Monday, June 26, 2006

What's in a name?

First of all, I know I haven't posted in FOREVER, but Blogger for some reason isn't uploading my pictures! And posts without pictures aren't any fun! I don't know when I'll be able to upload them again though, so I figured I better just do a post without.

Okay, on to the topic of my post. One of the many interesting things about international adoption is the whole naming issue. When you receive a referral for a child or children, they already have a name. Maybe their name was given to them by birth parents, or by a caregiver, or by the person who found them if they had been abandoned. Regardless, they come with a name.

There is a lot of debate within the adoption community over whether adoptive parents should keep the child's given name, change it, keep it as a middle name, etc. Many things play into a parent's decision--the age of the child, who named them, what their given name is.

When Kevin and I received our referral for twin boys back in December, we waffled back and forth on what to do. Our sons were relinquished by their birth mother as unnamed, and were named Yosef and Biniam by a volunteer at Layla House, AAI's facility in Ethiopia. From the getgo we liked their Ethiopian names, but also wanted to give them names ourselves. We loved the names Ezra and Isaiah and made the decision to keep their Ethiopian names as middle names, and so they would be named Ezra Yosef and Isaiah Biniam. We felt once the boys were old enough they could choose which name to go by.

While we were in Ethiopia though we called them Yosef and Biniam. Some nicknames also emerged: Yos, Yosie, Bin, Binny. We planned to switch over to their new names once we got home.

Interestingly though, the name Ezra Yosef "stuck" more than Isaiah Biniam for most people. As for myelf, I could never seem to make the switch for either of them. I have rarely called them Ezra or Isaiah. To me they were Yosef and Biniam. A lot of people couldn't keep the names Ezra and Isaiah straight--I think perhaps the names are too similar. I've had different people ask me in a surprised voice why we switched the names. AND, perhaps the biggest issue we have come across, has been the few times where I have gotten the impression that people are against anything more ethnic-sounding than the name Bob. That made me sad because while we had good reasons for our initial choice, Kevin and I NEVER wanted, nor want, to gloss over or erase any part of our sons' heritage or past. I want my kids to have a healthy sense of self and identity. Part of that means being comfortable with where you came from, with who you are, and with where you're headed.

After a LOT of discussion, we have made the decision to keep Yosef and Biniam as the boys' first names. We aren't sure what we'll do for middle names, but we have a couple of ideas and a couple of months to decide. We have such fond memories of the caregivers at Layla House kissing our boys and holding them, going "Yosie! Binny!" We even got to meet and spend some time talking with the volunteer who named our sons while we were there. Sometimes I look at Yos and Bin and think, how crazy that they spent over a year of their lives in a place so far from here! How strange that they had a life before us Heldts, filled with other faces, other experiences, a completely different culture. What a gift that they spent their first year of life in a place that loved them, cared for them, and sought a family for them. What a gift now, for us, to get to have these boys as our sons.

SO, that is our journey with the names. (I would love to hear other adoptive parents' thought processes on this with their own children. From what I've observed, it would seem most parents have changed their child's name.) In case any of you are wondering, the boys respond to either name and know them both, so there won't be any confusion in dropping Ezra and Isaiah. Once our sons are older, if they are uncomfortable having "different" names, we can certainly figure something out. But for now, Yosef and Biniam they shall remain.


Rachel said...

We already talked about this last week, and I have no idea as I have only named a child at their birth.

As to the picture problem, sometimes I have to upload the pictures individually. Other days I can do a block of pictures at the same time. So I usually go through both methods before saving my post as a draft to try again another day.

Raskell Party of 8 said...

I think however you feel God is calling you - do it! :) We have our names picked out for our kids which are different for the kids. One name was too close to a bad word and we just didn't want to have him teased. I know what you mean about calling them their name. I got so used to calling our 5 yr old by his Ethiopian name it might be hard to change. I figure we still have time and we will see what we come up with. I think they are beautiful names.

Jeannett Gibson said...

I was one of those folks who could never really remember who was Isaiah and who was Ezra...besides, in your case, Yosef and Biniam are phonetic, easy to say and really not THAT "weird". I like that you are keeping Yosi and Binny! (and NOT Joseph and Benjamin! )


shells said...

hey whats wrong with ben and jospeh? :)

The Barr Family said...

We have the same thing here! My one brother who was the most outspokenly critical of the adoption is also the most ouspoken about keeping their Ethiopian names...what we have found is the name we originally thought was easier- Maren- is actually the harder name to pronounce correctly-in Ethiopian its pronounced so differently so he was getting aclled all sorts of things- so we have added an american name---but Yabsera- the name we originally thought was harder is the easier- more phonetic- to pronouce- we still don't really know what to do...

dharmamama said...

Brianna, I am very, very happy to hear that you have chosen to keep the boys' Ethiopian names. While I personally really like the names Ezra (especially) and Isaiah, I am one of those people who thinks that kids' names should be left alone. I understand the reasons that people choose to change their kids' names, I just generally don't agree with doing so.

We were pretty "lucky," I guess, in that our kids' names are cognates of "American" (whatever *that* means) names. The names we use in our blog are pseudonyms; the kids' actual names are very similar to names that are familiar in America. Although the pronunciations are different enough that their names are frequently butchered (especially when combined with our Slovenian surname), no one would look at their names and think, "WOAH! What in the world are THOSE names?"

But Abbat and I talked for years before adopting about whether we would change a child's name. The conclusion we came to is that if the child has a name, that is the child's name and it's not ours to change. Also, as our adoption agency for our son (which strongly encourages parents to keep their kids' African names) pointed out, the kids come to us with nothing of their own besides their name. It seems a shame, to me, to strip that away.

Some people have told me that it makes a difference who named the kids. Our daughter was named by her birthparents; our son was named by a nun and his name was merely an "orphanage name" (so we were told). That seems to make sense from a parent's view but not from a child's view. A child's name is his name. Young children, especially, generally don't care where their name came from.

Lastly, we felt that, as much as we would try to make the kids proud of their Ethiopian heritage, if we changed their names we would be sending the message that they needed a new, American name in order to be part of the family, that their Ethiopian name wasn't good enough/was too weird for us.

I'm not trying to offend those who changed their kids' names. These are just the things we thought about and the choices we made.

MP2 said...

Hi there - before our referral, we had decided to keep our baby's Ethiopian name and add Adam for a middle name. Imagine our astonishment when "Teeny" Adama was referred to us! In our daily speech, we've taken to referring to him as "Adam", though that will be a nickname, of sorts, and we will keep his full Ethiopian name.

Brianna Heldt said...

Thanks to everyone for posting your thoughts. Enat what you said really resonated with me, especially the part about sending a mixed message. It's an interesting topic, to be sure.

"M" said...

I am still waiting for my daughter, but I've thought I'd like to keep her Chinese name in some form... And I like what you've done to honor your children's names. :)

LID 10/31/05 (China adoption)

Kate said...

I adopted domestically, a little girl who was originally named Skipper. I gave her the first name Isobel and made Skipper the second middle name. When I adopted internationally, the little girl was named Dagmar, which I loved. I gave her the midle name Claire, which I originally considered naming her. I've embarked on my third adoption -- domestically again and have a name picked out, if the first name grows on me, I will definately keep it and give her my picked out name as her middle name, but I think your chosen names should definately have a part in their names.


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