the name game

Lately I’ve been asked more than a few times if we have names picked out for our child. Truth be told, we really don’t. Frankly, we’ve never gotten far enough in this journey to think about it much. And, even as close as we hope we are now, we just don’t know what we’ll do about names.

We will definitely keep our child’s Ethiopian first name in some way; we may keep it as a first name or we may make it a middle name. We feel this is meaningful as a connection to his or her Ethiopian culture and, most importantly, to his or her birth family, who most likely named him or her. Naming is very important in Ethiopia, and his or her birth family likely gave considerable thought to the name(s) they selected.

In terms of Ethiopian names, they seem to run the gamut. I’ve seen some Ethiopian names that would not in any way be considered unusual in America. Others are very different names than we are generally accustomed to. Many Americans might consider them to be difficult to pronounce or spell at first. Others are translations of names that we are familiar with, and some might lend themselves pretty easily to cute nicknames.

I’ve noticed that the Ethiopian adoptive community is a bit split on whether or not to keep given Ethiopian names as first names upon adoption. Many people keep the name as a first name, and many keep it as a middle name but add a new first name. I don’t notice this split as much in other adoptive communities, where it doesn’t seem like original first names are often kept as first names (but are usually kept as middle names). Part of it may have to do with the fact that many children adopted from Ethiopia are older – not babies – and I’d imagine that it’s more difficult (on many levels) to change a child’s name the older he or she is.

We have decided to wait to see what our child’s name is (and who gave it to him or her), and then we’ll think about what we want to do. The child’s age may play into our decision as well.

I’m very curious to learn how other adoptive parents have handled the name game, and what types of thoughts and considerations went into decisions. So, please leave a comment if you’re open to sharing your experience!

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24 Responses to the name game

  1. christine says:

    It took us almost a month to pick out a name *after* our referral. We had a list of names we liked (although the one we went with was not on that list!) but we felt we needed to see our child before making any real decisions. I think part of the reason it took us so long to choose a name was because his Korean name was really nice as well. We thought of keeping it for a long time, but eventually chose to move it to his middle name, and give him a more “American” first name. There were so many people stumbling over how to say it, or completely mispronouncing it that we decided it would be better as a middle name. That said, if at any point he chooses to go by his middle name… we’d support that 100% Good luck with the naming process! I found it *much* harder than I thought! πŸ™‚

    (I should note… S was *not* named by his birth mother. That may have changed our opinions completely!)

  2. As you know, we kept M & B’s names, for reasons that you described. They were considered “older” children when we adopted them, and we didn’t want to take any more of their identity away from them. I never thought I would do this, but both kids have 2 middle names. Their first middle name honors each of their birth parents (M has his Ethiopia dad’s first name as his middle name, along with a name from my side of the family) and B has her Ethiopia mom’s first name as her first middle name, and my name as her second). Mildly confusing, however, I wanted to honor both families. Good luck. There is no wrong anser here.

  3. sarah says:

    We also waited to choose a name until after referral. We considered her Korean name as a first name (given by a social worker), but it is hard to pronounce and some of our friends kept approximating it to an American name, so we decided to be proactive about choosing her name rather than let her Korean name be abused. We kept her Korean name as a middle. We chose her first name because it was a variation of a family name, and liked that the meaning was a nod to her birth family (“of noble kin”). I am always so curious as to how names are chosen, esp for adopted children. I think all the points you considered are thoughtful, and I can’t wait to know what you choose when that time comes!

  4. Leah says:

    Our son’s given name was Nur. But before we found out what his given name would be, we wanted to name our son Khalil. We just loved the name, and it had a lot of meaning in our lives.

    Well, my biggest regret is changing our son’s given name. When I first met him, he looked like a Nur. He responded to Nur, and I felt weird calling him anything but Nur. Unfortunately, we already had things all over our house with the name Khalil. If not, I would have decided right then and there that he would be Nur forever. Now, he is Khalil Nur. . . both beautiful Arabic names.

    In hindsight, I think these babes don’t have much, and something they should get to keep is their given name. America is such a diverse country. People will figure out how to pronounce your child’s name. Heck, I named my son something more complicated than his given name.

    Just my two cents. But this was a regret of mine.

  5. Leah says:

    I also wanted to add, that in choosing our son’s name, I wanted it to have an ethnic ring to it. Khalil is an Arabic name, and it honor’s my husband’s heritage, but it is also a Muslim name, and half of Ethiopia is Muslim. This may come off the wrong way, but it’s always weird to me to see Ethiopian children with names like Bob, or Stephanie, or really typical American names.

    It really is such a personal decision though, and I don’t want to sound like I’m coming down on anyone who changed their child’s name. Heck, I was one of those people. I’ll just never forget meeting my son for the first time, and the lovely nannies at the orphanage would say his name (in a beautiful and perfect voice) and he would respond by smiling. I felt like an imposter calling him anything but. And to this day, I still call him Nur quite a bit.

