Over four and a half years at Holt, our China child match coordinator, Jessica Zeeb, has chosen “advocacy names” for over 1,000 kids on our China waiting child photolisting. Most are temporary names. But among the hundreds of kids who are now home with their families, there are a few who still have the name their parents “grew to love them as.”
One day, in the spring of 2016, Adam and Jennifer Lenzen decided they wanted to adopt a little girl.
“We didn’t know what the process would look like, but we were looking through the beautiful faces on Holt China’s waiting child photolisting and one little girl caught our eye,” they say.
Her name was “Lucie.”
Well, actually, her name was Hou Ying.
“But we fell in love with her as Lucie, which was the name given to her by Holt. We never even considered a different name for her,” the Lenzens say. “Still today, we cannot imagine her not being our little Lucie Ying. The name fits her perfectly!”
Thankfully, “Lucie” was a perfect fit for Lucie. But ask any parent and they will tell you: it’s a huge responsibility to choose a name.
As Jessica Zeeb, Holt’s child match coordinator for the China program, says, “It’s one of those special, almost sacred things that only your parents can do for you.”
Jessica has two kids of her own — each with a name she and their father carefully chose. Names not so common as to go unnoticed, but not so unusual as to overly stand out. Her kids are Brielle and Abram.
Over her past four and a half years at Holt, Jessica has also had the huge responsibility of choosing “advocacy names” for the kids who appear on Holt’s China waiting child photolisting — kids who need a little extra advocacy to find their adoptive families.
Of course, Jessica didn’t really name Lucie or any of the other kids on the photolisting. She chooses pseudonyms to protect their identities while our China team works to find families for them. But each child needs a unique and easy-to-pronounce name that families can easily remember as they scroll through the photos of kids waiting for someone to notice them, to fall in love with them and hopefully — one day — to adopt them.
At any given time, upwards of 200 kids appear on the China waiting child photolisting. That means that over four years, Jessica has named upwards of 1,000 kids.
She has run through all her friends and family’s names, burned through her high school yearbook, scoured her kids’ classroom rosters, created a tiny namesake for each of her China program teammates, Googled popular baby names in France and Scotland, and even named kids after members of the Oregon Ducks football team.
Although Jessica never gets to meet most of the kids on the photolisting, she tries based on their photos and information to give them a name that suits their personality.
“I remember choosing a name for Liam — I love that name,” she says. “I think it’s such a strong name for a little boy and little Liam struck me as such a resilient kiddo when I was going through his file the first time.”
Another little girl she named after her grandmother.
“My grandmother’s name is Elinor, and I always loved her name,” Jessica says, “but she never liked it so she made me promise never to name any of my kids after her. I got away with it after all, in a way!”
One special little girl reminded Jessica so much of her 13-year-old daughter that she gave her the same name — Brielle.
“I just loved this little girl and really wanted her to find a family,” she says.
At Holt, Jessica plays a pivotal role in helping to find families for kids — and not just by choosing a memorable name for them.
“It’s my job to help make a plan for each child,” she says. As child match and advocacy coordinator, Jessica determines how to advocate for each child — whether they can be matched with a family that’s already in process, or whether they should go on the photolisting where potential families can read about them. These days, every child who goes home to a family through international adoption has some degree of special needs — whether physical, cognitive or emotional. But often, Jessica and her team need a little extra help finding families for kids who are older or have more involved special needs.
Kids who are both older AND have special needs wait the longest for an adoptive family.
For these kids — kids like Benjamin — Jessica will go above and beyond, reaching out to our staff overseas or families who met them while adopting their child in China to help her write blogs or share extra photos or videos. Anything that will help bring more attention to these kids.
“Nigel is one of the kids I met in China. He was a 12-year-old boy with CP — cerebral palsy — so harder to place,” Jessica says. Nigel found his family after Jessica wrote about him.
Every year, Holt’s China team unites about 150 kids with their adoptive families in the U.S. By that calculation, Jessica has helped find families for more than 600 kids over her four years with Holt.
But Jessica sees her role as a small one.
“When I write a blog and it gets a response, I’m very excited. But my part is also very small. The big part is the family who opens their home and finds the resources to bring a child home,” she says. “What I do is a small thing. The families and people caring for the kids in China are doing the big thing. I get to help bring that together.”
While quietly celebrating her “small” role in bringing families together, Jessica has over the years also quietly noticed some of the families keeping a small part of the advocacy she did for their kids. As it turns out, Lucie is not the only child whose family kept her photolisting name!
There’s a Ruby, a Brooklyn and a Matthew “Russell.” There’s a Sebastian, an Aaron and a Rogan. There’s a Molly, a Levi and an Emily “Willow.” Liam still goes by Liam. And the girl Jessica named after her grandmother? She still goes by Elinor.
Each time Jessica finds out that a family has kept their child’s photolisting name, she smiles to herself. But she never says anything unless families bring it up. She’s also quick to clarify that she didn’t really choose their name. That is a special, sacred thing that only parents can do.
