My other name

I have another name

It's my first name, actually, although I only learned about it recently. There are some very early records of my life, locked away for almost 49 years at Hennepin County's Juvenile Court. They detailed my adoption, and, because the law then sealed these records, they were not available to me until I recently petitioned the court for them.

They came in the mail on Valentine's Day, and there it was, on page after page of official documents, my first name, the name before I was adopted, before I became a Sparber, when I had no real name and so was given a temporary one.

Baby Boy Monaghan.

I first heard this name about two years ago, from the adoption agency that handled my case. As some of you know, as a result of a DNA service, I discovered the identity of my biological mother, the deceased author and scholar Patricia Monaghan.

With the help of her husband I was able to gain access to my files from the adoption agency. And while I was speaking to a representative of the agency, she told me that before I was adopted, I was called Baby Boy Monaghan.

I fell in love with the name. It sounded like the moniker of a Victorian bare-knuckle boxer or a 1920s Irish gangster.

It also felt like it gave me a name for my Irish self.

As Max Sparber, I feel like what I am, a Jewish boy from St. Louis Park whose grandparents came from Eastern Europe, the guy who edits a Jewish newspaper, the guy who teaches himself Yiddish and writes this blog.

But there is another me as well. There's the me who was conceived in an Irish bar in Fairbanks, Alaska. The me whose biological mother was an Irish citizen and wrote scholarly books about Irish myth. The me who has always been aware of my Irish ethnicity, and who studied Irish history and mythology and language, who authored a blog about the Irish American experience called The Happy Hooligan. Who plays penny whistle and had a Celtic Punk band called the Peter O'Tooles.

That's me too.

Before learning the details of my adoption, that part felt undernourished. There are things Irish-Americans often know, like the county their family came from, and I didn't know it. Irish-Americans get their identities in a few places, largely from family, church, and bar, and I only had access to one of those three, and only when I turned 21.

Now I feel glutted, at least as far as family is concerned. (I will never have the church experience in any meaningful way, since I am Jewish, but, then, neither do Irish Jews, and there are plenty of them.) My DNA test brought me a massive biological family, who have been tremendously welcoming, and who passed along to me their family history.

So I know how I got here and where I came from, at least on my biological mother's side of things. I know that in the past there were the Monaghans, the Deasys, the Dunlanys, and the the Gordons, all from County Mayo.

I now have photographs of Irish immigrants who all look like me, and know their stories: The Manhattan police officer in the Victorian costume who was my biological great-great grandfather, the striking woman in the giant hat and fur collar who was my biological great-grandmother.

This is the part of me that is Monaghan, and I am glad to now have a name for it: Baby Boy Monaghan.