Navigating Identity: The Significance of Names in Self-Discovery

By Cj Rosenstiel

In the intricate tapestry of identity, our names are the first threads, weaving the fabric of who we are. They carry history and significance, shaping our sense of self from birth. But what if the name we're given doesn't quite fit? This question sparked my journey of self-discovery, delving into the essence of being and my place in the world. Despite multiple legal name changes, none felt right, prompting a deeper exploration.

When my partner, Jennie, and I welcomed our boys into our family, we knew their first names would remain unchanged. However, understanding the importance of cohesion and security, we opted for matching last names. This decision was crucial, providing a safety net for our young sons, especially our eldest, who was prone to wandering.

Embracing tradition and heritage, we decided on Hebrew names for our boys. Giving our eldest the agency to choose his Hebrew name empowered him to assert his identity. Jennie and I incorporated parts of their Hebrew names into their middle names, a collaborative process that reflected our family's journey of exploration and understanding.

Now, aged 12 and 10, both boys are aware of their full names given by their mother of origin. They understand the significance of names in shaping identity and know they have the freedom to explore and redefine themselves. Supporting their journey of self-discovery is paramount to us, as we hope they find names that are a perfect fit—a true reflection of who they are.

In our family, names are not just labels but symbols of individuality and belonging. They remind us of the complexities of identity and the power of self-discovery. As we navigate this journey together, our hope is that our sons embrace their names with pride, knowing they signify not only where they come from but also who they aspire to be.



Cj works in IT doing telephony project work at Progressive by day, advocating for trauma-informed care in public schools and as a board member of Transracial Journeys, he contributes to fostering understanding in transracial adoption communities. Together with his partner Jennie, Cj lovingly parents two transracially adopted boys by night, showcasing his commitment to family and inclusivity.

This post is from our April, 2024, newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, as well as information about our annual Transracial Journeys Family Camp and our monthly Zoom call to provide support for our transracial adoption parents please subscribe.

April Exploring: What’s in a Name?

Our names are central and significant to who you are and, in essence, can be the keystone of identity. When your child is adopted, there’s another world, another narrative, and perhaps another name that accompanies them along their identity journey. The way in which we build a strong and healthy identity often begins with our names as one of our central and original “keystone” building blocks.

June-in-April Calendar Conversation Cards

Transracial Journeys invites your family to experience the calendar in a whole new way. With the help of the June-in-April Calendar Conversation Cards, each month your family is invited to use the cards as a tool for more regular and intentional conversations about identity, family relationships, and differences of race and culture.

Each month has four cards with conversation starters. The prompts and questions are designed to spark reflection and ongoing dialogue within your family as well as with extended family and friends. There is no prescriptive way to use the cards, sometimes parents or grown-ups can take the lead and ask the questions and other times, children can go first.

April Pro-Tip for Parents: Becoming more fully aware of the deeper elements of adoption related to names will prepare you to authentically hold the realities of identity formation experiences. Diving into these delicate topics may evoke strong emotions. Have confidence in yourself to take steps on this journey. As part of the TRJ community, you have the support, love, and guidance of this community to commit to moving toward complexities in service of a healthier, fuller experience of adoption for your child/children, your family, and for YOU!

April Exploring: What's in a Name

• How do you feel about your name? Love it? Dislike it? Have never really thought about it?
• Did you ever change your name?

• How did you choose my name?
• Do you know if I had a different name before I was adopted?
• Did you discuss my name with anyone in my family of origin?

• Does my name have cultural significance?

This post is from our April, 2024, email newsletter. If you would like to get our newsletter in your inbox each month, please subscribe.  You will get invitations to our monthly Parent Meet-Up, a virtual meeting to act as a transracial adoption support group - sharing issues, ideas and strategies for creating a culture of communication and curiosity in your home, as well as monthly card prompt to keep the conversations about race, adoption, family, love and relationships front and center all year long.  And lastly, you'll always be made aware of important dates for Transracial Journeys Family Camp.

Speakers from Sage & Maven, Leadership & Social Justice Consultants

Transracial Journeys is pleased to announce Ryan Clopton-Zymler, MSSA and Phyllis Harris, MNO, the founders and social justice consultants of Sage and Maven,  as featured presenters for Family Camp 2023. 

