August 21, 2009

Names Names Naaaames

Every so often Adoptive Families magazine solicits comments for articles they have in the works. They recently sent out this request for a piece on naming adopted children:
Choosing a Name: Naming your child is a complex decision for all parents--and for adoptive parents there may be even more considerations. Tell us about your child's name and how you made this important decision. Did you pick a name you've always liked? Did you name him or her after a family member? Did you ask the birthparents for input? If international, did you "Americanize" the name, or keep the given name as a middle name? If you adopted an older child, did you let the child choose?
Notice anything missing?

Like maybe keeping the name the child already has?

Obviously I'd be a big old hypocrite if I said adoptive parents are wrong to rename. I don't think it's as simple as never/always. But I do think the usual discussion about this issue is incredibly lopsided toward our interests. It's awfully telling that this set of questions (a) pretty much assumes the adoptive parents are going to do the naming and (b) cheerfully hands all the authority* to them. ("Did you ask the birthparents for input? ...[D]id you let the child choose?")

This was my response (hey, they asked):
It's odd that the set of "Choosing a Name" questions gives no nod to adoptive parents who opt not to name their children. A child's given name can be a powerful connection to their pre-adoption life and identity. Given the many families who maintain this continuity by not changing names--or who name a child in partnership with the birth parents in open domestic adoptions--I'm surprised this viewpoint wasn't represented. It is often assumed that adoptive parents will change their child's name, but I would hope any AF piece would help us think about naming in adoption in new ways and include a wide range of options.
Maybe they'll reprint Dawn's essay on not changing her daughter's name and get everyone all riled up again.

* I'm not talking about the legal authority to name/rename an adopted child; that's never in question. This is about our moral authority to re-name someone, which is much murkier to me, especially in a multi-party situation like adoption.


Dawn said...

Our decision not to rename Madison still remains one of the most controversial things about our open adoption, (which is also why it's the sample chapter I send out with my book proposal). People sometimes assume it was easy for us because Madison is such a non-offensive name but actually that's why it was hard for me. Noah already ended up (accidentally) with one of the most common names ever and I was determined that our next kid wouldn't have to go through life with her last initial pegged onto her name. Shallow it is, but that's pretty much why my first thought WASN'T to keep her name; I wanted her to have something a little less common. But there you go -- she's a Madison through and through and I'm awfully glad that we didn't end up changing it to Charlotte like we originally planned. (Can you IMAGINE? Charlotte? As if!)

Heather said...

I totally struggled with how common Beth's initial name choice for Firefly was. Would you believe we still get pushback from some people about not resisting when Beth wanted to name her? And it's not even what ended up happening!

It's such a multi-faceted, emotional topic that I think people assume you're critiquing their choices when you're just sharing your personal experience. So the defensiveness kicks it. And if not naming is always treated like this out-there, weird choice (or a capitulation to first parents) then the controversy will never die.

(She is SO not a Charlotte! Ha! Although I could totally see Lottie.)

Valerie said...

This is so interesting! My son's adoptive parents named our baby while I was still pregnant. They asked for my opinion (and I DEFINITELY had an opinion), but they named him something else. The name they chose fits him perfectly, of course, but it's not a name that I would have chosen, ever. I don't know how I feel about it, now. I'll have to think more on the matter. Because on the one hand, I completely acknowledge the adoptive parents as HIS PARENTS, and why wouldn't a child's parents choose his name? That's how it's supposed to work. But on the other hand, I really like what you've said about a partnership between the adoptive parents and the birth parents. Very interesting...

Anonymous said...

New here, as I'm scoping out the blogger bingo participants. We adopted our son at five weeks old. He already had a name, and MANY people asked us if we were going to change it. We kept his name, Braden, despite never having heard it before. It was his name. Why would we change it? We did change his middle name since it was quite odd. We changed it to my father's name. It's a very interesting debate. (Side note: Adopted son through social services. He was a voluntary adoptive placement, zero contact from biological mother, unknown father.)

Anonymous said...

My kids are adopted from Haiti, and it sure would have been EASIER for me if I had renamed them, or at least changed the spelling or the pronunciation of their names. For example, I have a Cliford with one f. Totally uncommon. His insurance gets denied all the time b/c people don't pay attention to the ONE f deal. My other son's name is Emmanuel.. but it's pronounced Eh-man-YELL. He came home at 2, and I actually tried to make the pronunciation switch on him, but he wouldn't have anything to do with it. I always figure their names and their lives are the first gifts their moms gave them.. who am I to take them away? (Of course the irony re: the spelling is that she can't read or write and likely had nothing to do with that anyway.)

mayhem said...

