The topic of identity can be a lifelong paradox and struggle for many adoptees. It’s much easier for adopted individuals to tap into their true identity when they have the truth to guide them along the way. However, for many of us, we experience secrecy, lies, and half-truths as soon as we’re born and passed over to strangers. It’s challenging for some and impossible for others to gain a true sense of identity when we have no idea who we are or where we come from. No one looks like us, and we don’t see anyone’s face looking back at us when we look in the mirror. We all experience different variations of complexities when it comes to identity.
It’s widespread for adopted individuals to have many names and identities in person and on the internet in the adoptee community. In the 11 years I’ve been present in this community, I’ve had my own experiences with my legal name, changing my legal name, and having several different identities on the internet in those 11 years.
There are many layers as to why.
It can be confusing to many and downright annoying and concerning to others. Therefore, I wanted to take a few minutes to share my experience with this topic to hopefully help others who might not relate be able to understand better.
For many adoptees, we’re forced to split between two worlds when we are born, surrendered for adoption and adopted by strangers. We’re parts of two worlds, yet usually denied one of them. Our DNA will always be a part of our first families, even when adoption tries to erase that part of our life. We are very much our first families DNA, and even with adoption legally changing our names to our new families. Many of us feel divided between two worlds. For some of us it’s internal and subconscious. For some of us, it’s like critical pieces are always missing. We create a split to protect the people around us, and to protect ourselves.
For most of my life, my legal name was Pamela L e e p e r. That’s right, L E E P E R. What does this name symbolize to me? A legal tie to my previous life, one I didn’t sign up for. It’s a legally binding piece of my life I had no choice in, that I wanted to divorce. It’s a tie to my painful past, the one where I didn’t sign any adoption paperwork. It’s a reminder of my abusive adoptive homes and the people who abused me in those homes. It’s a tie and reminder to an awful and painful childhood, teen life, and history. And let’s be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever felt a connection to this name, well, really because it’s only my name on paper, not via DNA. The Leeper family tree is not my family tree.
It can be if I pretend as I did in kindergarten for that family tree project.
No one on earth will ever know the depths of it all, but I know it, and this name L E E P E R was a constant reminder of it all. I hated how it sounded, and I hated writing it. I hated having the life sentence of being attached to it. No disrespect to the Leeper family; however, this isn’t about them. It’s about me, my name, and why I chose to change it legally as well as seasons in my life where I used pseudonym names to protect myself.
What did that process look like for me?
How many years did it take?
Who supported me?
Who was against me?
In 2010, I started writing under a pseudonym, “Adoptee in Recovery,” which was a way to share my journey and protect my real legal identity. Some people refer to this as a “Pen Name.” Writing under a pseudonym name for me was fear-based. First, I was afraid of people I was close to learning how I felt about adoption because if they knew how I felt, they might just leave me too. Just like my birth mother did. I was afraid of judgment and ridicule. I was fearful of being shamed because if I felt these ways, I must not be praying enough or spending enough time with God. But, I didn’t just “Let it go,” so I chose to hang onto the pain. It was clear I had to create two separate identities and keep things separate, and my life depended on it.
The idea of bringing these identities together caused me great anguish far deeper than someone not adopted could imagine. I lived in constant fear of “What If” my adoptive parents found my writings and disowned me for feeling the way I do? What if my adopted siblings learned how I felt? What if my biological family finds me and reads my writings? Will they all leave me? Will they be angry with me? How will it make them feel, knowing adoption has wholly wrecked me? What would they say if I wasn’t grateful for being adopted and I hated it with every fiber in my being?
Adoptees are professionals at putting others first, before our wants and needs. But, unfortunately, so many of us are groomed from a very early age that our adoptive parent’s feelings are more important than ours, so we tend to be hypersensitive to how they would feel from childhood. After all, shouldn’t we be thankful someone took us in when our own biological families didn’t want us? Would they send us back or abandon us if they knew how we felt? It hung over my head constantly, and I knew WHY I was creating a dual identity. Almost everyone else had no idea. Likewise, I have learned that many people have no idea of the complexities of WHY adoptees have dual identities. Sometimes fellow adoptees don’t even understand it.
I get it!
The pseudonym name did a great job at protecting my legal identity. However, it was one more veil of deception because I hid behind a pseudonym; people didn’t know who I was or the real me. Nevertheless, the pseudonym name served an excellent purpose for that time in my life because I wanted to be protected from others who might look at my feelings as an insult or attack on them.
I did what I had to do to protect myself.
However, things change.
It was clear when I made this decision that I was still hiding from many things, and if I’m entirely transparent, I did not have the inner strength or courage to share my true identity, not for many years to come. However, my courage and strength were building behind the veil using the pseudonym name little by little.
In 2012, I decided I wanted to be identified online as Pamela Jones.
One more step towards genuine authenticity.
Pamela Jones was one step closer to me identifying the real true me. Jones was my biological father’s surname, and I had the chance to see his face in person in 2010. So I created a Facebook identity under this name and disguised behind it for about two years. I made many friends online under this pseudo name. I knew why I was using this pseudonym name, but reality hit me that I still wasn’t being true to myself.
Another dynamic to Pamela Jones was claiming this piece of my history and DNA, but that part didn’t claim me back. My biological father rejected a relationship with me because I have bi-racial children. His loss, I know, but it doesn’t make it hurt any less. This puzzle piece made me want to divorce from the Jones name because I didn’t truly fit in with that family, although we share DNA. We have no shared history or memories together. It was a paradox non adopted individuals can’t even comprehend. I wanted so badly to be wanted by my birth father, but the reality was even after finding him and meeting him, he doesn’t want anything to do with me.
