Friday, May 14, 2010

Names in Adoption

I've been thinking about names a lot lately.  It started with Maya telling me that she plans to name her children -- MY GRANDCHILDREN -- Elvis and Buttercup!  OK, so Elvis is a better choice than last year's boy name -- Hercules.  But Buttercup?!  My fault -- after all, I'm the one who introduced her to the Princess Bride!  Oh, and this is "names in adoption," since Maya insists she's adopting her children, not giving birth to them.

And then there's a comment from a birth mother at this post:  "My daughter's adoptive mother told her that she changed her name because she didn't want her to get teased about it at school." What a way to diss a child's birth mother.

I've posted before about the importance of keeping a child's pre-adoption name as a part of his or her identity (see here and here and here), and about naming as claiming.  But I hadn't really thought much about how to choose a new name for an adopted child (beyond thinking that Charity is not a good choice!), and whether that's any different from how biological parents choose a name for a child.

But then there were some dueling blog posts I ran across -- I'm not going to link the blogs, because who it is is beside the point.  I do have to tell you this much, though -- a prospective adoptive parent posted on her blog that she would be naming her future Ethiopian child "Ireland," the name that she had picked for her first child regardless of origin.  An adult adoptee suggested on her blog that that name might not be suitable for an Ethiopian child.  Bad feelings flowed both ways.  I submitted a comment at the PAP's blog, but she chose not to publish it (her blog, her right).  I've decided to explore the issue here instead.

Here's what I submitted about naming:

I hope you can look at your name choice in the context of adoption parenting, transracial adoption parenting, international adoption parenting, not simply as a parent who wants to gift her child with her favorite name.

Some of the issues in naming in adoption include the disconnect between name and appearance, the potential for racial and adoption teasing (Annie might lead to "Little Orphan Annie" teasing, for example), whether the name represents negative images of adoption (ex. the name Charity is lovely, but perhaps not for an adopted child who is likely to be viewed as a charity case by many), whether the name might suggest a rejection of birth culture or race (rejecting a given name as "too ethnic"), whether the name furthers stereotypes about race and culture (ex. naming a child from China "Jade"), whether the name is respectful of the birth parents' wishes, if known, whether the child adopted at an older age agrees, etc.

Best of luck with your adoption journey -- it isn't just a travel journey, but a journey of understanding that the focus has to be on what our children need, not on what we want.
So what do you think -- is naming different in adoption?  If yes, how?  What additional factors should adoptive parents consider in naming their children?


Mei Ling said...

Oh, I saw that blog. My only inner comment was that "Ireland" isn't really a common name nowadays, at least not in Canada. Not sure about the U.S. or anywhere else.

Lee said...

After just coming her from RQ (why oh why do I still go there?), it always makes me a bit sad when I see referrals where the child's new name contains zero reference or incorporation of their Chinese name. Our children come to us with precious little other than their names, and it was important to us to keep it, although we did make it our daughter's middle name.

We hesitated before finalizing our name choice, since Elise has been traditionally more of a French name, but we felt it was common enough in the U.S. to work. And since she goes by Ellie, at least two other heads turn on the playground whenever I call her name!

I have a bit of a personal issue with extreme/very odd names anyway, but I think parents should definitely show caution there when naming an adopted child. I don't think Ireland is a particularly good name option for a child from Ethiopia, but if you have to explain why, there's probably not much chance of a changed mind on the other end.

Names used to tie to family and heritage, and I like that tradition. We chose Elise because we liked it (unique but not "weird"), but it also ties to my mother's middle name of Elizabeth. And keeping her Chinese name as her middle name was always our plan since that pays homage to her heritage. And I guess that's what it boils down to for me -- not honoring your child's history and heritage...

Tina said...

My husband and I had favorite names that we really wanted to use for our children but we discarded them because in the end we felt that at 2 and a half our son was losing enough that was familiar and his when he came to us. It would be just wrong to take his name - his identity from him as well. We kept his Russian name and added a family name to signify he is a part of our family. We call him by his Russian name. It is not so unusual that we are worried about teasing - if it had been we might have taken that into account and made some modification - perhaps and perhaps not. We felt pretty strongly that he was already a little person, with an identity, and history, and a personality of his own. We were gaining all of those things when we were blessed with him - including his name.
It may be bias on my part but I always question a PAP's readiness to adopt if they are not willing to keep at least part of their adopted child's original name.

