What’s in a name?


Names are funny things.  We don’t get to pick them, but yet we become so attached to them.  Sometimes we are even bothered if people don’t get the exact version of our name correct.  I can relate to this one.  My name is Jenny.  I hate it when people call me Jennifer.  Unless you are about to take blood or file my taxes, you need not ever refer to me as Jennifer.  Jen is ok, but unlike my friend Jenn, I only spell it with one n.  Why I have a specific spelling isn’t clear to me.  Nor is how I decided that there was just one N.  But there is.  I know this.

I’ve struggled with my children’s names too.  Jon picked our first child’s name and as I acquiesced, I clearly stated that I own all additional naming rights to any and all living things that entered our home.  So when daughter number two was cooking, I gave her the name Faye – the name i had wanted for a girl forever – but Jon wanted to put Faith on the birth certificate.  In a weak moment I caved.  However I don’t even acknowledge that name.  Ever.  I actually registered her for school as Faye.  I win.

And now I am at another naming crossroads.  But this one holds much more weight and struggle than the others.

When Iris came home from China she was automatically a US citizen.  However, the state of Illinois requires us to readopt her here and this is how we will come to possess a record of foreign birth, or essentially a birth certificate for her.  Other states don’t require this – but Illinois is exceptional at finding ways to get money out of people.  I digress.

Iris’s name was chosen because our son from Ethiopia has a little sister named Iris.  Giving that name to his new little sister was all his choice.  We left it up to him if he wanted to do this to honor her.  It took him months to decide.  Had he chosen not to, we would have picked another name.  We decided to leave her middle name Chaojuan which is both her middle and first name in China.  As a young child she went by juan.  (pronounced Jew-en)

Here is how her name came to be.  She was abandoned. She became a ward of the state essentially.  They gave her the last name Ma, as they did with all children abandoned in 2006.  This is like us naming all foster kids with the last name Foster.  Or Ward.  Depressing.  They gave her a middle name of Chao because that is the area she was discovered in, as they did with all children found in this area.  That is like giving your child the middle name Cook or Will for the county they were found in.  Then a government official picked Juan.  No reason why.  Just randomly choose it.

There is no family history or mother’s dreams to put behind that name.  None at all.

And now I have a second grader who for months has in earnest asked me to change her middle name.  I try to tell her that I kept Chaojuan to honor her Chinese history.  She says “But I’m an American now and I want an American name.”

And since we haven’t completed the readoption, we actually are at a moment where we can make her middle name anything.

I want her to love China, but her story makes her feel powerless.  She remembers everything clearly but understands little.  She has no idea why she had to leave her foster parents and at one point she asked me if she came out of that mom’s belly.  When I told her no, there was a mom that she grew inside of and then the mom she remembers was a foster mom, she cried and said “That’s just too many moms to miss.”

When she got to the orphanage they cut her hair off.  She says it was the worse thing that ever happened to her.  Last week she was eating a hard-boiled egg and said “Every morning in the orphanage you had to eat a hard-boiled eggs”  I replied “What if you didn’t like eggs?”  Without a pause she answered “You ate the egg.”

I believe Iris was well taken care of and treated kindly in the orphanages.  I know her foster parents loved her dearly.  However, once she left their home at the age of 5, her life felt very out of control.  No one felt the need to inform her why anything was happening to her.  Her hair was cut.  She switched orphanages.  She ate the egg every morning.  She got adopted.  All without choice.

I want her to love the fact that she’s Chinese.  But part of me thinks that should be on her terms.  Not defined by the fact that I kept a Chinese name for her.  And honestly, there’s a thousand other reasons I want her to love herself that have nothing to do with being Chinese.  Such as being a good friend, being honest, loving jokes and magic tricks, not being afraid of worms and bugs.  All things that make her who she is.

I am a good listener.  I hear what she is telling me.  I want to honor that.

However, will there come a day when she delights in that name?  When she loves that it is original, unique, specific to her?  I don’t know.  My best childhood friend Nancy didn’t tell me her middle name until high school.  Now she loves it.  (It’s Nell by the way.  Our friends call her Nancy Nell sometimes just for fun because even we love it.)

And it’s so hard for me to let go of that little piece of her history since I have so few pieces of it.

All this debate is because she is an adopted kid with a history she can remember.  I could care less if my biological son Will likes any part of his name.  Change it when you’re of legal age I would tell him.  But his name was chosen not by a government, but by a mother.  Which is why Mesfin still has his Ethiopian name.  It was given to him by his mother.

I have no answers.  I don’t know what we are going to do.  Or why it matters so much to her, but it does.  I hear about it constantly.  She likes words and names.  She thinks about them a lot.  At least once a week she tells me what she wants to name her kids or what Bible names mean.  It fascinates her.

I’m taking opinions.  Debating and weighing the choices.  Feel free to add your comments and give your opinion on what I should do.  This is one time when I really am interested in what people think I should do!