Monday, October 12, 2009

Names

I love naming children. At earlier stages in our parenting, I would have names in line for future children, often several names 'on hold' at a time. We never set out to have a naming pattern (all names starting with the same letter, for instance), but over time we realized we had fallen into a pattern. Through no advance planning, the first several children all ended up with family names and each started with a unique initial consonant. Once we realized the patten, it then became our 'thing' and we continued the pattern with subsequent children.

This is all well and good when one is dealing with one's own birth children. But adding adopted children into the mix adds a layer of complication, especially if a different birth culture is involved. We never take the naming of a child lightly, but the naming of our adopted children was an issue that we spent considerable time pondering. How should we balance the child's history, birth culture, involvement of birth parents, and current reality all in one name? Our conclusions, we have since discovered, are a minority view among adoptive families, but they are the ones which we felt most comfortable with.

We have chosen to keep some part of our sons' Vietnamese names and give each of them Western family names as middle names. We use their Vietnamese names as their common name. Several factors played into this decision. The first was that we were not adopting babies. These were children who had lives before joining our family; lives which included Vietnamese names. Both J. and I felt very strongly that taking their names from them, on top of everything else, was something we just couldn't do. One of our sons was named by his birth mother, adding another level of connectedness to his past history. I also spent a lot of time discussing names with other Asians. While not adoptees, they are immigrants who have learned to live in a second culture. In talking to them, they felt that names provide a clue to who the person is who bears that name. Some of them, though not all, had Americanized their first name, but still had an Asian surname. The surname provided the clue that the person bearing the name was Asian. I heard stories about Asians with very Gaelic sounding names, and the surprise they were often greeted with when others discovered they were Asian. Given our surname, we wanted to use names which would not cause others surprise when matched with the face. We also wanted to honor our children's Vietnamese heritage and show our pleasure in it. Our children are free to use their middle names (and sometimes TM will spend an afternoon wanting to use his middle name), but by choosing to commonly use their Vietnamese names we feel we are helping to show our acceptance of who they are.

All that said, we did change part of one boy's name. Most of his VN name was virtually unpronounceable by English speakers, including his new parents. With the help of a Vietnamese friend, we chose a name which was easier to pronounce and also the name of a VN historical figure to tie him to his birth county's history. We combined part of his given name with the new one to make a hybrid first name. The only downside to our decision is the initial mangling of the name when people see it for the first time, and sometimes they are misspelled. But this can happen even with Western names. J.'s name is very often misspelled and I'm sure many people pronounced Hermione wrong the first time they read it.

I feel I need to add a disclaimer to all of this. There are many reasons why people choose to name their children as they do. Just because this is what we have chosen to do, please do not assume that I am unaware of the many good reasons for choosing a different path....or that by not having chosen that path ourselves we think others are wrong. It just means we had different priorities in making our decision.

One last story about names. Yesterday our church voted to call a new senior pastor (who we are very excited about) and there was a reception to meet him afterwards. When we introduced ourselves, he heard TM's name (though we usually use just the second half) he said, "Did you know that the word 'M-' in Hebrew means 'with God'? Your name reminds you that God is always with you." TM is very proud of his name and I love that he has yet another layer of meaning to it. TM carries with him, in his very name, the reminder of God's redemption.

If you want to read more about names head over to Grown in My Heart and their blog carnival on naming.

1 comment:

Heidi said...

Thanks for sharing. In my limited experience, a large number of people I know who have adopted older children (say, over 3) keep their given names, especially if given by birthparents.

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