The Gang's Momma! said...

For our family, naming (both our bio kids and our adopted one) was much more about what we consider to be their first/primary identity.

We are a Christian family and we believe strongly that our first identity comes from our connection to and adoption into our Father's family. So the names we chose for our kids are chock full of godly character traits and Biblical meaning.

The next consideration was that we purposely chose first names that would be different than the current trends, but not horribly so. The reality is that no matter what name we choose, kids will find SOMETHING to pick at if they are so inclined. We just wanted a name that was distinctive but NOT immediately a magnet for mockery.

The third thing we considered is consistency. For example, our boys all have more traditional Old Testament type names combined with middle names that honor a beloved family member or friend who has particular godly trait we desire to see our child "grow into." The girls have more uni-sex, old Gaelic-type names (again imbued with godly character traits we wanted to see in our daughters).

That, however, is where the adoption made it slightly different. Our bio daughter has my maiden name as her middle (which she alternately loves and hates). Our adopted daughter has a virtue as her middle name, taken from a Scripture that held tremendous meaning while we waited for her to join our family. And we kept her Chinese name as her second middle name, as we loved that the orphanage director gave her a name of great affection and strong character.

So, yes, in some ways, adoption made our naming experience different. But with five kids we were careful to not make the process of naming our adopted child COMPLETELY different than the process of naming the others. She is, after all, part of our family. And while it is a huge part of who we are, who she is, it is not All of who she is.

And by the way, we LOVED that the process of naming her was an opportunity to talk to them about this process, our hearts for them, and our intentions in choosing all of their names. It was a great "teachable moment" to instill yet another view of who we are as The Gang.

travelmom and more said...

When we named our daughter I wanted a name that could translate into any language, my name translates and I have loved being able to use my translated name when I have lived abroad. We also kept our daughters Chinese name, because in the future she may want to use her Chinese name and I wanted it legal so she could use it without trouble. I have been a public school teacher for 11 years and by the time kids get to high school I don't hear much teasing about names because so many kids have unusual names, I think it is worse to have very common names because kids with names like Ashley, Alex, or Emily start to blend with all the others and they lose their identity. We have an English as a second language population of students at our school (most of whom have just arrived in the US as teenagers) and many of these kids go through several evolutions with their names. They will often start using an American name, then switch to their given name or even choose another name that may be easier to pronounce for English speakers but is more aligned with their race or culture. As for ethno-centric names, they don't bother me. There are a large number of adopted children living in all parts of the globe with "normal" names in any given culture. Ireland seems like a strange choice for a child from Africa because the British Empire conquered much of Africa (and were horribly racist in their colonial policies) but it would be worse if the child were named Italy considering she is from Ethiopia.

a Tonggu Momma said...

We chose to change the Tongginator's Chinese name; we gave her a first name that has great meaning within our family and a different Chinese name as a middle name. We had very good reasons for making the change. I also know many who change the child's name with little thought or consideration.

The big thing we all need to remember is that the only person who truly has a right to judge a parent's name choice is the bearer of the name. So far, the Tongginator has been quite relieved that we made the choice we did. Because she most probably would have faced teasing from both American and Chinese communities otherwise.

Anonymous said...

What a child will be called in school is a very valid yardstick IMO. I haven't had any gripes yet. It also depends on whether a child knows his or her name and the context in which they received it, as TM says.

Anonymous said...

I have a bio-son and adopted daughter. When our bio-son was born we had unique boy and girl familiy origin inspired name picked out. As he was a boy we gave him the boy name.

When adopting our daugther from China I mulled the idea of keeping the "welsh/hungarian - Bronwen Mariska" girl name we had originally selected but I just couldn't get my head around it. It would just not have fit our almost 4 year old girl from China.

We went with a completely new and more common "English" first name and kept her full Chinese name as a middle name.

