Naming Rights

A few days ago, Jacob’s Social Security Card arrived in the mail.  I am not sure of all the reasons why this felt significant to me, but there are a couple of reasons that jumped out at me:

I recently tried to obtain a copy of my own Social Security Card.  Due to discrepancy in the spelling of my middle name between federal records (passport) and state records (driver’s license), it became a big hassle.  Such are the joys of having an English middle name transliterated from a Chinese name…just like the first day of school in every grade from K-12 when teachers stumble over its pronunciation or having to spell it out while speaking to customer service over the phone.  With that in mind, the ease by which we obtained Jacob’s was a relief.

It was also significant to see our son’s name on an official government document. Although the card itself is none too impressive, looking like a dot matrix print job circa 1986, there’s still something “real” about having that card. Maybe this is made more significant in context of adoption, but our son’s name is really Jacob Dylan Chen.  That isn’t just what we’re choosing to call him…that’s him, that’s his identity.

A name is an identity.  This is the reason why corporations pay millions for naming rights to stadiums, for example.  It’s why Reliant Energy pays a whopping $10 million a year to have the Houston Texans call their football stadium Reliant Stadium, on a contract that runs through 2032.   It’s why the Houston Astros, after the Enron scandal, couldn’t wait to change the name of their baseball stadium from Enron Field to Minute Maid Park.  If you can’t buy a name, you can buy a close association.  It’s why you see corporate sponsorships on everything from the AIG on the front of Manchester United’s soccer jerseys to Lowe’s Home Improvement on Jimmie Johnson’s number 48 car to POM Wonderful pomegranate juice on the title of Morgan Spurlock’s new movie.  Since Google wouldn’t pay us to name our son Google Chrome Chen or to plaster “Google” all over his onesies, we had to put some thought into what we’d name our son.

We chose Jacob as his name, after Jacob of the Old Testament.  It was a choice rooted in hopes for our son.  The Old Testament Jacob was a flawed man with a track record of scheming, lying, and trickery.  But, he also wrestled with God and was a man who refused to settle for the circumstances he’d been born into.  He fought for a different inheritance and the blessing of God.  As we thought about this adoption, we prayed for God’s redemption to extend to baby Jacob.  We prayed that he, like his namesake, would refuse to settle for the circumstances under which he’d been born.  We prayed that he’d fight for a different destiny, a new future. We prayed that he’d be willing to wrestle God Himself for his inheritance and His blessing.

When our son was born, he was officially called “Baby Boy” by the hospital staff. He was given no other name because, for the first 2.5 days of his life, he had no other identity.  In fact, he was the only baby in the nursery because every other baby born in that hospital was with his/her mother.  Alone in an otherwise empty nursery.  No parents.  No family.  No home.  No name.

Then, we arrived.  When we showed up, suddenly he had parents who loved him already. He had two sets of grandparents. He had aunts and uncles and cousins. He had friends and community.  And he had a name:  Jacob.

Now being part of a Chinese family, we needed to give Jacob a Chinese name, too. For that, we asked my Dad to pick out a suitable Chinese name.  Chinese names are somewhat complicated and beyond our knowledge of the language to pick out. Also, with Jacob being the first Chen grandson, we wanted to honor my father in this way by having him name his grandson.

Chinese names can be full of meaning and blessing.  We were expecting Dad to pick out something very Chinese, with references to mountains and trees and lions and courage. Instead, the name he picked out was the Chinese name for Jacob of the Old Testament.  The first character is the last name, Chen.  The next two are the name Jacob.  It’s pronounced Chén Yǎ  Gè in Chinese Pinyin (2nd tone, 3rd tone, 4th tone). According to Dad, the reason he chose that as Jacob’s Chinese name is because the reasons for why we chose his English name should be the reason for all of his names.  Pretty cool, Dad…

When we say that adoption is the Gospel, we’re not talking in an illustrative sense. It isn’t simply a metaphor.  We’re not just making a comparison.  The Gospel is adoption.  So the earlier scene at the hospital is very much what happens in us when Jesus intersects our lives.  He enters in and, having chosen us, gives us a family (the Church) and a Heavenly Father.  He brings us into community and gives us a new identity and a new name (Rev. 2:17, 3:12).  All of this because He showed up.  We are His and He is ours.  Consider this as you consider why Adoption should be an important “cause” for the Body of Christ.



The Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) is a federal law intended to ensure that children placed out of their home state receive the same protections and services that would be provided, if they remained in their home state.  Due to the estimated length of time it would take California and Texas to process our adoption paperwork, we originally expected to remain in California for a couple of weeks.  We got some unexpectedly good news that we’d been given clearance to bring Jacob home to Texas this week!  We’ll spare you the rest of the legalese.

We had some awesome, generous friends make our stay in California an enjoyable blessing. They even threw us a celebration party on Tuesday, our last night there. They brought gifts, prayed for us, and just rejoiced with us.  Our four days in Southern California were full of blessings like that.  While it might seem like we were “stuck” in SoCal for a few days, it was more like we got to introduce our son to his California family, such was the excitement of our friends.  It was a great picture of friends, who’d shared in our sorrows, now sharing in our joy.

On Tuesday, we boarded US Air flight 548 from Orange County back to Austin. Obviously, we’ve never flown with our child before.  I do have plenty of experience flying with other people’s children, though, and that was enough to pray that Jacob would make a good traveling companion.

I’m happy to say that Jacob slept through both legs of the trip.  In fact, save for an “incident” involving diapers, peeing, and his mother (which I’ll let her retell, if she desires), he was virtually trouble-free.  It was a truly clutch performance on the part of our 10-day old.

Even so, we were pretty tired by the time our plane landed in Austin.  It was already past 11:30 pm.  By the time we gathered our things, we were one of the last people to disembark (which I suppose I should start getting used to).  Carita has Jacob and I have our carry-on bags.  As we make our way to the escalators, down to Baggage Claim, we are greeted with this sight:

Balloons. Posters. Camera flashes.  And cheering loud enough to fill all of Baggage Claim at Austin Bergstrom International Airport!

Some of our friends made a late night trip to the airport to welcome us home! Friends from our church community group, friends who work with us. Old friends and new friends.  Young friends (like Cohen Chen on his dad’s shoulders) and not-as-young friends.  Faithful, caring, loving friends.

After a long and tiring trip, during which we both felt a sense of “Okay, now comes the hard part!”, we are greeted by this heart-warming sight.  What a poignant reminder to us that we are not alone; neither in this adoption nor in life.

This homecoming also makes me think of another homecoming.  The author Frederick Buechner once wrote, “Faith is homesickness.”  The journey of our Faith is a journey HOME.  I think of the Cloud of Witnesses in Hebrews 12, of loved ones who’ll go before me, of angels singing…and of seeing Jesus face-to-face.  “There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner that repents,” according to Luke 15. If the heavenly host rejoice over the repentance of just one of us, I can’t even imagine the scene in Heaven when all of us finally come home!

For the friends who sent us off with blessings, the friends who welcomed us home on our return, and the friends whose love and affection from afar carried us along the way:  Thank You.  You have given us a taste of Heaven.