The Story of Her Name


I sat at the round black kitchen table last night, going through paperwork. I was going through a medium sized blue bin that holds a few months worth of random paper. I do this once every four or six months, even though a weekly “Go Through Papers” reminder pops up on my phone every Monday at 10am — which I almost always ignore. In front of me, I had To File piles, piles for each kid, piles I Don’t Know What To Do With, and (my favorite) a huge pile I stack on the floor: To Throw Away.


In the middle of it all, I found a homework sheet my daughter did during the first week of school. “The Story of My Name.”


In an instant, I was back at this same table, six months ago.




The kids rush in the door, drop their bags and kick off their shoes, happy to be home from school.


“How was your day?”




“Anything fun happen?”




“Want a snack?”




“Do you have any homework?”


“I need to know about my name,” my daughter says. She’s already settling in, sitting with one leg tucked beneath her and pulling out homework papers from her backpack onto the table. My son sits next to her by the big window at the front of our house.


I hand the kids plates of apple slices and sit down across from them.  


“Okay. Why did you name me Nadia?”


I silently reprimand myself for not telling this story enough times in her ten years for her to know it by heart. But it’s not easy to put into words the whole of what her name means to me, to us.  


I look to her and smile, as if I’ve just woken up from the sweetest dream, “Your name means Hope.”


She writes this down on her paper, then her pencil moves down to the spaces below. She doesn’t even look up as she reads me the next question, “Why does this name fit me?”


Truth be told, we didn’t know if the name would fit her.


But we knew it would fit us.




Later that same week, I sat in a cozy chair on a Thursday night, listening to a group of women speak spiritual and emotional “seasons” of their lives. One woman shared about her struggle with deeply rooted fear and her longing for true joy – the kind which comes not from will or grit — but only by grace.


I nodded my head in agreement as she spoke because I’ve struggled with fear, too. The kind that grows innocuously for a while, close to the core, and by the time you can see it, feel it, name it,  you have to battle it with all your might to keep it from eating you up.


So much of my life, I’ve been afraid to wholeheartedly trust, to unabashedly hope, to boldly speak what is in my heart. When you live like this for so long, you don’t even know what a life full of Joy even looks like.  


I thought of my fear about our up coming adoption (at that point, all our paperwork was in, we just had to wait to be matched). I was scared about the future, what would it look like with another child, how we would adjust, attach, connect, heal. We’d also started to think about names and we had an idea for a first name, which meant “life,” but hadn’t decided on a middle name.


As my friend spoke the word “joy” that night over and over, I thought: Joy would be a good name.




“We decided to name you Nadia for a few reasons.”


“W-e de-c-i … How do you spell decided?” she asks, her pencil scratching into the paper.


She wants to write down a story from my heart verbatim. I reach across the table to touch her hand. “Hold on honey, I’ll help you fill in your paper in a minute.” She looks up at me.


“Just listen to me for a sec.”


She puts her pencil down.


I tell my daughter that her dad and I were married for five years when life was on the verge of getting really good: He was just about ready to graduate with his doctorate, we were moving to a big city, we had every reason to be excited about what the next chapter of our lives would hold.   


But then he got sick.


Our kids know about their dad’s brain surgery—but I explained, again, how it happened right then. “Everything changed. Just when we thought we were stepping into this really amazing time of our lives, Daddy got sick … It took us a really long time to figure things out after that.”


I don’t go into all the details, but I tell her how scared I was, how he could have died. How we didn’t know if he would come out of surgery and not be the same. I tell her what she already knows: that his recovery was good—but now, I try to explain more about how it felt for us afterwards. How we were just so afraid of looking ahead, so fearful of making plans for our future.  


“Nadia means hope,” I tell her. “And the name fit perfectly. We wanted to move forward in life full of hope.”  




The day after I thought Joy would be a good name, the phone rang during a quiet afternoon moment. I didn’t recognize the number but answered it anyway.


“Sonya, this is Amy. Are you free to talk?”


It was our adoption agency. We anticipated waiting for a referral call for at least half a year, if not longer—I hadn’t even programmed their number into my phone.


But somehow, I knew: this was it.


I grabbed a notebook and quickly pulled out a chair at the kitchen table with my pen ready. My heartbeat quickened. I sat up straight.


“Yes. This is a good time.”


“We have a possible match for you. Are you interested in hearing about her?”


“Yes! But … seriously? We’ve only been waiting two months.”


I listened as Amy gave me all the information she had on file.


A thousand questions rushed through my head, along with a thousand fears. I tried to get my head around the unexpected news.


I can’t believe this is really happening. This soon? How will we know if we should say yes?


As she came to the end of the report, Amy said, “In English, her name means, ‘Understanding Joy.’”


My breath stolen, I dropped my pen to wipe away instant tears.



I put the old homework paper in my To File pile. I can’t wait to tell another daughter the story of her name.



Sonya Spillmann


  1. Tears in my eyes. You have a gift for putting words and thoughts together and holding me spellbound. I hope to meet her this side of heaven someday!

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