The interesting thing is she was introduced to me with her nickname and I still call her that 99% of the time to her face, and only I only use her English name when talking with others. Everyone else calls her by her English name.

That was our experience.

Gabriela said...

The whole "teased in school" argument is very odd to me. In my experience (I grew up in a multi-cultural city, and attended an elementary school that reflected this) the children I grew up around had no problems pronouncing/accepting some of the more ethnic names.

I also think that if a kid is going to bully, they're going to bully no matter what. A pronounceable name won't stop them, and a name of different origins won't provoke them.

Sheri said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lesley said...

I agree with Gabriela's point. So far every kid has loved my child's (Chinese) name and are jealous that it starts with an X!

Anonymous said...

Yeah well we live in a hottie multicultiral city too and it's the sexualizing of certain names, not the fact that they originate in many parts of the world, that is the problem from Grades 4 - 7.

LisaLew said...

I'd also like to add the instance of a sibling with a family name. In this instance, I think it would be appropriate to also give the child who is adopted a family name, also. You can also incorporate their given name prior to adoption into the family name. I actually did this and it has worked out wonderfully. My daughter takes great pride in her name - she has my middle name and her Chinese name. Later my bio son was born and he, also, got a family name. She was in on the naming, and was very vocal even at 7 that her brother should have a family name, too.

윤선 said...

Ireland??? Is that even a name at all (aside from that of a country)???

I think names are not only a sign/symbol of one's heritage, they're also about identity. They're how we identify ourselves and how we're identified to others. I could write a lot about this topic, but I don't really have the time right now.

But Ireland's definitely kinda weird. Adopted child, or not!

Jessie said...

My cousin has her given name as her middle name (she is Korean)

but coming from the opposite end of everyone else it seems, My daughter was sort of named with my help. In emails before she was born I asked the A parents what they were thinking of names and they were down to 2. I liked one and not the other and told them so and they chose the one I liked. She really needed a name for me to start calling her but for the life of me I couldn't remember what her middle name was supposed to be so I gave her one of my own, Ashlyn (a good ole Irish name!), as I am big on using full names. They came down to visit a month before i was due and I told them the middle name I gave her and why. Turns out they liked it so much and thought it would really be special for her so they gave it to her as a second middle name! That was so sweet and honoring to me. and made me cry. So her name has only legally change a bit with their middle name and last name..

just some thoughts..

A Beautiful Mess said...

We kept our daughters chinese name as part of her middle name. It was hers...I won't assume that it was given with no thought or care. It is hers so we kept it. I can't remember what it means...but there are a zillions Mia's in the world and that name "bitter". Both our daughters have a great-grandmother's middle name which happens to be Mae (for my eldest daughter) and June (for Soph)

Kids can be rotten and can come up with any nasty nickname that they want....but care should be taken when naming any child...believe me I know I teach them every day!!! (Beyonce, Diamond glass, Basil, Tommany and those are the ones I can spell without looking!!!)

K and/or K said...

My husband and I have been waiting to adopt from China for 31 months and have recently begun a concurrent adoption with Thailand (for a toddler). While we had spoken about names for our Chinese infant, once we realized a toddler would enter our home first things changed. We feel strongly that we do not wand to rename a toddler. It is part of their identity and culture. Therefore, if we want to be consisitent, we feel we cannot rename our infant, who enter our home after our toddler. This is the practical peice. But since making this decision we've developed a very strong conviction about keeping thier birth names, as it is one of the few things they can hang onto. It feels special and right, and it will be a delightful surprise to hear thier sweet names someday.

Anonymous said...

I had to say something.

Seriously, "Ireland" for a black child? That's like naming a white child "Africa".

It is incredibly selfish to disregard a child's original name, heritage, ethnicity, etc. when adopting.

My a-mom was never told that I already had a name. We found out years later and she was pissed. She said if she knew I already had a name, she never would have changed it.

Letting a child keep his/her identity is the sign that he/she is being adopted by people who understand the human rights of a child need to be respected.

Anonymous said...

Even if you change a child's name because you genuinely believe they will get teased at school - why tell that child that you thought their name was awful?