I had to let my subscription to Adoptive Families magazine drop. They drove me crazy with this type of inquiry. I once got a survey from them asking questions like, "How did you create boundaries in your open adoption? Have your child's birth parents or relatives overstepped those boundaries?" Stuff like that... Begging for answers that showed first parents as pushy, invasive, etc.

I remember when Dawn's essay came out and I saw the comments in the magazine and online. It was like no one even READ HER ARTICLE and they missed the point completely.

Anyway, my kids both have their names from their first parents as middle names. We call them fairly often by those names as well as by the names we gave them. We have an open relationship with Pumpkin's first family, and he goes by his other name (Dante) more often than my older son who has a South African name (Kgothatso). He just seems to have more people who know him as Dante.

I hope the boys will feel free to use either name, or both. I hope they don't feel like the fact that we gave them names means that we changed them or want something different from who they really are.

Kristin said...

It is interesting to me that the issue of naming in adoption is such a hot topic...

My sweetie and I have some extra anxiety about how it will all play out when we adopt, as our child's last name will have to be determined as well.

I wrote about it on my blog recently:

Deb said...

Originally we were going to adopt from Russia and unless it was going to be a name that would have caused LOTS of problems and teasing we would have kept the name he was given.
But we adopted domestically and at the encouragement of our agency our daughter's first mom named her, but just her first name.
We decided to keep it as part of her name right away. And then when we met her first mom and learned why she picked the name we knew it would be her first name. And it took us days to come up with a middle name. She was thrilled that we kept the name she chose as her first name.

Her name, Isabel Michelle. Isabel is her first mom's middle name, Michelle is mine. She shares both her mother's middle names.
And I sent that in to AF. I hope the publish it, not because I want the recognition but because I hope people will realize how beautiful it can be to honor their child's first mom in choosing the name they do. They might not know the meaning behind their given name.
Names are important to me. We had 3 girl names picked out from the time we were married, 6 years before our daughter was born. And we didn't use any of them, because we wanted to honor her first mom.

luna said...

we named our daughter together, discussing names for months before she was born and deciding for sure a few hours after her birth.

her birth mom didn't want to make specific recommendations, though she gave input and opinions whenever we asked.

our baby's middle name honors her.

Sonya said...

Our oldest son's first mom did not name him and did not want to know what we named him, but then our adoption became WIDE open when he was 18 days old with us meeting her for the first time and dropping him off to visit for 2 hours (hard at the time, but created a lot of trust in the relationship). We met our second son's first mom and her mom 11 days before her due date. They were already calling him Stephen after first mom's dad Steve. When they left the meeting room, I told my husband that if they did indeed pick us, we HAD to keep his name. It wouldn't seem right to change it. We changed the middle name (supposed to be after first mom's grandad) but it is our oldest son's middle name. First mom was not thrilled, but we were not going to have both boys with the same middle name. So, that's how we got a Silas James and a Stephen Josiah!!

Jess said...

Good night, no flipping kidding.

I'm glad you said something to them! How careless!

Ava's bio parents wanted us to name her, and gave her our last name on her bith certificate...but we were open during match to the possibility that we would NOT name our child.

We ended up asking for her bio parents' input when naming her...and wanted to use her birthmom's middle name for her middle name, which I know meant a lot to her (birthmom, Ava's only 2, lol). Additionally, we had gone over a set of names, I think there were 3-4...and one day birthmom called me and we were chatting, and she mentioned that she and birthdad really liked Ava out of our list. Crazy enough, before the phone call, I had emailed her saying Travis and I liked Ava best, as well.

Crazy, crazy, crazy. It was just one of those moments that I'll always remember and treasure. That we both wanted to name her the same thing. Her name was so easy, in a long line of things that were so hard, it was easy and magical.

Anonymous said...

I love that you pointed this out to AF. I missed that when I read the blurb because I do not have an open adoption. Thanks for opening my eyes.

Jamie said...

naming my child was always something that i felt passionately about. i didn't want to be in a situation where i didn't get to choose the name ~ it was something very sacred to me and it was something i had dreamed about for 7 years (probably longer!)i felt so much had already been taken from me and that was one thing i was putting my foot down on........
until i met milo's birthmom and the issue became something i actually WANTED her to be a part of. :) amazing how priorities change when you meet the woman who is carrying your child. :)she wanted us to name him, but in the end it was a combined effort. we chose his first name (with her approval) and she ended up choosing his middle name. :) it's something i think will mean a lot to him and i'm glad it happened the way it did. :)

Sonya said...

I teach 3 year old twins in Sunday School at church. They, along with their 2 year old brother are being adopted through foster care into a family with 6 kids. They've been with this family for at least 18 months already. Now that the adoptions are finalizing, the parents changed their names. They want everyone to call them by their new first names in conjuction with their birth names as middle names while they are "transitioning". I have no idea why they are doing this, but how confusing to the kids?? WHY???

pickel said...

