"Well, then, if I'm a Namer, what does that mean? What does a Namer do?"
"When I was memorizing the names of the stars, part of the purpose was to help them each to be more particularly the particular star each one was supposed to be."
-- A Wind In The Door by Madeleine L'Engle
"The power of a name--that's old magic."
-- Doctor Who ("The Shakespeare Code")
As is held in folktales and legends, there is great power in a person's name. Madeleine L'Engle brought this up in her Wrinkle In Time series: to Name is to create, to Un-name is to destroy. The practice of unnaming and renaming adoptees is an attempt to assert control over us. It's said that if you know someone's true name, you have absolute power over them. The very fact that adoptees' true names are sequestered by the state is evidence of this ancient law stretching into our modern society. For if we adoptees knew our true names, we could reclaim the power that has been taken from us, the power to access our records without restriction.
Adopters and prospective adopters are often eager to rename adoptees, especially international adoptees whose foreign names serve as a constant reminder that adoption is not the same as giving birth. By renaming the adoptee, the adoptive parents assert their expectations that the adoptee will have the personality and nature desired--that they will become the person they have been named. Such attempts are doomed to failure. Adopters and prospective adopters need to get out of the mindset that adopting is like picking the exact item they want out of a catalog. Part of this is acknowledging that adoptees had names and identities before they were adopted.
What do you think? Should adoptive parents change children's names? I did -- my kids each have an American name, a French name, and part of their Chinese name. Does it matter who gave them the name (in China, it won't be the birth parents who give the name)? Is changing the name a perfectly appropriate act of claiming? or is it an erasure of the child's rightful past? Is the answer something in-between (as these things usually are)?
Does it matter what the new name is? When I read above: "By renaming the adoptee, the adoptive parents assert their expectations that the adoptee whill have the personality and nature desired -- that they will become the person they have been named," I had a "Eureka" moment. It explained perfectly why I was so horrified when new parents in my travel group named their daughter CHARITY. Poor child.
BTW, the picture above is a page from the lifebook I made for Zoe. That's Mr. Gan, then-director of Zoe's orphanage, and Ms. Wei, now-director.