my daughter's name, I would have altered it immediately and without regret.
Her chosen name? Mary.