Both our boys were adopted internationally and it was VERY important to us to keep part of their names as their first name. TO us, that is who they are, where they came from, and will always be a part of them. Our oldest had a great name so we kept it. However, it was very common so we use his initials. We did not really like our youngest's first name so we made his surname his first name and it fits him perfectly.

Ironically, they ended up with the same initials.

Their names honor their birth parents as best we could.

cindy psbm said...

I accidently named my birthson at birth, or rather, the first father filled out the forms for me and knew the 'dream names' I had for him.
As a first mom, I had no intention of really naming my birthson, as I said before in that other comment on that other post you did.
I was not so confidant and brave as some first moms seem to be, as I think about the stories I have read from Dawn's blog and yours.

Honestly, the name that my son's adoptive parents choose is fine.
I actually wrote in my journal(a real one, not digtal) that 'couldn't think of any bratty kid or mean guy with that name'

It was important that his name be unique, and his adoptive parents understood that when we talked because they purposly searched the net for the least common names, and came up with my birthson name, and it's not a 'weird name' either!!
Also the name only bares reference to a fictional charactor, which I liked because the name I dreamed for him, (which was completely different from the name that his adoptive parents choose) was also a 'charactor' in a story as well.
Can you imagine if YOU had your name changed as a child??
I cannot, I worry about how my birthson will feel about the 'birth name' that is very much a part of his life's story...

Elle said...

We chose our daughter's first name because it was the name of a favorite literary character and also had the same meaning as my name. We wanted to give her a middle name that was also connected to our family, but in the end we decided to use one of the names her birthmother liked as her middle name (as many adoptive parents do). This is something I really regret about our adoption experience. If I could go back I would select both first and middle names that were meaningful to me, my husband, and our families. My daughter's middle name is pretty, but it is the kind of name that has no reason behind it (it's just a name her birthmom liked, not something connected to anything special in her life... even the name's meaning has a kind of negative connotation).

We are in the process of our second adoption and now we know that choosing our child's entire name is very important to us and we will not be asking for input from our future child's birthparents. Maybe that is cruel or selfish, but I want my children to feel secure as part of our family and I think naming is an important part of that. I don't fault other parents for deciding what is best as far as their child's name goes, but I just know this is something that is very important to us.

Mrs.Joyner said...

I was adopted in the early-80's, when an open adoption was ALMOST unheard of..and my birthname was the same as my adoptive mom's first name..I started life as Gayle mom is Gail Elaine. My mom & dad KNEW from this we were meant to be together. I was re-named Mari (after my paternal grandmother Mary Margie) and Ann (after my maternal grandmother Anna-Louise). See, everryone has double names:) Im glad my parents changed my names, as my life as "Gayle" was really hard and full of abuse. But my mom & dad kept a variant of the "Marie" to remember how special being adopted is.

If the DH & I ever adopt, we'll keep some form of the babies name, so they always know how special they are :)

call me mama said...

Nicely said. We've adopted two boys. Our first First family asked us to name 'our' boy. We had three names- but one was the name of our First mom's grandfather. Presto! Tears all around. Check!
Our second son's story is a little different. C asked us if we would consider a name- we said we would- but were thinking of a name too. When we shared our name idea, she told us that was her dad's name and brother's middle name. This came as a complete surprise to us. (We new her father as his middle name) We asked if it would be ok for us to use it. They all responded yes. C named the baby in the hospital. We (sadly) assumed it was the name we had discussed. We called the baby 'his' name, replied to notes from C with 'his' name- introduced him to the world with 'his' name. Weeks after his birth, we mistakenly got a bill for C's stay at the hospital- we realized our mistake. C had named him something else. We were hurt- yes, but ashamed and sad that we had not asked, not even considered that she would go another way with naming. Also, I am still deeply sad that our boy will have two names- that it will be a question- that we didn't consider C (or him) when we named him. Will he regret our decision?
C used his given name for a bit- after we spoke about the billing- and our misunderstanding. She kept a baby book with his first name on it. I was so sad seeing it. Each time it reflected the fact I had been so inconsiderate.
We all use our given name now- H is two and a half. C's album is put away. Still, I wonder how I will tell him he once was given another name.

The Hopeful Elephant said...

When we went to get our son...we found his mother literally on the side of a mountain in a little shack. There was no cell service, it was cold...very Walton's Mountainesque.

After she refused to sign the papers because she was mad at her ex husband and sent us away...we returned to our hotel where I called my mom.

I kept telling her I wanted to sneak off in the night and hijack him (I had witnessed some, shall we say "illegal activities" while I was with birthmom) and bring him to our hotel.

Thus, his name is Jack. As in Hi-Jack.

(I'm reading very slowly through your archives. Just wanted to pipe in so you know I'm here!)

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