  6. I think everyone does this differently because we are all different and our children’s stories are all different. We gave our daughter an American name as her first name (and it’s only her first because it the whole name sounded better with her American name first), but she goes by her Ethiopian name, which we kept as her middle. We chose a name at the beginning of our adoption process so that we could think of her as a real person even though we didn’t know her yet, but knew that we would keep her Ethiopian name as well. We thought we were adopting a baby, so we figured that we would see how we felt about her names after we met her, and then decide if we wanted to use the American name or Ethiopian name or a combo of the two. When it turned out that our daughter was three, we knew that we would just follow her lead and call her what she wanted to be called; it just seemed more respectful of her. She knows that she has a name from each of her families, and she gets to decide what she is called. I think that it does matter a great deal who has named the child in Ethiopia–if it was family, then I am inclined to say it should be kept as a tie to what the child lost, but if it was a name given at an orphanage, then I wouldn’t have a problem with changing it altogether (though probably I’d still use an Ethiopian name as either first or middle).

  7. I think I am in the same boat as you. I do lean toward keeping the given name, though. My phone rang today and I thought it was my agency and I about flipped. It wasn’t though, but it’s okay. I’m not really expecting it quite yet.

  8. Brandi says:

    My neighbor adopted a little girl from China. She waited until they met her to decide what to do about her name. Her name was Lin. It was easier to incorporate that, but her first name is now Mary Lin…Mary is her mother-in-laws first name who passed recently. If it’s something on the easier side, I think it was a really neat idea to have their given name and the name you give them as their first name! Just a thought. πŸ™‚

  9. Kelly says:

    Oh I am so excited that you are finally thinking about a name. This is the fun part! But also stressful because they will have it forever. Scary, right? It’s a big responsibility on the parents. We had a short list of boy names we liked but waited to see his referral photo before deciding which name “fit” him. As I think you know, we kept Max’s Korean name for his middle name. He was not named by his birth mother, but rather a social worker. We went back and forth on which part of his Korean name to use since Koreans have three names (last name, then two “first” names). His last name was his birth mother’s actual family name so we thought long and hard about using that for his middle name since it would actually be more meaningful than the one given to him by a stranger. But the family name was Lee which, funny enough, didn’t sound “Korean enough” to us when sandwiched between an American first name and an American last name. Does that make sense? So we used Seung Hwan instead but smooshed it together to make one word (with two capital letters) – SeungHwan. It’s a mouthful for some people but the name Max is so simple we thought it would be OK. Every now and then I think we should have gone with Lee, but oh well I’m sure I would have second guessed that decision too. Whatever name you guys choose will be the perfect one. I can’t wait to hear what it is!!

  10. Angela says:

    You’re so much smarter than me:)

  11. Kyra says:

    We would never change our children’s names. We were committed from the get-go that whatever their names were, that’s what their names were. Now that we have a referral, we love their names, and we can’t wait to meet the kids and hear exactly how to pronounce them! We will fiddle with the spelling to figure out the best way to help Americans pronounce them correctly.

  12. kwatkinsinfl says:

    We are struggling with this topic right now. After getting our referral for two kids, we can definitely see the pros and cons of both sides. Since our son is over four, it does seem harsh to change his name at this point. But his sister is only five months. I’m not sure what we’ll end up doing, but they will have both an American and an Ethiopian name, and ultimately it will be up to them to decide which to use. I think meeting them will help us decide, and I just found out that we don’t have to have alternate names until we finalize in the US, so that gives us some time to debate it. My kids (ages 10 and 7) are eager to weigh in on this topic…but so far have only come up with names from Harry Potter books. I am definitely retaining veto power!

  13. Michele says:

    We, like you, are still awaiting a referral, so all of this is hypothetical. We are definitely open to keeping their given Ethiopian name, and we’ve picked out a few Ethiopian names (both boy and girl) that we like. We’re committed to an Ethiopian name, just not sure which one at this point. I also think that if we go with an Ethiopian name we’ve picked, we will keep the given Ethiopian name as a middle name.

  14. Jenny says:

    if jai had been older we would have left his ET name as his first name… we kept his entire ET name as his two middle names. with the way that last names are given in ET, we wanted to keep ALL of it. so jai has two middles. we ALMOST just kept his ET name entirely and didn’t add “jai” after meeting him and hearing his special mothers call him his ET name… they were all very excited to hear we were keeping it as part of his name. names are so important in ET culture! (and jai’s ET name is not the nicest of meanings… it means “you labor me.” but there were several interpretations of this when we talked to different Ethiopians in country and we decided that we did want to keep it!) sorry for such a scatter-brained comment πŸ™‚

  15. Jennifer says:

    I was sure I wanted to keep their Ethiopian names from the beginning, but honestly, I have heard some that there is no way I would keep. OK That sounds harsh… I just didn’t realize how “unique” some names sound.. or how similar they are to words I wouldn’t want in a name. I love my kids’s names, so it was easy. The oldest was going by Aki at the transition home, and I love it. I can see it fitting well his entire life. His name is Aklilu, but he prefers to be called Aki. The youngest has a really long name, but I love it so much I kept it. If he chooses to go by his middle name someday, I will understand, but I am hoping he keeps his original name. They were both given American middle names.. even though the oldest was sooooo excited to learn his middle name was Jennifer (by law it had to be done that way to bring him home). I had to laugh because he would kill me when he was older, adjusted to America, and learned his middle name was Jennifer.

