“What’s your name?”
The elderly lady smiled at Elijah and asked him this seemingly innocuous question. I am certain that she had no idea how complicated this question actually was. I watched him, wondering what he would say. Most of the time lately, he will say, “I’m Moo-Moo” (TiTi Lena’s nickname for him from the start). When I call him “Elijah”, the name I’ve been calling him since before he was born, he answers to that name. But on this day, he turned to the woman and said, “Cecil*”.
And my heart sunk. Because yes, his name is Cecil. Cecil Elijah Davis (“Jr. III”, but that’s a story for another day).
Before he was born, Sara and I had managed to talk Mona into reversing the order of his names. Instead of Cecil Elijah, we had her convinced to call him Elijah, with Cecil as his middle name. “All of your other boys have names from the Bible”, we told her. And then there was what we didn’t say – that the Cecil he was to be named after was nowhere to be found. It was Elijah’s aunties who brought Mona to and from her doctor’s appointments in those long two and a half months between the time she found out she was pregnant and the time Elijah arrived. We were the ones who took her to her weekly non-stress tests. We were the ones who encouraged her to eat correctly when her diabetes was raging out of control. When the doctor told Mona, “We have to keep an eye on things because we don’t want your baby to be stillborn”, I was the one who had to ask her, “Mona, do you know what ‘stillborn’ means?” I almost came to blows with a friend of Mona’s who was goading her into mocking my assertion that hers had been a high-risk pregnancy, because I knew. I knew, because I was there.
A few days before the baby was born, Cecil Senior (who himself is also Cecil Junior; there’s a whole lotta “unclear on the concept” going on here) strode back onto the scene, with that toothpick dangling from his mouth and that creepy, controlling demeanor. When we wanted to visit Elijah in the step-up NICU, we were not permitted to enter without him (or Mona) accompanying us. Nothing we had been through together mattered at that point. We were out, and he was in, and so was the new name. Baby Elijah was now Baby Cecil. (This was also the point at which I started calling the father “FOTY”, for “Father of the Year”, because he swaggered in acting like he was in charge and feigning great interest in the baby’s health issues while he was in the step-up NICU).
It’s been almost three years, and I’ve gone on calling him Elijah without giving it a second thought, until recently. By the time the above conversation occurred, this had already been nagging at me for a while. Part of the issue is that FOTY is in the picture to a much greater extent these days, and although I still feel like I need to wash myself in bleach every time I interact with the man, I have to begrudgingly admit that Elijah seems to do well with him. And although he’s never said a word about it, I am almost to the point where I feel like I’m being disrespectful by not calling the child by his given name in the presence of his namesake.
I think the hardest thing for me, though, is hearing my beloved Elijah refer to himself by this other name. When I ask him, “Who’s Elijah, then?” he points to himself . . . he knows that this is the name that Aunt Sara, Aunt Lorraine, and everybody in our circle calls him. But when he is talking more, and going into more and more situations where people will call him by his “real” name, I am starting to seriously question how I should handle this.
I can’t call him Cecil. I just can’t do it. He is, and always will be, “Elijah” to me. But I don’t know what to do about everybody else. When I signed him up for nursery at church, I listed his name as “Elijah”, and so his name tag does not say “Cecil”. I find myself waiting for the day when FOTY will show his true colors and fly into a rage about this, demanding that the name be corrected, and while I don’t think that avoiding a scene is a good enough reason to give in, I find myself more and more wondering what the “right” thing to do really is in this situation.
I know he’s not my child. But I don’t know what to do. What is the right thing to do in this situation? How can I be fair to his biological father while still acknowledging that I, too, am a part of his life, and that he has never been anybody other than Elijah to me?
(*pronounced “Sea-sill”, not “Ses-sill” as in B. De Mille)