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Adoption Blog: Man Up!
A Manu by Any Other Name, Is Not the Same
William Shakespeare once wrote, “What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” True, but sometimes there’s more to it than that.
Like many traditional and adoptive parents-in-waiting, my wife Leslie and I spent a lot of time researching and discussing potential names for our child-to-be. This kept us busy—and sane—during the long wait for a referral to adopt from India. We made many visits to the local bookstore to flip through books of baby names, spent hours online searching databases of the top 1000 boy and girl names, and politely listened to recommendations from friends and family members, only to roll our eyes as we turned and walked away.
We were in search of the perfect name—that elusive set of letters that would so perfectly encapsulate the entirety of this child’s life, spirit, and potential; even though he or she probably wasn’t even born yet. At first we assumed we would know it when we saw it, as if it were to be revealed to us in some ethereal epiphany right there in the middle of the Barnes and Noble: We would lift our heads out of a book, look lovingly into each other’s eyes, and the hallelujah chorus would suddenly ring out over the PA system.
Well, that didn’t happen.
We soon discovered that we each had our own idea of what that perfect name would be; our lists of top preferences had very few names in common. When it was obvious that neither of us was going to give in easily, we began a series of negotiations that would make even the most partisan politician cringe: I’ll drop this name, but you’ll have to drop two off your list! If I take you out to a nice dinner, will you consider this one? Don’t make me ask your mother!
After a few weeks we whittled the list down to about six names that we could both agree on. We decided to wait until we got a referral to proceed further. Our intention at the time was to keep whatever name the child was given in his or her birth country and use that as a middle name, so we wanted to make sure our choice of first name sounded good with that. Once we got the referral for our son, Manu, the negotiations began again. We could be heard, around the house and out and about, speaking names out loud—Benjamin Manu, Jefferson Manu, Daniel Manu—trying to determine the perfect match. Finally, frustrated, exhausted, and no closer to a consensus, we decided to wait until we met our son to make the decision, thinking that surely we’d know which one was right once we saw him.
Ironically we didn’t discuss potential names for the first few days we spent together as a new family. He was Manu to everyone at the children’s home—he responded to it, and it seemed to suit him well. I think we both had an idea of what we were going to do before we left for New Delhi a few days later, but a final meeting with the director cemented it in our minds and hearts. We were given a previously undisclosed report of Manu’s history and birth family. As it turns out, Manu had been left at a local hospital after birth, his birthmother unable to care for him. The report noted that her one request for this child was that he be named Manu. It did not say why this was important, but, certainly, the name must hold a special meaning for her.
During the remainder of our trip as we traveled around India, we encountered many people who told us what a good, strong name our son had, or that they had a brother/father/uncle named Manu. The longer we were in India, the more the name Manu came not only to symbolize and define our new son, but to offer him a small piece of his lost history and the culture he was about to leave behind. There was no way we could deny the only request of the woman who gave us our son.
In a linguistics class I took in college we discussed the fact that letters and words are inherently arbitrary and meaningless until meaning is assigned to them by people. The same applies to names, I think. Although any other name we might have picked for our son would have naturally come to represent the person he is to be, only the name Manu carried with it inherent meaning—for Manu, for his birthmother, and, as a result, for us as well.
Then it was time to choose a middle name…
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