  16. Elizabeth says:

    It’s tough. We didn’t have names selected until well after the kids were IN OUR ARMS, much less at referral time! With Olive, we had her for a few hours before we decided. Before that, we had it narrowed down to about 3 names. With Ingrid, we couldn’t decide on a name. She was old enough that we planned to call her her Korean name for awhile anyway, so it bought us some time. We settled on what we thought was her name, and then changed it about a week after we were home.
    So don’t let the pressure get to you! Take your time πŸ™‚

  17. Liz says:

    When I was at the point you are at now, I had lists of names that I was considering for boys and for girls but I wasn’t going to decide what to do until I heard what the child’s given name was. I thought that if it was a “difficult” name, I would change it. At some point close to getting a referral I changed my mind, though – I decided to keep the given name no matter what it was. I kept Elfe’s first name, added a middle name that I chose, and then kept her father’s first name (which would have been her last name in Ethiopia) as her second middle name.

    I have to admit to being judgmental now about people who change their kids’ names. I don’t think it’s right. No matter how unusual or potentially difficult to pronounce it might be, their names belong to them and shouldn’t be taken away in my opinion. If the people in your child’s life are not going to make the effort to learn how to pronounce his/her name correctly, that’s not a good sign. And there is a subtle racism to classifying names as “American” vs. “ethnic.”

  18. Michael and I had narrowed down names and then when we saw Colin’s referral photos, we threw many out. We also didn’t decide upon a name until he was in our arms. It made all the difference in the world because our front runner name was Jack and honestly, Colin is no Jack! Take your time it will come. We also kept Colin’s family name Lee as his middle name since a social worker had named him not the birth mother.

  19. Jennifer says:

    I did want to clarify, I would have kept their original names for middle names if I had chosen to change their first names. πŸ™‚

    Fasten your seat belt. Now you are picking out names, and your life is about to get even crazier….. referral… court date… embassy. EXCITING! πŸ˜‰

  20. Meg B says:

    We kept their Ethiopian names as their first names and will give them middle names. We always knew we’d keep their names; our kids are older (20 months and 4/5ish) so they have had their names for awhile, their birth family gave them their names, and they are gorgeous names!!… Our son even knows his and his sister’s original middle names so now we’re considering just adding the middle names we want to give them on… we have yet to finalize any of the paperwork so we’re giving that some more thought. We’d like to give them middle names, but aren’t sure how we are going to do it yet (though the names are picked!).

  21. tycobeans says:

    Early on I thought we’d name her ourselves, & keep her Ethiopian name as a middle. But reading blogs & articles made me change my mind.

    We did pick out a few “back up” names (in case her name were particularly difficult), they were all Ethiopian names. And the more I heard Ethiopian names, the more I liked them. (our back ups were: Addis, Kidist, Tigist, Mekdes)

    Our little girl was 19 months old when she came home. That seems “young”, but, let me tell you!, she KNEW who she was. She could say her name, she used it a lot.

    We totally fell in love with Ethiopia, & keeping her name feels like a connection. She LOVES being Ethiopian too! So I am especially happy she has an Ethiopian name!

  22. Sandra says:

    Coming up with boy names was so HARD. Ben was the only name neither of us had objections to. I had my doubts whether we should change his name, especially when we were in Korea picking him up. But in the end we obviously put his Western (new) name first and moved his Korean name to be his middle name. If it had been a name that sounded more familiar to Western ears we would have kept it as his first name, but people seemed to have issues pronouncing it.

  23. Thinking about names is fun, but it can be tough. We had a short list of names before we received our referral, but when we saw the photo, we both agreed quickly that Adam totally fit. To this day, I can’t imagine any other name for him– it totally suits him. However, when we were in Korea to bring him home, it felt very weird calling him that, and we just called him his Korean name “Dabin-a” (It’s Dabin, but Koreans add an “-a” to the end of names often. When we landed at home, all our friends and family were calling him Adam, and it then started to feel more like his name. We kept Adam’s Korean name, Dabin, as his middle name and then also added a second middle name, Henry, since that is my husband’s Dad’s name, and my husband’s middle name. We are pretty sure that Adam’s birth parents named him– the name is very original in Korea, and we were told that it has Chinese origins.

  24. Janet says:

    We had a couple of names we liked, but decided until we had our referral to decide for sure. We also wanted to see what his Korean name was…to see if we would keep that. D was named by a social worker, so we still wanted to keep that name…but decided on having it be his middle name since it is hard to spell & pronounce (to anyone but us). Once we saw his photo we knew our first choice for a boy name would fit just fine…and it suits him well. Honestly, it is one of the easiest decisions we’ve made as a couple, which is nice. You’ll just know.

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