Saturday, July 10, 2010

Another Naming Issue

I've posted before about naming in adoption (see here, for example), which is an issue that sometimes appalls me and always fascinates me.  Watching Wo Ai Ni Mommy raised an issue for me.  The American name chosen for the 8-year-old girl is Faith, quite a pretty name.  But in pronouncing the name, the Chinese orphanage official and Faith herself  said "Face."  No big surprise -- there is no "th" sound in Chinese.

When I named my first child Zoe I didn't realize there was no 'Z' sound in Chinese.  Every native Chinese speaker trying to pronounce Zoe's name says "Soey" or "Joey" instead.  For our 5 months in China in 2007, Zoe was Joey!  Every year at Chinese School with a new teacher, Zoe has to correct the pronunciation of her name.

If I had realized the difficulty this would cause I would not have named her Zoe.  So this is just another issue in naming in international adoption -- ask how the name would be pronounced in the native language.  Your child will be interacting with that native language in a variety of ways, both as a child and an adult.  It will ease their way if their name is pronounceable by native speakers.

18 comments:

Joy said...

We did the same thing with our daughter adopted a few days before she turned 14. We were not even thinking about pronunciation when we named her Sarah. She could not say the "r" for a long time, so it sounded more like "Sawah."

She also could not say her sister Allison's name. It came out "Owwisa" for the longest.

Our youngest is Quinn and our guide last trip told us there is a word in Chinese that sounds just the same so were fine there. ;-)

Mei Ling said...

There is a "z" sound. It's just comboed with a vowel and cannot be used as a starting consonant all on its own.

"Bi zi, ming zi, jiao zi" etc

I remember trying to teach Xiao-Ping my English name and using the exact phonetics from her alphabet to "convert" the sound into an English one.

She still pronounced it really awkwardly and reverted to my Chinese name.

Anonymous said...

Re-naming a child? I don't get this, especially when the child is not an infant. So what if his/her name isn't an "American name".

This is just another way for adoptive parents to wipe the child's "slate" (family history/identity) clean.

Adoptees are forced to give up so much of their identities, just to get "forever families". This is a cruel and selfish act perpetrated by their "forever parents".

travelmom and more said...

I gave my daughter a name that can translate to any language if she chooses to use the translated version, which is what I do when people can't pronunce it, I tell them my name in their language. I also kept her Chinese name as her legal middle name so she can use it if she chooses. At school she uses her Chinese name because she goes to a Chinese immersion school, with her friends she uses her English name. Right now she loves her English name but is warming up to her Chinese name.

Joy said...

To Anonymous

Our oldest daughter chose to take her English name. We did not force it on her. We went to China with no English name in mind for her, as we knew she already had a name! We had to come up with something on the spot in order for the paperwork to be finished, according to our guide. How this is cruel and selfish on our part, I have no idea.

We call all of our girls by their Chinese names when they want us to. It always has been and always will be their choice. We did not "change" anything. Their orginal Chinese names are still there. Nothing has been hidden and no slates have been wiped clean. We acknowlege our daughters' past lives almost daily.

You shouldn't pass judgement on people without knowing all of the details first.

Linda said...

I totally agree with anonymous. No child should have to lose their country, their identity, their family, their heritage, language AND name. It's sick.

If you "had to come up with a name on the spot", Joy, why did you just not use her REAL name? Too much trouble to learn how to spell or pronounce it?

As far as not "forcing" her American name on her, what do you expect her to do? She is now under your rules, lol.

So sad...

Von said...

No child should ever have their name changed.Isn't it time the adoption industry got real on the damage this does kids? Besides, kids who are Asian with American names are immediately carrying a large label which reads Adoptee, apart from the fact it is incongrous to have a name which is a wrong fit.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree that the child's name should be preserved as some form of their name, but I have to say that those proclaiming that "American" names scream adoption are OFF BASE. How many second generation children have Chinese names that they use at school or even have as a Chinese first name--not so very many. It is ridiculous to believe that all Chinese-Americans name their children Chinese names.

It is the child's choice to use whatever name they want to use--and yes, they are under "our" rules, but you are not giving a whole lot of credit to children. They will use whatever name they feel comfortable with when and how they choose too--just as children of Asian Americans do.

We have met my daughter's first family--they did not give her the Chinese name that she used for two plus years of her life and my daughter has morphed part of their name into her legal name. Yes, SHE decided.

Yes, names are very important and do carry with them history and should be retained, but it is the child that ultimately decides what name they will use, as AP's we MUST allow for that choice and encourage their independence in that regard.


Wendy

Mei Ling said...

"They will use whatever name they feel comfortable with when and how they choose too--just as children of Asian Americans do."

Their level of comfort in *using* their Chinese names is often far more influenced by the background in which they have been immersed - which is, actually, at the parent's discretion.

So the adoptive parent does have more influence than they would initially believe.

It's a bit like the parents who move to an all-white neighbour who say something to the effect of "If my child wants to immerse herself in Chinese culture, I'll leave that up to her."

Well. If you're raising her in a non-Chinese environment, why would she want to immerse herself in something she's never experienced before and is clearly not as significant as the adoptive parent would imply it to be?

