I grew up with the names “it,” “thing,” and occasionally “numb nuts.” These gruesome names marked me while simultaneously dehumanizing me within my home. I was given an American name when I was adopted from my orphanage to the U.S. I heard this name used mostly outside of my home by teachers and friends.
There was a curiosity inside of me that wondered what my original name was. Was I just a number, for example, Baby #76, or was I not given a name until I was adopted? I pondered this every so often but didn’t think there would ever be a clear answer.
About ten years ago, I was captured in awe and gratitude when I found my name written on the back of a baby photo. The awe was expansive as I learned not only how to say my name but also the meaning of it. Sandhya translates to connecting darkness to light and connecting a lower power to a higher power.
This was my first and true name, and I was filled with delight to know it and begin to invite others into it.
I had no clue that learning my new first name would hold such complexities. I wondered how to introduce myself to new people. Do I use my American name or my Indian name? Do I invite all my current friends to call me Sandhya or continue to call me by my old name? I didn’t know anyone with a story similar to mine, so I felt like I was navigating this on my own.
I spent a lot of time trying to teach people my new name, and it was quite the fiasco. Eventually, a friend gave me the nickname “Sunny” because it was easier to say. Occasionally I would catch myself introducing myself by my Indian name, then sharing they could call me my nickname to make it easier for them, and then naming my actual name was still my American name. Three names that held much complexity yet no defined or known inner desire.
The complexity around my name was the loudest when I traveled back to my orphanage in India with my friend Heather. As our taxi driver stopped in front of a tall beige-grey cement building, I looked out the window and knew my dark brown eyes were gazing and trying to take it all in. I got out with our taxi driver while Heather stayed behind with our luggage in the car.
The taxi driver led me to the front gate where an older man dressed in a light blue security outfit was standing in a small shelter. The two men exchanged some words in Hindi, and then the security officer looked at me and nodded. He handed me a spiral notebook with a pen and motioned me to write my name down under the “guest” column. My eyes brimmed with tears, and through my blurry vision, I stared at the piece of paper and froze. I didn’t know what to write.
Who was I? What name should I put down? Do I put all my names down? Are they going to ask to see my passport and see my American name? It was a point of confusion muddled with desire. I ended up writing “Sandhya” alongside my past last name. (At this point I didn’t know my current last name). I entered through the gates and walked onward, up the stairs to my orphanage. I felt like I needed to regather myself and put this moment aside until I had more capacity to tend to it.
This moment was pivotal for me and shepherded my heart towards seriously considering my future name change. It took a handful of years of immense kindness, gentleness, revelation, honor, and wrestling out my identity before settling into my new name.
On October 1, 2017, I stood before a judge and about fifty of my friends, and with three knocks of the gavel on the judge’s stand, I finally declared my name Sandhya Oaks. The whole courtroom erupted into joy! My name finally reflected my ethnic background, my story, and the calling into which God has invited me.
As time has gone along, I have stopped letting people call me Sunny as a means of “making it easier” for people to not get my name right. I also stopped using “Ruby” as my coffee shop code name to make it easier for the baristas. I have come to honor myself and my name by inviting everyone to learn how to pronounce and call me what the Lord and myself have declared good, right, beautiful, and true: Sandhya Oaks.
Sandhya Oaks is a ministry leader, speaker, writer, and advocate. Born in India and adopted as a Transracial Adoptee in the Midwest, she has been serving with Cru Campus Ministry for more than 13 years and loves developing students and staff. She is the co-founder of The Adoption Triad, a social media group that provides community and resources to those connected to adoption and foster care. Her passion to walk with adoptive families is being lived out through leading virtual Transracial Adoption Parent Groups with Restoration Counseling. Sandhya recently moved to Colorado and spends her free time camping, sipping coffee with friends, and creating tasty charcuterie boards.
I, too, grew up being called derogatory names, names that shaped my self-image. When I was 21, I had an experience of not knowing my true name, not knowing who I was. When I went to Poland, the land of my ancestors, I was called by my Polish name, and I recognized it as the name my grandparents called me. I continue to move into my ancestral name and love how right and honorable it feels. Thank you for sharing.
thank you Madeline for your words, and sharing parts of your story here. I love that your on a path of discovery and love your words “right and honorable” YES indeed!
What a beautiful story of finding your true name!
Thank you for the kind words Lynn
I felt the wrestle in me, wanting you to find yourself as I read. A puppy isn’t even an it. It sounds like you are holding your name fiercely and your heart tenderly. Well done! Thank you for sharing.
thank you Timi, for your words and encouragement!