Rather, she says, “I’m so honored that some of the names I choose for the children feel right to their parents, too.”
Soon, Jessica will leave her position on Holt’s China team to pursue a master’s degree in hopes of becoming a speech and language pathologist. She hopes to work one-on-one with kids in her community — kids with special needs like those she advocated for on Holt’s waiting child photolisting. Although sad to say goodbye, she feels honored to have helped so many children come home to so many exceptional families.
“I really love the kids,” she says. “I feel truly honored to have been a part of their lives and done something that benefited them long-term. We work with extraordinary families that are doing incredible things for kids. I’m amazed by their stories and am so thankful for their heart for kids.”
One extraordinary family — the family who adopted Lucie — is now traveling back to China to open their hearts and home to another little girl. Once again, they plan to keep the name Jessica gave her — the name, they say, “that they have grown to love her as!”
Her name is Brielle.
Why Did You Decide to Keep Your Child’s Photolisting Name?
“We first saw our daughter on one of Holt’s blog postings. Her sweet, smiling face captured our hearts and filled us with hope. Her photolisting name was Brooklyn. As it so happens, Brooklyn was one of our favorite girl names we had already picked out. As we began the process of reviewing her file, we found ourselves calling her Brooklyn fairly quickly and soon realized we couldn’t imagine a different name for her. We joke because every time someone asks about her name, we have to tell them we didn’t pick it. Her Chinese name is now her middle name and her first name was given to her by a special person at Holt who knew she was meant to be our Brooklyn.” — Christina and Jeremy Higbee
“We spotted our son, Rogan, on the photolisting at Holt. Immediately, we we knew he was ours. As we continued along our adoption journey and were officially matched with Rogan, we always anticipated changing his name. However, we couldn’t decide on a new name. In the meantime, we continued to call him ‘Rogan’ to our family and friends. One day, I turned to Chad and said ‘I think his name is Rogan. I think that is his permanent name.’ Chad agreed. We love the name Rogan as it is unique; to this day, we have never met another Rogan! Our son is a unique little boy — full of surprises, love, and laughter. So, the name ‘Rogan’ truly is a perfect fit for him!” — Meghan Burke and Chad Meyer
“Back in December 2016, after welcoming our fourth biological child — who was just 10 months old at the time — we began to look at profiles of waiting children on Rainbowkids.com in preparation to start the official adoption process when our youngest turned one. After inquiring and applying for a child with no listed special needs, we were saddened when another family was selected. His advocacy name was “Levi,” listed with another agency. The name had significance as it was a name my mom said she would have chosen for another son. I had thought it was a sign and was certainly disappointed when it didn’t work out the way I had expected. I was praying in the wee hours of the following Sunday morning, asking God for clarity on our next steps when I heard the name “Russell” and then went to sleep in peace. When I woke up, I went back to the RainbowKids.com site and searched for the name. Our son’s profile came to the top and I had already saved it the first night I found Levi’s profile. However, “Russell” had a diagnosis of cerebral palsy and a potential liver condition. Since his profile was listed with Holt, I emailed right away to inquire and received his file the following day on his fifth birthday. My children suggested that we sing “Happy Birthday” to Russell and we made a video as God planted the seeds of belonging in our hearts.
Though his file held many unknowns, my husband and I prayerfully agreed to take steps in obedience to learn more about “Russell” and God willing, bring him home as our son. We weren’t sure how the finances would come together or how his special needs would affect our family’s lifestyle and our future, but we prayed through the fear and kept moving forward one step at a time. One year later, we were packing to leave for China to bring him home and gave him the name Matthew, which means ‘gift from God.’ We chose to keep “Russell” as his middle name because that was the most clear word I have ever heard from the Lord and, because of that one word, our lives and our family would never be the same. To bring even further redemption to the story, I connected with another adoptive mom who was a reference for Levi’s agency and we have become the closest of friends. Plus, while we were in China adopting Matthew, Levi’s family was also there adopting him less than a week later. Levi’s family lives less than two hours from my hometown in Alabama and we became fast friends and stay in touch via Facebook. I will never forget turning the corner in our hotel breakfast area to see Levi and his new family sitting in our usual spot. We cried, hugged and took pictures together of these two boys who were no longer orphans, but were cherished sons in two families that only God could have perfectly chosen.” — Jessica and Leroy Leese
“We are Adam and Jennifer Lenzen. In the spring of 2016, we decided that we wanted to adopt a little girl. We didn’t know what the process would look like, but we were looking through the beautiful faces on Holt China’s waiting child listing and one little girl caught our eye. Her name was Hou Ying but we fell in love with her as Lucie, which was the name given to her by Holt. We never even considered a different name for her. Still today, we cannot imagine her not being our little Lucie Ying. The name fits her perfectly! Now, a year and a half later we are heading back to China to adopt another little girl who was given the name ‘Brielle.’ We will also be keeping that name because that is the name that we have grown to love her as! Jessica did a great job matching the name with the child!” — Adam and Jennifer Lenzen