Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Name Game

I've posted before about naming adopted children -- in particular, changing the adopted child's name. AdoptionParenting, an excellent yahoogroup I read, has naming as its topic for the next two weeks. That gives me the opportunity to link to two thought-provoking posts about naming in adoption.

The first, from 8Asians, is Say My Name: Changing My Adoptive Name :

People have always had their own names for me: Mary, Mao, Pumpkin, Slowpoke. Identity, for an adoptee, is the feeling that nothing is yours by birthright. At times there is a freedom to this, an untethered-ness that is nice; mostly, though, it just feels weird. My adoptive parents saved my life, and they did it with Christian love in their hearts. They even retained my “temporary Korean name”, Chun-Soon, as my middle name. Six months ago, I reclaimed it. This one piece of my mother’s land that I do have. I chose the family name Li (Yi, Rhee, Lee)…an ordinary, commonplace name. A typical Korean name. Confucius be damned, I am now the beginning of my bloodline in this country.

The second, from The Land of the Not-So-Calm, is My Real Name:

No, I’m not going to tell you my real name — not my real Korean name, and certainly not my real American name.

But I will tell you that my real Korean name, which also happens to be an “orphanage” name, is just as real, just as important, and just as legitimate as a name that was picked out for me and given to me by Korean first parents.

* * *

I’ve read several articles/posts/comments recently suggesting that names given by orphanages and social workers are not as meaningful as names that were given by first parents. . . .

The truth is, many adoptees feel quite connected to ANY scrap of information that someone doles out to them about their past — including the city or province where they were born, the street where they were found, or where their old orphanage was located. I mean, I’ve written previously about the connection I felt to the piece of road where I was abandoned… yeah, I know how pathetic that sounds, but it is all that I have.

So many people don’t understand that simple fact, one that I feel like I’ve been repeating here like a broken record: For so many of us, THIS. IS. ALL. WE. HAVE. These orphanage names, these street names and other locations — these facts are part of the thread (no, not a red thread, but nice try!) that tie us back to the countries where we were born. This thread is incredibly thin and fragile already; shouldn’t it be celebrated and nurtured, rather than shamed and destroyed?

I've also put up a poll about what you've done with your child's name. Please comment here!


Wendy said...

It is interesting that you bring this up now. We retained M's Chinese (orphanage) name as her middle name (wishing we would have known her nickname from her foster family BEFORE we were mandated to chose, although it is a part of her orphanange name now middle name).
Okay, that was long.
Anywho, M's birthday was last week and each year she writes a note to her first family and sends it in a balloon up to "China". One of the questions she asked them was "did you call me ____ (her orphanage name)? She also asked what they did call her if that was not it. She has asked this question to me many times (what did her first family call her) and I have explained how her Chinese name came to be and that we don't know the name they may have chosen or not depending on local custom.
My personal feeling is that M would change her name or at least add her birth name if she knew it.
Bottom line--names are very important and each one has some connection or special purpose in a child's life.
On a funny note, M is always telling me she doesn't like the name I picked! She would prefer Natalie! I listen...but also remember last year M was the BEST name EVER! Ahhh...five year olds. I let her know she could change it when she is an adult if she wants too.
btw--she always uses her Chinese name in Chinese school and with her foster mother. She is very proud of it and it is her that decides what name when to use at what time.

Sorry so long.

AmericanFamily said...

Before we met our daughter, we considered keeping her Chinese name as her only name, but once we got her referal, her name started with a Q and would have required her to constantly explain the spelling and pronunciation. My husband is Chinese American and he was very concerned that her name not be an additional burden.

So then, we decided to give her a new "american" name and then we kept her Chinese given name and her family name as two middle names then added my husband's last name (which also happen to be Chinese).

So her legal name is:

New name (R) - Chinese given name (Q) - Chinese last name (Y) - Husband's last name

I kept her two last names next to each other in case she later decides to hypenate or use her original family name as her only last name (L).

We thought we had all the bases covered until we met her nannies who told us our daughter was called by a diminutive of her given name. The diminutive is easy to pronounce and spell for Americans.

We immediately decided to continue to use the only name she ever knew as her name. Legally, her name is still RQYL, but for most purposes she is L L.

If she wants to legally change her name to L when she is old enough, I would be happy to help her do it.

Anonymous said...

This is not near as passionate as "meant to be."

Anonymous said...

We really struggled with the naming issue for our daughter. In the end, we kept her surname as her middle name, because it was prettier and I have a Chinese friend who has it as one of her names. It is not uncommon as a girls first name.

The rest of her name was Hai Yue, which would be mostly mispronounced as "hey you", and the negatives seem to outweigh the positives of keeping that name. The characters mean "across the ocean", not the more common/prettier ocean moon. I had Chinese friends look at the characters and said that was weird as a name, that it didn't look like a name at all.

Of course, if she want to, we would be fine with her using it. Maybe we should just save for therapy, "your parents are white and your chinese name is funny".

Lesley said...

We kept our daughter's orphanage name. Party because she was nearly 2 when she joined us, partly because simply it is her name. She has an American middle name. She is only 4 now, and her name starts with an X and we keep it as the two word name. There are some problems (mostly dr offices that aren't willing to learn), but otherwise kids at school love her name, their parents make sure they say it and spell it right, etc.

Ann BF said...

Our daughter has used her chinese given name as her nickname (huan Huan) at chinese school and when we lived in China she was called that by nearly everyone. I started calling her that as we began speaking mere Chinese together and espcially to get her attention in a crowd. It turned out to be the name of the Olympic mascot -- same character and all. very affirming, glad we have it around!

LilySea said...

I answered your poll but I have two kids with two different answers. With our first child, her mother let us know (we have open adoptions) that though she had given the baby a "placeholder" name, she wanted us to change the first name but not the middle. The middle is an important family name in her family. So we gave the baby the name we'd chosen while waiting for a first and kept the mother's choice of middle.

Our second daughter's mother gave her a first name but nothing else. We kept it as the first and used the name we'd chosen as middle.

In both cases, we feel we listened to the mother and honored her choice of name as she wanted it to be. Both mothers also knew we'd probably want a part in naming, and that was kind of them.

Much as naming is a special thing to do with a child, I really do feel that keeping at least part of the original name is an important way to honor the fact that the child has an origin besides the adoption; that the child is a person in her own right not to be reinvented to suit her adoptive parents.

Shari U said...

We kept our daughter's given names and use them as a second middle name. My husband and I had not intended to keep her Chinese name. Our children who were 16, 15 and 11 at the time absolutely insisted we keep it. "It's all she has" was their argument and I'm so, so glad we listened to them. Turns out, the name our daughter was called in the orphanage "Chuan Chuan" is what we call her most of the time.