The best part of Antonio’s name change was when Crystel stood up in the courtroom and said, “I want each of you to tell me something you like about me.” She stood confidently, her hand resting on the bar that divided the gallery from the well of the courtroom. She faced the nine people, including Antonio, who came to support his name change. Aunts, Uncles, Antonio and his girlfriend, were sitting with their back against the wall. She pointed to her Aunt Kathy. “Start there.”
This surprised and delighted me. She was asking for what she needed. And, in this moment what she needed was to know that she was as important as Antonio who within minutes would legally be named Juan Jose’.
She didn’t share his need to change her name. Her Guatemalan birth mother had told her that she named her Crystel.
The birth search and visit report that Jody and I had done in 2011 when her and Antonio were 9 years old said, Mayra (her birth mom) remembered exactly the date of Crystel’s birth. Most birth mothers do not, not for lack of interest but because dates are usually not important in Guatemala. She named her Crystel Rocio. Crystel because: “I felt she was a little fragile thing as crystal, and Rocio (dew in English), because as I was walking the day I gave birth to her, it was cloudy and it had rained during the night, and I saw the leaves with drops of dew on them”.
When Jody and I adopted our children, we felt it was important that we keep the names that they were given at birth. We wanted to honor the birth mothers. At the time we didn’t know what their birth names would be and I fretted if I would be able to pronounce their Guatemalan given names. I refused to name my baby boy even though my social worker said that I could. I didn’t want to give him, one more thing that could be taken away from him. He was already losing his mother.
A few months later, we received the results of Antonio’s birth search. His birth mom, Rosa, was asked if she named Antonio. She said no, that she wanted to name him Juan Jose’ (Juan to honor her father and Jose’ to honor her grandfather), but the adoption people named him Antonio. Her father Juan died in 1982 during the Guatemalan Civil War. It is estimated that at least
5, 000 Mayans in the Rabinal area were massacred in 1981-1982. Rosa is indigenous and belongs to the Mayan Achi ethnia.
Ever since Antonio learned that Rosa wanted to name him Juan Jose’, he felt that was his real name.
Jody and I supported Antonio’s name change, nudged him even. We wanted to honor his heritage and his birth mother. We understood how central a name can be to a person’s identity. Both of us have changed our names.
A door opened. “All rise. This court is now in session. The honorable Judge Bernhardson, presiding.”
Just minutes before, Crystel had each person, including her brother and his girlfriend say something they liked about her.
What I witnessed that afternoon was two 13-year-olds asking for what they needed.
They’ll do well in the world, I thought. If a person can identify and then ask for what they need, they can navigate the road ahead of them. Jody and I have taught our children well.