Tuesday, August 17, 2004

What's in a Name?

I was adopted at four years old, so I always knew about it even if I didn't always know the significance of it. I spent my few years prior to that in foster care. Growing up, I had a pretty darn good life with my adoptive family- Dad, Mom, and a sister (their natural born child.) In those years, I never really wondered a lot about my birth parents.

Perhaps it was because I had this great family, and we didn't really talk about my being adopted at all. Even when my sister (who is five years older than me) would get mad at me, the one thing she never threw in my face was me being the "adopted one."

The only time I ever thought about it was when people would ask me about my name. Upon adoption, my parents changed my legal name to Saybert, however, they kept calling me Marty (the name my foster families called me) as a nickname. I guess they didn't want to traumatize me too much by making me answer to a different name starting at 3 years old.

Inevitably, on the first day of school every year, the teacher would go through the roll call and say the name "Saybert Johnson." Now as anyone with an unusual name will attest, the first day of school is always tough- especially if the other kids didn't know or remember your name from the year before.

But on the first day of school every year from kindergarten through sixth grade, it would be the same thing:

"Saybert Johnson?" (a couple of chuckles from the kids in the class.)

"It's Marty!"

"I'm sorry?"


"Oh. Is your middle name Martin?"

"No, it's Francis."

"Oh. How do you get 'Marty' from that?"

"You don't. It's just a nickname."

You see, back then it wasn't all that cool to tell people you were adopted. Or at least I knew that my parents didn't think it was a good idea to talk about it. So every year I would play "Marty" off as just a nickname that came out of the blue.

Of course inside, I knew that I was "Marty" because I was adopted. But in all honesty, I never really thought about what that meant to be adopted. It never really occurred to me that I might have another set of parents out there.

By seventh grade, even though the same scenario would happen six times- one for each class- I had gotten really good at getting the "It's Marty!" out as soon as I heard the teacher hesitate in the 'J's". They always hesitated before they would call out "Saybert Johnson" to make sure they were reading the name right, so I always knew that it was my name they were looking at. But now I had a new problem.

My dad and mom are 5'7" and 5'3 respectively. My sister is 5'2". I am 6'4" as an adult. By sixth grade I was 5'8." Seventh grade- 5'10." Eighth- 6'0." Nineth- 6'3" Needless to say, there was a new question that popped up quite often whenever people would see me with my parents.

"How did you get so tall?"

"My grandfather is tall."

(Thankfully, I had a grandfather who was six feet tall would give me some cover.)

In a way it was true- he was my grandfather and he was tall. He just didn't have anything to do with ME being tall. But still- we weren't talking publicly about my adoption. However, by then, I did think about being adopted every now and then. Probably one or two times a year a curiousity about how I really got so tall would enter my brain. (Perhaps my natural father was tall too?)

Then finally, when I was in High School I made two compromises that relieved me of the burden I was carrying around. First, I stopped correcting the teachers and let the other students who knew me do the correcting for me. Or I would just let them call me Saybert. Secondly, if I did correct them, and they asked me how I got Marty 'from that?" I would say- "that was my name before I was adopted at three, and my parents changed my legal name to Saybert Francis, naming me after my two grandfathers- but they continued to call me "Marty" so they wouldn't traumatize me for life.

Phew. That was a burden off my shoulders. To this day, I still go by Marty and still answer that question the same way as I did in high school.

No comments: