Claire Hamner Matturro reviews “No Names to Be Given” and interviews the author Julia Brewer Daily


Julia Brewer Daily’s, novel, No Names to Be Given (Admission Press, 2021) is an evocative and sensitive novel about three young women from vastly different backgrounds who face unwed pregnancies in the 1960’s Deep South. Sandy, Faith, and Becca become roommates in a New Orleans maternity home hospital for unwed mothers and gradually build rapport and trust. The novel poses this devastating, question: “Would you be able to give your baby up to strangers?”

The maternity home in the story is depicted in generally positive terms—they feed the women well, allow them privileges, and even provide fake wedding rings when the pregnant women go out into the community. Yet there is no denying the hardships—emotional and physical—facing the young women who live there and give birth there. All the women must give up their child for adoption.

Sandy, who runs away after being sexually assaulted by her mother’s abusive boyfriend, becomes an exotic dancer and falls in love with career criminal who also happens to be married. When she becomes pregnant, he directs her to abort the baby. She refuses. Knowing she cannot provide for her child, she finds her way to the home and opts to give the child up for adoption.

In contrast, Faith is the religious daughter of a famous preacher who dreams of becoming a world-famous Christian singer. She is well on her way when a manager in her father’s ministry rapes her. He teases her that no one will believe her if she tells. Confused and hurt emotionally and physically, she decides for her father’s sake to keep quiet as she fears her accusations would destroy his ministry. When she becomes pregnant from the assault, she turns to her parents, but without revealing the rape. Her parents are scandalized and send her off to the home in New Orleans.

Becca is the rich, beautiful daughter of wealthy and prominent Southern family who falls in love with a dynamic Black man while both are students at a Southern university. Raised to take her place in a country-club Southern culture of upper class people, Becca strives to be her own person. However, such a relationship with a Black man in the early 60s, and so soon after the university even accepted Black students, puts his life at risk as well as her social standing. When she becomes pregnant, her family is cold and deeply shamed and they leave her no choice but to deliver the child in secrecy and give him or her up for adoption.

From these women, with their complex and different backgrounds and stories, Daily weaves a novel broad in scope, yet she always keeps the focus on the women and their children. Moving forward twenty-five years from the births of their children, the threat of blackmail brings the women together again. But the trauma of giving up their children marks them even after all those years have passed.


CHM: Ms. Daily, you tell your readers in the book that you are adopted and that’s a driving force in your decision to write this book. Without prying too deeply beyond that, might I ask about more about your goals in writing this novel? In terms of your motivation, what did you hope to achieve by writing it? And what message did you hope to convey?

JBD: No Names to Be Given has a thread of memoir running through it. I am an adopted child from a maternity home in New Orleans and my three protagonists meet at a maternity home in New Orleans to relinquish their babies for adoption in 1966. I used fiction as my vehicle because my story is not only mine to tell, but my adoptive parents’ and my biological parents’, too. So, I took a step back and embellished facts to create an engaging story. In the book, one of the adopted children’s life is pretty much verbatim the same as my own childhood experiences. My motivation came from wanting to let young women today know about a society in our not-so-distant past that forced unwed pregnant women to give their babies away. In book club meetings, this “baby scoop” era is an incredulous topic for discussion. Many had never heard of this process. Also, as we discuss adoption on radio shows, magazine articles and publicity methods, I hope to draw attention to the hundreds of thousands of children in the foster care system hoping for a family of their own and of the many ways a family can be formed.

CHM: At what point in your life did you decide to write such a novel? How long did it take? Was it a healing process for you?

JBD: I searched and found my birth mother forty-five years ago. I thought at the time it would make a good story because few, if any, searched for biological families. I discovered a Napoleonic law still on the books in New Orleans that stated an adoptive child can inherit from natural parents. You can’t inherit from someone you don’t know, so that became the loophole that opened my original records. I took writing classes after finding my birth mother and actually wrote a few of the chapters that made their way into the novel, but it was not until I retired and had unencumbered time that I finished the book.

CHM: In the book, popular DNA tests figure prominently in the later part of the plot. Does this draw from your life? Or your imagination? Or your research? 

JBD: DNA results from a commercial kit led me to my biological father’s family. I received a message from the DNA company that I had a sibling match. If you read, “Are you, my sister?” on your computer screen, it will get your attention. Then, a first cousin match popped up and that cousin grew up with my biological father, so even though my birth father had passed away, I was introduced to him through a half-sister and a first cousin. After that, I did my research and found many who followed the same path and discovered family secrets. I wanted to incorporate that method of searching for an origin family in my novel, too.

CHM: Your novel examines the limitations and prejudices in the early Sixties and continuing forward in history regarding teens and women who become pregnant without being married. In your novel, you show a vivid example of this in a 1982 setting where the owners of the unwed mothers’ home are faking high school graduation photos for teens at the home because “Pregnant girls were not allowed in high schools.” This suggests little or nothing changed from the early ’60s when Faith, Becca and Sandy gave birth. This denying pregnant teens access to public education changed by law, or at least was meant to change, with the adoption Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”), 20 U.S.C. §1681 et seq., a Federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex—including pregnancy and parental status—in educational programs and activities. Yet it appears from your novel that this federal law did not end the discrimination against pregnant teens—at least not in the Deep South. Do you think prejudice and mistreatments still exist today toward teens and young women who become pregnant outside of marriage, and if so, to what degree? Are these homes for unwed mothers still in existence? Do you think the compassion you show in your book might soften any such prejudices?

JBD: Society mores and families heaped shame and guilt on women who became pregnant without marriage. I’ve heard from women who declared this was not just in the Deep South, but across the country. Parents wanted their daughters to wait to have sex until they were married. There were few single parents in small towns and certainly not in upper class families. Those women were shipped away to have their babies, give them for adoption, and return home as if nothing had transpired. Before Title IX, schools denied access to pregnant girls, but after that, families did not send their daughters to school—law or no law. Parents believed the actions of their child reflected on them and their status in a community. Mistreatment still exists in many places, but certainly more unwed women keep their babies today than years ago. There are still four hundred maternity homes in the United States, but most are group homes where women are assisted in finding jobs, childcare and have a choice about keeping their babies.

CHM: Might you tell us a bit about the research that went into writing No Names to Be Given? Did you interview women who had been in similar homes for unwed mothers? Did you visit such a home?

JBD: I had my own birth mother to interview about her time in the maternity home, and I visited the home where I was born many times. My adoptive parents took me to the maternity home to show me where they adopted me. I had a good idea of how the homes operated and the way they looked. After “No Names to Be Given” was published, I heard from birth mothers, adoptive parents, and other adoptees. Some were born or relinquished their babies in the same home where I was born. They told me I captured the maternity home they themselves experienced.

CHM: Your story takes some bold plot leaps. I don’t think I am engaging in plot spoiling since the blurb mentions “all the way to the White House.” What inspired you to make such a daring arc in in the story line for these women?

JBD: The story line shows that these women were from all walks of life. Some may think only impoverished women gave their babies for adoption. That was not the case. Two of the women in my book came from very wealthy backgrounds. The rules of society extended to all, no matter what the family assets or deficits. And, the secrets that were kept would destroy families, careers, or politicians. Times have certainly changed, but during those years such an admission of an illegitimate child was devastating to women and the husbands who did not know about their surrendered offspring.

CHM: And finally, Ms. Daily, you are a busy and accomplished woman. How in the world did you find time to write this novel? What are your work habits with regards to writing? And what’s next for you?

JBD: I am one of the authors who waited until retirement to write novels. Some of us were single parents who worked two or three jobs and had no time for creative pursuits until those careers were over. In fact, I started a podcast this year called Authors Over 50 to celebrate those who wrote debut books after the age of fifty. I am interviewing doctors, attorneys, MBAs, engineers, and grandmothers who are writing into their seventies and eighties. The interviewees are such interesting people and share wonderful stories. Then, when I moved to Texas, I became enamored with vast Texas ranches that have been in the same family for multiple generations, so my second novel is about one of those. The title is The Fifth Daughter of Thorn Ranch. It will launch on November 1, 2022.

Anyone who is interested in contacting me for an interview on my podcast can fill out a form on my website: I am available to speak to book clubs, as well.

CHM: Thank you, Ms. Daily, for taking the time to answer these questions.

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