It was around midnight on a summer’s evening earlier this year when my eldest daughter found it on the internet.
Even though I knew it would be there I was still shaken to see it in black and white only for the second time, my original birth certificate with a totally different name chosen by the woman who had given me up for adoption.
Her name was there too. My birth father’s record was just a line across a blank space, unrecorded, not known.
It was relatively easy to find on the ancestry website my daughter had joined. But it was and always will be difficult for me to see. Disconcerting, unconnected and raising more questions than answers.
It was 40 years before I even knew I had been given another name.
It should have been obvious to me that my birth had to be recorded in a different time for a different story. A sad story. Yet I hadn’t considered it would be.
Years ago before mum’s Alzheimer’s had robbed her of the clarity to recall names easily she had warned me of a carefully concealed buff coloured envelope clearly marked ‘Christa’ in which was a document from another time, another era, another life.
In it were the remnants of a past I chose not to revisit. She didn’t want me to find it by accident when she died and asked me if I wanted to take it home. I didn’t.
I only took it with me when she died in April this year. We had talked about its contents. I haven’t opened it since.
I don’t want to tell you my first given name. Not because it’s not beautiful. It is. I like it.
I just don’t associate it with me. It doesn’t fit. It hasn’t shaped me. I thought I might add it to the names they had given me once my parents died, but I won’t.
I look through my family albums still not put away since mum died and I see Christa. And my mum and dad. I don’t want anything to complicate that.
I thought about my name this week when I saw photographs of a baby boy called Adolf. I looked upon the picture of him from his family album, cradled by a man wearing the white cloak of bigotry who was supposed to be there to protect and look after him, but will probably be sent to jail because of his association with a banned far right organisation that preaches hatred.
Another shows a baby with both his parents and a father clutching a swastika flag.
This little boy one day may read that his middle name was in honour of Adolf Hitler. That his mother once made a birthday cake of the vile dictator with a photograph of that despicable man on top. That she didn’t like cutting into his face. That she had the symbol of the SS tattooed across her back. That they even had racist Christmas cards bearing the message “May All Your Christmases be White”. But I hope he will never know.
I could weep for that little baby with his face obscured and what his name may mean for him throughout his life. I pray someone like my lovely parents will be there to pick up the pieces and teach him to love not hate. But I worry his name will define him in later life.
My mum always taught me that the woman who gave me to them acted out of love. That it would be the hardest thing she would ever have to do. She had even suggested putting the name she chose as my second name when they made me Christa.
My father thought otherwise. So today I have decided to share it with you because I was taught it was given with love from a woman who was told she couldn’t keep me and had to give me up, but before she did chose a name she thought beautiful.
It is Vivienne. And it has taken me all these years and the story of a little boy with the middle name of Adolf to be proud of it. It is part of me after all.
Postscript to Armistice Day. In a packed church in a village near here a friend struggled to explain the need for quiet to her three year old son during the two minutes’ silence to commemorate those who had died in battle.
‘But why mummy?’ he asked . ‘Why are there trumpets? What are we doing?’
After the service my friend apologised to an elderly gentleman whom she was worried might be offended. His answer is worth recording .
‘Don’t be sorry,’ he said. “ Those who fought and died did so to allow children to be children”.
Their legacy lives on.