As said in this post, is a great way to diss your child's birth mother.

So many people don't seem to get that and if they do get that they don't think it's such a bad thing to diss your child's birth mother.

Glad the person who owns this blog gets it, thank you for that.

Gabriela said...

In reference to re-naming adopted children being a dig (intentional or unintentional) at the birth mother:

I don't know about other countries, but Chinese children are typically named by the orphanage. Their last name references the orphanage of origin (Huai for Huainan SWI). The practice I observed at one orphanage (can't speak for all) was that the secondary name (for example the Li in Sheng-Li) is applied to all children brought to the orphanage in that year. As for the practice of choosing the first name (the orphanage happened to bring in a new baby while I was there), the nurse decided.

Mei Ling said...

Question: If people rarely ever use middle names, then is there actually a point in keeping the Chinese name as a middle name?

I think it's a nice idea (that's what my parents did), but in actuality, I never did use my Chinese name because it was my middle name. I think it was kept sort of like a back-up idea, as in "IF you want to use that name, it's there" as opposed to.. well, actually using it!

For the record, I have two middle names. One is English, the other is the Chinese name I sign onto everything on here. I don't use either. :P

travelmom and more said...

I asked about naming when I visited our daughter's orphanage and the director said they would brainstorm a list of names they liked, and as children came into the orphanage they would assign the next name on the list. As for last names, the year my daughter was admitted to the orphanage all children were given the name of the town. Apparently the Chinese Government has now asked orphanages to give children the surname of the director or some other "normal" Chinese surname so as to not stigmatize the children as orphans because they have uncharacteristic names like the name of a town. Even though the orphanage gave little thought to the naming practice I gave our daughter her Chinese name as her middle name. I have known a lot of people over the years who have used their middle name instead of their given first name, so I don't think it is so strange to keep the Chinese or birth name as a middle name in the event someone chooses to use it in the future. My daughter attends a Chinese language immersion school and her teacher assigned all the children Chinese names, my daughter uses her given Chinese name at school and has a lot of pride in her name.

Tina said...

@ Mei-Ling

It depends on each family practice I suppose. Our Little Man was given the same first name his adoptive father, grand fatrh and great grand father all have. In my husbands family it is common to pass down a famuily first name and then call the individual by their middle name. So "Little человек" goes by "человек". It takes some explaining when you first register for school or interface with folks where full legal name is required but they get the hang of it quick enough.

If that had not been the habit of my husbands family - to share a family name as first and use the middle mane for addressing the individutal - they we would have kept his Russian name as his first name.

Mei Ling said...

"It depends on each family practice I suppose."

Hm, here in Canada, people have middle names all the time but don't use them except for legal registration.

So that's why I was asking.

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KellyW said...

We are currently in the process of adopting from China- what do you guys think of the name :

Mae Ellen (chinese name) Weston (call her Mae)

I love the name Mae- both the sound of it and also the fact that in my family there are a lot of Mary's that I would like to honor and Mae is a nickname for Mary.
What I worry about though- is that I will not be using the Chinese spelling- Mei- will this be strange/disrespectful to spell it Mae instead of Mei?
We do plan to keep part of our child's chinese name as a second middle name. Any advice/opinions welcomed-Thank You

The Principal said...

Hi -

I am in the process of adopting a six-year-old boy from China. My plan is to make his legal name a family name, followed by his Chinese name as his middle name. That said, I'm going to call him by his Chinese name. If he decides at some point to switch to his "American" name, that's fine!

As a school principal, I have a lot of Asian students who decide at some point to have "American" names, while others want to keep their "real" names. Some switch back and forth! I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

I agree, too, with those who pointed out that kids will always find something to tease about with any name/person, and in our increasingly heterogenous society, I wouldn't sweat it if a name was from a different culture. To tell you the truth, I think it's more the adults who have problems with more ethnic names, not the kids!!

Finally, ultimately each family will make the naming decision that feels right for them and their child. For me, I just couldn't take away my little guy's name at age 6. It's who he is!! But I can also see why, for others, a change is what they feel is right.