It was time I let go of Pamela Jones
*Disclosure Statement: I support the idea of adoptees or anyone using a pseudonym name, however I do not support anyone using a pseudonym name to hide behind an account that bullies, torments, stalks, starts cyber mobbing attacks, or is vile and cruel on the internet. They are flat out cowards!
In 2014, two years after I stopped drinking alcohol, I decided I had gained enough strength that I was going to get my last name changed. I had started coming out of the fog in 2009-2010, and in that time, I became empowered by connecting with other adoptees online and sharing my story. As a result, I had a new level of strength I had never had when sharing my Adoptee in Recovery journey.
First, I decided to ask my adoptive dad if he would mind if I changed it. He expressed his thoughts and let me choose for myself. The next step was to find a new last name. I live in America, and it’s relatively easy and cheap to change your name legally. I wrote an entire article called Pamela Karanova: Welcoming The Real True Me!. You guessed it, K A R A N O V A was the new name I legally chose to get changed on my 40th birthday. At this time in my life, I was consumed with the church, religion, and Christianity.
KARA was another word for PURE.
Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is PURE, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
NOVA was another word for NEW.
2 Corinthians 5:17, “17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the NEW creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here!”
It was one of the most unique gifts I gave myself, a new name for a fresh start in my life. Part of me felt like it was divorcing the painful past that hung so tight by carrying the last name L E E P E R. This piece of me was dead and gone on to a new page and a new chapter. The other part felt like I was finally controlling something in my life when other people controlled most of it. It was liberating, freeing, and exhilarating. Although I am no longer a believer, this new name was and is very special to me.
I can honestly say that changing my last name legally was one of the most healing things I’ve ever done for myself. It was stepping into a new freedom of making a choice for myself that no one else had any say in. I wear this name so proud, and I love everything about it. It fits me. It is the new me. Today the “what if’s” that used to torment me have vanished into nothingness. I personally care more about being true to myself, than I do about offending others. I made a promise to myself several years ago, to always be true to myself and I will honor that until the day I die.
K A R A N O V A
I received 100% support from everyone in my life with whom I have relationships when I legally changed my last name to Karanova. The only person I heard disapproved of is name change is an aunt by adoption, who gave her baby away by adoption, and she talked down about my decision to get rid of her surname, L E E P E R. I do not have a relationship with her, nor do I care about her opinion.
It’s currently 2021, and my only regret is not changing my first and middle name when I legally changed my last name. However, I know that in 2014 I didn’t have the strength to change my full name. My kids were still in school at that time, and I didn’t want to put them through the process of their mom changing her first name.
One day, I desire to legally change my first and middle name, but I’m not sure yet what it will be, but I have a few ideas. Maybe for my 50th birthday? Maybe next week? I’m not sure yet, but I worry more about how other people will respond to this change and don’t want to inconvenience people to try to remember a new name for another chapter of a new me. Finally, one day I will get up enough strength to “Just Do It,” and at that moment, I will have reached another milestone of stepping into genuine authenticity.
I think it’s important to remember that all adopted people are transitioning to a new person every step of the way. Every time we get a piece of the puzzle, it changes us in some way. Although most people have the truth handed to them when they are born, they can’t comprehend what it’s like to fight for your truth your entire life and be spoon-fed pieces of the puzzle over a lifespan. It’s a different kind of life, and one only other adoptees will understand.
I have learned from my journey of discovery that all of my names have been very symbolic to me and my healing journey. They have each served a great purpose to help me feel safe, depending on whatever space I was in at that time. I can’t speak for all adoptees, but when I see adoptees change names, and hide behind a pseudonym name, I can say from the bottom of my heart, “I GET IT AND I UNDERSTAND.” Sometimes these extremes go with the territory of being an adoptee and finding ourselves when our truth has been kept captive for so long. I’ve seen adoptees attach four and five last names to their names as a way to honor their birth mother, birth father, adoptive mother, and adoptive father. I’ve seen them change their names more times than I can count.
Being adopted is complex!
As you can see, identity plays such an essential part in the dynamics of the adoptee experience, and this is directly reflected in how we represent ourselves in the names we are assigned at birth, changed by adoption and the ones we choose for ourselves.
If you are a non-adopted individual, hopefully, this article sheds a little light on why names and identity go hand in hand with the adoptee experience. Hopefully, you understand a little better. Be easy on the adoptees in your life, and accept whatever places they are in regarding names and identity. We weren’t offered the privilege non-adoptees are given. Many of us have to fight the world for our truth, and every clue we get to who we are and where we came from opens a new door of self-discovery. Change is going to happen—identity matters.
If you are an adoptee who’s considering changing your name, legally or online, I am cheering you on. With every fiber of my being, I understand how we can spend our entire lives getting to the point of finding strength from within ourselves and the courage to push forth with an outward expression of legally changing our names or even creating pseudonym names for ourselves.
Every step of the way, healing is happening.
For any adoptees who have changed their names legally or created pseudonym identities online, I would love to hear your stories on how you navigated this piece of your journey? Why did you pick the name you chose? Have you wanted to change your name but haven’t done it yet? Why or why not?
Whatever you do, be true to yourself and follow your heart.
Put yourself first.
You deserve it.
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*The views and opinions expressed in this article are that of the author, Pamela A. Karanova. Reproduction of the material contained in this publication may be made only with the written permission of Pamela A. Karanova