“What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
This quote from Romeo and Juliet pops into my head every time I get drawn into a discussion on names. What the hell does that even mean? I guess this is probably the time where I admit that I got a “D” in Freshman English and I've never been a great fan of Shakespeare…unless Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love count…and no, I realize that probably does not count at all.
So now that I've convinced everyone that I'm an uncultured heathen, back to names. I think one of the most important tasks of parenting is choosing a child's name. Names are permanent…or not easily changed, anyway. A name will make you stand out or fit in. It's part of your introduction and how you present yourself to the world.
Today, I will not get on my soapbox about “new age” kid names or “nontraditional spellings,” although believe me, people, I have plenty to say on those subjects.
But, I'll save that for another day.
Okay, just one: Airwrecka should not be used as an alternative spelling for Erica or Erika. Eryka if you must but Airwrecka? Just no.
Anyway. Choosing a name for an adopted child may present an extra layer of challenge. What if the kid already has a name? An adoptee's feeling on how they're named and if their name is changed may (or may not) be a complicated issue. I don't feel I can speak intelligently on that…mostly because there's no cookie cutter answer and I'm not an adoptee. There are all kinds of ways to look at this.
But…I can tell you how my family chose the names for our adopted sons, how we feel about our decision and the way ahead.
In China, people usually have three names – first, middle last, just as most Americans do – but the order which they're written is a little different. For example:
American/Western: Kirsten Jill Robbins (I go by my middle name…bonus factoid about me.)
If I were Chinese: Robbins Kirsten Jill. Acquaintances would call me Kirstenjill or Mrs. Robbins, depending on how formal the relationship was. Good friends or my parents might refer to me as Jill-Jill. Interesting, huh? And no…don't start calling me Jill-Jill.
Children who are adopted from China start their lives as orphans…abandoned. That's a harsh way to put it, but the reality is harsh. Babies or young children are left in public places… bus stations, near a hospital…usually, spots where they'll be found safely. Unless that child is old enough to know their full name, they're issued a new one by the government.
I am not an expert on how names are assigned or who does the naming. I imagine it varies. Once upon a time, the chosen name revealed orphan status. I imagine this would be something like using Jane Doe and John Doe. The United States doesn't have the same numbers of abandoned children as China does (and also not the population density) but imagine if every orphan had to bear the name of Jane or John…that would be a stigma they'd carry for the rest of their life. Thankfully the rules in China have changed. Orphans are assigned “common” names from an approved list.
Most of the kids in my son Zack's orphanage had the last name of Dang. My son Kyle's last name was Wu, although many of the older kids in his orphanage were Mings. I'm not sure of the science or rotation that goes into this…maybe it's random, who knows?
Both of my kids have their Chinese first and middle names combined as their American middle names. Dang Ying Mao is now Zachary Yingmao and Wu Cheng Jin is now Kyle Chengjin (which is a mouthful!)
Why did we do this?
With Zack, we told ourselves we were doing this to “preserve his heritage” and pretty much, because all the other parents who were adopting kids from China were doing the same thing for the same reason. I am not generally a follow the herd girl but we had no idea what the hell were doing with our first adoption and Zachary Yingmao? Sure, I could picture myself standing on the porch yelling that name.
I've heard (and read) many different explanations of what my kids' names mean: Ying Mao is clever cat and Cheng Jin is honest gold…as in “good as gold” not the color. Some days I think this is spot on and sometimes it makes me laugh…you know, like you'd kind of smirk at a girl name Grace when she trips and falls. Or is it only me that does that?
We gave Kyle the middle name of Chenjin because we used Yingmao with Zack. We'd began to regret choosing to incorporate the Chinese names with Zack but ended up doing so with Kyle so they'd be “the same.”
If we could have a do-over, we'd probably have opted to give them American middle names, perhaps even use a portion of my husband's name. This doesn't mean we don't respect their heritage…their beginnings are in China and that won't change.
We share what we know of their lives before us (which is not much) and we'll give them the benefit of our memories of our time spent in their birth country. We have pictures, videos, souvenirs and funny stories. We look for diversity in the books they read and try incorporate tales of China and adoption stories when we can.
While their pasts are not forgotten and will be honored in whatever way we figure out to be appropriate and comfortable for us, they are American children now. They eat macaroni and cheese and watch Sponge Bob…and yeah…I let that happen. I'm not expecting the mother of the year trophy to show up in my mailbox and it gives me 20 minutes of peace. Judge if you want.
Zack is starting to “twang” some of his words like a true Texan. When I try to pull out I Love You Like Crazy Cakes (a wonderful book about China adoption) they usually ask for Dr. Seuss instead.
My kids names are uniquely their own. Although I can stand here and say I probably would have made different choices if I could rewind things, who really knows?
The other day I was rushing through the house trying to do something…I don't remember what. Zack was hollering after me, trying to get my attention for some reason…again, I don't remember why. When he couldn't get my attention, he stood at the bottom of our stairs and yelled “Mommy Yingmao Robbins, you get down here right now!” That part I do remember.
I know some people will see my attitude as a potential for my children to lose their culture. I see it as absorbing the culture of our family…their family. This is a hard balance to strike and I'm sure we're always going to encounter someone who says we're doing it wrong. But for now, for us, I think we're doing it right.
What's in a name? I'm not really sure. We made our decisions on the boys names based on what felt right at the time…I guess only time will show how it plays out.