If it is as important - as in, the adoptive parent feels it's best to let the child choose - the problem is that the child won't know until the ADULT chooses to help the child integrate by OFFERING the chances.

That would be like my mom saying "I'll go to China if Mei-Ling ever decides she wants to go" - except never offering anything cultural about China and never taking me there. Why would I want to go to a place if there are clearly no expressed efforts to indicate we *could* go?

Saying "if" does not suggest a genuine interest.

I always see adoptive parents talking about if their children wish to change their names when they are older.

Kids, however, wish to fit in. Bring them to a city where there is no diversity, or no communities where there is no others as the same origin, and of COURSE they won't want to change their names.

Mei Ling said...

Let me clarify - I don't agree with shoving Saturday Chinese classes down the adoptee's throat, especially if they insist on NOT going - because I know how that feels.

HOWEVER. I was being raised in an ALL WHITE COMMUNITY. Of course I didn't want to go - why would I want to learn a language when there was no use and no one encouraging me to speak it?

This is the same issue as the name change. Why would a child want to use their Chinese name if they grow up in an English-speaking household in an English school environment with English-speaking friends?

That is what I'm saying - that background will have an influence ultimately about culture/name changes, and that saying "if" is just as laid-back as not leading.

"if" can far too easily turn into "never."

Anonymous said...

We live in a very diverse area (a university neighborhood in a large city) and many Asians we know (particularly those from Korea and China) choose Anglicized names for themselves and their children. The names often have a sound or meaning similar to the person's original name.

While there's a difference between choosing an alternate name for a biological child (or, it goes without saying, renaming yourself) and renaming a child who already has a name, I wonder if adoptive parents should consider the the naming practices of the cultural community their child would interact with in the U.S. Is it important to have an Anglicized name in addition to your original birth name, if that is what "everybody else" has?

When older children are adopted, I think they should be allowed to rename themselves, if they even want to change their names. (Perhaps adoptive parents could offer some suggestions, or veto anything that's a potential liability.) Whether they end up going by the name or not, I think they should have the most input in the decision.

Bukimom said...

"kids who are Asian with American names are immediately carrying a large label which reads Adoptee"

This is definitely not true. My husband was born and raised as a 2nd generation Japanese-American in Los Angeles. Most of the people in the Japanese American community chose to give their children "English" names as they were eager for their children to fit in as Americans. It was also very common to give the child a Japanese middle name in order to keep a connection with the original culture.

Anne said...

This is an interesting issue. One thing Malinda didn't mention, which we learned from Amy Eldridge's presentation (Love Without Boundaries), is that the names given children in the orphanage immediately identify them as an orphan as opposed to having a family name. If I understood her correctly, this practice is changing in that the CCAA is now requesting that children be given the surname of the director of the orphange as opposed to a name which identified them as an orphan or the location where they were abandoned (an immediate giveaway to anyone Chinese that they are an orphan).

malinda said...

That's right, Anne -- a pretty well-known practice was to give orphans a surname that meant "county," which essentially meant "ward of the state." Or they may be named for the district where they were found, which isn't a real Chinese surname. But the practice differs from orphanage to orphanage, even before the CCAA changed the naming rules. My kids have the surname Jin, which is a real Chinese surname, but the orphanage director picked that as the surname of kids from that orphanage from the nearby town of Jintian'cum, which was the sight of a famous peasant rebellion!

Elaine said...

Both of my daughters - born 2001 and 2005 - were given counties/location names as surnames. They were also given names that matched other babies brought into the orphanage at the same time as they were. My older daughter (13 months at adoption) clearly knew her name and we used it for a time, kept it as a middle name and slowly transitioned her to a name from us - both an "English" and a "Chinese" name. My younger daughter (8 months at adoption) had no recognition of her name. The Nanny at her orphanage had no idea what her name was when we visited 3 days after adoption apparently because we had removed the tape on her arm with her name on it. We never used that name for her, though it is one of her middle names.

Making blanket statements about what should or shouldn't happen with the names of adopted children is rarely a smart thing to do. Circumstances vary.

Anonymous said...

From what I have observed from my older daughter's orphanage, the director is now sometimes giving children her surname, but now always. I think that because of the stigma surrounding disabilities, some directors may be reluctant to give disabled children their surname.

Oh, my younger daughter's name ends with /th/ and it seems that many Asians cannot pronounce it. But as Wendy said, there is a /z/ sound in Chinese. However, the pinyin pronunciation of "zh" (which is slightly different than z) is more like a /j/ sound, so maybe that contributes the confusion in pronouncing "zoey" for those Chinese who know pinyin.
Sue (aka anonymous)

Anonymous said...

Oops.. that was Mei Ling, not Wendy who pointed out that there is a /z/ sound in Chinese. Also, "now always " should be "not always."

Donna said...

I agree that adoptive children should not be forced to give up their name, have any of you given thought that some adoptees, like my daughter Faith do not like their chinese names? Faith was given the option not only to keep her chinese name, but to choose ANY american name. I simply had someone translate if she LIKED the name Faith. (and Malinda, before the end of our first day, she was pronouncing the "th") We have recently had the conversation again and Faith will eventually change her chinese name with help from someone knowledgable in how chinese names are chosen because the individual that picked it for her just picked two random chinese words. The name was and is embarrassing to her.