Thursday, April 26, 2012

In defense of the name

I've had a couple of people ask me about why we decided to give Song Guo a different name, so I want to explain our decision.  This is a hot topic in the adoption world, with strong feelings on both sides of the issue.  I don't expect to change anyone's mind, and that's fine.  It's our decision and we're comfortable with it, but maybe this explanation will help those who've wondered about it.

For starters, we can definitely see this issue from a variety of perspectives.  We have not changed all of our children's names, and in many cases, I've urged others to consider keeping a child's name.  In most instances, it was because the child was older, but "older" is a pretty broad term, and there are other factors to consider.  I don't think there's any right or wrong answer, but I do think it's important to give it a lot of thought and consider all the possibilities.

Our first adoption was of an 8-month-old baby, and there was no question that we would give her a name, in part because that's just what everyone did (we were part of a 12,000+ China adoption community on Yahoo, and it was definitely standard operating procedure), and in part because she was a baby.  We kept her Chinese name as her middle name, and as she has grown, we've told her she's free to use either name. We've told her, for example, that when she is older and may come to find herself living among more Asians, she might decide then to go with that name.  For a while, she asked us to call her by her Chinese name, and we obliged, but very quickly she wanted to go back to her first name.  It's also important to understand that the names given to children in Chinese orphanages very, very rarely are their original given names.  Because babies and children are abandoned (there is no legal way to place a child for adoption in China), it is the orphanage workers that assign a name to the child.  In some cases, there is some significance to the name chosen, but more often than not, it's simply a name chosen out of necessity, sometimes from a rotating list.  These are not names that are given by loving family members.  On top of that, our experience has been that the kids are rarely called by those names anyway, and are instead referred to by nicknames which DO have some basis in the nannies' affections for the children.  Maizie/Yun Gui was called "Yun Bao Bao," for example.

When our next daughter came along, a toddler, we followed the same process as before, giving her a new name and keeping her Chinese name as a middle name.  She was known as "Xin-Xin," and that nickname stuck with us for a long time.  She was not referred to by Tian Xin, her orphanage-given name.

Our next adoption was of three children from Haiti, and our first experience with an "older" child of 7.  In this case, we did not change her name.  It had been chosen for her by her birth parents and was thus very meaningful.  Although our daughter initially expressed that she'd like to be called something different, she soon changed her mind and her original name stuck.  In the cases of the two toddler-age children that we adopted at the same time, we decided to change their names.  In this instance it was partially a desire to keep with our same approach (new name, old name used as a middle name), but also a desire to deal with some challenging names.  Our then-toddler daughter has albinism, and her birth parents had chosen to give her a name that referenced her coloring.  We felt uncomfortable with saddling her with a name that was likely to cause additional teasing, so we dropped that name altogether, and I don't regret it a bit.  We chose instead to use her birthmother's surname as a middle name.  With our then toddler-son, the decision to drop a name was also made.  His name was a girl's name in this country (without exception - not something like Brooke or Chris or Morgan), so we chose to use his birth mother's surname as his middle name.

Our next adoption was an almost-8-year-old girl who came to us from a disruption, but was originally from China.  Even though the name her previous adoptive parents had given her was not one we would have chosen, we kept it because of her age and because it was given to her out of love.  They, however, had dropped her Chinese name altogether, so when we formally adopted her, we restored it following the same pattern as we had with our other kids.

Next came our kids from Ethiopia.  We did not change our daughter's name because of her age (she was a teen), and might not have changed our then 15-month-old son's name, except that it was extremely similar to one of our other children's names.  In fact, when we were trying to fly home, we found we were short a ticket because they thought our two sons were actually one person with the name slightly misspelled.  We used our son's name as a middle name, and we chose a new Ethiopian name for him - Bekele.

So that brings us to Song Guo.  Song Guo is 7, so technically within the "older" child range, but we also know that with her Down syndrome, she has significant cognitive and communicative delays.  We expect that she is probably referred to by some nickname (likely Guo-Guo), and if that's the case, we'll continue to call her by that nickname and slowly transition her to the new name.  In her case, I can't really put my finger on the compulsion we felt to give her a name of our choosing.  It just feels right.  Knowing that we agonized over choosing just the right thing, and finally found a name that has a meaning so suited for her, speaks of our love for her.  Her orphanage name is cute (and will be kept as her middle name), but it wasn't chosen by people who LOVE her.  I'm sure they must love her now - who couldn't?! - but I just want her to have a name that her mommy and daddy chose for her.

1 comment:

  1. The important thing is how much you love her, which is evident already!