Learn More & Lean-In: Expanding Our Understanding of Our Relationships

During Friday's topic “Learn More & Lean-In: Expanding Our Understanding of Our Relationships,” the founders of Sage & Maven will be joining us to speak and hold space for discussion about the complex and beautiful nature of transracial adoptions. Our time together will focus on three core areas; the first area is building healthy identities and a connection to self; the second area is understanding our relationship to core concepts of race and identity and it how affects our interpersonal relationships; and the last area is about what happens when those concepts cause tension within those relationships. We will use a mix of lecture, discussion, and interactive activities to create a lasting experience. In the afternoon we will have two breakout groups: 1) The Adult Child Perspective, and 2) The Adult Caregiver Perspective. Everyone will be in one group for half the session, then switch for the second half of the session.



More About Ryan

Ryan Clopton-Zymler (he/they) is an activist, educator, emcee and advocate from Cleveland, Ohio. He is a graduate of Case Western Reserve University, with a Master of Science in Social Administration and he received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Ohio University. Ryan is a co-founder of Sage & Maven LLC, a for-profit consultancy that focuses on leadership and social justice.

Prior to becoming fully self-employed, Ryan served as the inaugural Director of Race, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (RDEI) at United Way of Greater Cleveland. His other recent career accomplishments have included serving as the inaugural Assistant Director for the Office of Inclusion for the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, Cleveland Campus, where they supported the launch of this department across three campuses. He also developed the community outreach and education program as the Community Relations Manager at the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland.

Ryan’s career foundation is in community mental health and he has a rich history of working with youth and young adults. He is actively involved in the Cleveland social justice community - he currently sits on the board of directors for Preterm, has previously served on the board for Stonewall Sports Cleveland, and he has worked with national organizations including Planned Parenthood and GLAAD. Ryan is a skilled facilitator & certified mediator, has been recruited for speaking engagements nationally and internationally, and is considered an expert in social media and media advocacy.

Ryan is also a rotating host for area drag and burlesque shows, and a contributor the Ohio LGBTQ+ publication, the Buckeye Flame.

Ryan Clopton-Zymler, MSSA

More About Phyllis

Phyllis "Seven" Harris’ 25+ years of experience with nonprofits, includes program management, fundraising, and upper-level management positions. For many years, she has played a strong role as an advocate in Cleveland’s LGBTQ+ community.

With the executive leadership of Ms. Harris since 2012, the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland has experienced transformational growth and expansion. Today, Center patrons enjoy expanded programming for everyone from teens to families to seniors in their Gordon Square facility. In 2015, the Center launched Pride in the CLE, a family-oriented and community-driven LGBTQ Pride festival that the group continues to produce annually. In June 2019, Ms. Harris and her team moved in to a newly constructed facility that offers more space, accessibility, and versatility to serve the LGBTQ community.

Throughout her career, Ms. Harris has leveraged both her passion and her multi-faceted experience to lead the organization on a path of sustainable growth and vitality. Prior to joining the Center, Ms. Harris directed a major capital campaign for the Cleveland Sight Center, served as Vice President of Programs for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cleveland and spearheaded youth initiatives at Planned Parenthood of Northeast Ohio. Her leadership in local nonprofit circles also extends to service on local and national nonprofit boards including the Women of Color Foundation, Graffiti HeArt art museum and CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers.

She is a past recipient of the Cleveland Foundation’s Homer C. Wadsworth award, has completed a leadership fellowship with the Arcus Foundation and is a graduate of the 2019 class of Leadership Cleveland. She recently served as I of 6 co-chairs of the Transition Team for the newly elected City of Cleveland Mayor, Justin Bibb.

Ms. Harris holds a master’s degree in non-profit management from Case Western Reserve University and a Bachelor of Arts from Baldwin Wallace College. January 2022 she was recognized by Cleveland Magazine as one of CLE’s 500.

Phyllis Harris, MNO

More About Transracial Journeys

Transracial Journeys envisions greater understanding of and support for transracially adopted persons and their families in all stages of life and sectors of society.

With the best interests of transracially adopted persons at the center, Transracial Journeys provides practical tools and post adoption support for parents of a different race than the Black and Brown children entrusted to them and fosters supportive relationships for transracially adopted persons of all ages.


  • Prioritizing representation for  transracially adopted persons
  • Sharpening parental skills addressing the core issues of adoption and racism
  • Developing healthy racial identities for all members of the family
  • Encouraging greater cultural competence for parents
  • Promoting social justice and racial equity
  • Building a loving community

To learn more about our flagship event, Transracial Journeys Family Camp, go to our Family Camp page and check out our schedule of events. If you would like to be notified as future camp details become available, please make sure to sign-up for our monthly newsletter by using the subscribe feature on the bottom of this page..