A few days ago I started the process to get my daughter her passport. As with my son, I wanted to get her documents in order early. We turned in R’s application when he was around 2 months old and so here we are again, at just about that same time in A’s life. On Tuesday, we had an appointment so I spent the night before preparing the application, making sure I had all the copies, making sure that the passport photo was ready (that took weeks to get since I was ordering online), etc. We went early in the morning on Tuesday only to discover that only one post office in the East Bay it seems is processing passport applications and though I had an appointment, the post office we went to was not the right one. We would have to start again.
When we returned home, though, as I was writing thank you cards to our community for all of the incredible support we have received these many weeks I noticed something: on the thank you cards, that my husband had ordered, my daughter’s middle name was spelled wrong. But how could that be? The incorrect name was my husband’s grandmother’s name. Surely, he would spell it right. I called him over to do a comparison together: thank you card to birth certificate, only to realize that all these many months, it has been me that has been spelling her middle name wrong.
I don’t know my child’s own name. Or rather, I have an obviously false memory in which I asked my husband to spell his grandmother’s name and I remember it being Norris with two “rr”s, not as it is with just one. Noris. Luckily, her birth certificate is correct, the thank you cards correct. I am sure that something I’ve written has the wrong name, but I haven’t been able to find it yet. Lucky, too, that we could not submit her passport application because, if the agent didn’t catch it, she would have certainly had two conflicting documents.
I reflect on Facebook soon after I realized this and a friend reminded me of the practice of our ancestors, those who were captured and enslaved, using linguistic turns and spelling changes to lay claim to kin, to resist white supremacist structures, to also make it easier to be remembered and found no matter the distance or the time. I have thought on that often as I did genealogical research, how distinct the naming practices were of my ancestors, how there are rarely repeated names and if they are, it is clear that they are people of the same lineage. Even when records are thin, I have been able to trace back ancestors hundreds of years because of these resistance strategies in naming.
Still, in this case, A’s great-grandmother may have conspired with the spirits that govern logistics and set this obstacle in the path so that her middle name would be correct. Today we went to the right passport office, with the correctly completed application for, and turned that form in. We will have to wait another 6-8 weeks minimum to receive it. When we do, A will have her own book to fill, places to go where they will learn and say her name.