Before my daughter was born, it seemed like my wife and I tossed around a thousand names before making a final decision. We needed the perfect name that wasn’t just a reflection of who we thought she’d be, but one that honored us by connecting her to our family. My little girl is 2 years old now, and she’s named after my mom. My wife stated very plainly, “My mom will be able to look at Tae and literally see a piece of herself. Your mom won’t have that privilege. Rose should be her middle name, so there’s an outward connection.” My eyes welled up with emotion. She nailed it.
I recently wrote a piece about the struggles I have with my name in “Gazillion Voices.” The challenges that come with an “American” name have harshly colored my perspective on re-naming Adoptees. Before my daughter was born, my opinion was pretty cut and dry; they already have a name. End of story. We honor birth family, birth culture, and acknowledge loss by retaining the name they already have.
But inevitably, life happens and perspectives change. Each time Mom and Dad interact with my daughter, the hue of my “Adoptee Advocate” goggles morph, sending my black and white opinion around Adoptee names into a swirl of psychedelic chaos. I can’t personally relate to the feelings around naming an adopted child, but that urge to create a symbolic connection in place of a biological one is something that deeply affected me. I feared my daughter would represent more loss than she did gain when Mom and Dad interacted with her. I thought they’d need assurance and validation about their connection to her. I was wrong. If her name was Choi, Bon Yul it wouldn’t detract from their uncompromising love and affection for her. Turns out, my own issues and insecurities were exposed pretty clearly through all of this.
After all is said and done, there’s still little wiggle room in my mind around re-naming Adoptees, but I see it differently now. I still feel strongly about acknowledging loss and empowering the Adoptee by giving them a sliver of control in a process that takes everything else from them. But my experience with naming my daughter gave me a better sense of why some parents may feel the need to change their child’s name. If you’re determined to name them after yourself or a loved one, give some thought to a middle name. Because in my experience as a father and an Adoptee, names end up as some of the smallest ways connections are made.
Steve, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I come at this issue as both an adoptive parent and a developmental psychologist. I agree with you that it is absolutely essential that adoptees feel empowered and feel as though they have ” a sliver of control in a process that takes everything else from them.” However, I don’t see how an adoptive parent’s decision to implement a name change gives the adoptee any power. In fact, perhaps this decision – especially when made at an early age – gives them less control over their own biological history. We retained our daughter’s biological name because it is her only connection to her biological mother. We also gave her two middle names, the first is her biological mother’s name and the second is my maternal grandmother’s name. She is still very young but she loves to tell people her “full” name, which is a narrative in itself about the connection between her biological and adoptive families. We are working very hard to ensure that she also retains her native language and connection to her country of origin. We will never be undo her losses (both biological and cultural), but we are doing what we can to respect her birth history and her cultural identity. Thank you for sharing a little bit of your history and your story. Your willingness to be so open may help future adoptive parents find ways to feel connected to their children that don’t involve stripping them of their personal and cultural identities.