Monday, September 10, 2007
What's in a Name?

Recently on an adoption forum, I got into a pissing match with a potential adoptive parent of a sibling set. Okay, there was no pissing, at least from my direction, because my intentions were genuine.

I tried to explain why she shouldn’t change the names of the children she will soon adopt just because one was “too girly” and the other “too ethnic.” Why should anyone have the right to erase another’s name?

Admittedly, I was on the heals of having just ordered a copy of my own amended birth certificate, aggravated about having to check the “ADOPTED” box to prevent the State of Washington from mistakenly mailing me my original birth certificate. (Because god only knows what kind of National Incident would ensue were I to get my hands on my own name.)

And, admittedly, I am rather raw with the recent death of my birthmother and the realization that, with both parents gone, so too is my birth name.

So, with full awareness of my frazzled nerves, I attempted to explain why a name is so important and how it might be the only remnant of an adoptee’s history; a history greater than the minutes, days, months or years a child spends within his family of origin. A history anchoring them to their ethnicity, nationality, tradition and heritage; a history that connects them to their natural place in the Universe; a delicate thread woven into the fiber of their identity that says, in some way, their place in the time continuum remains, uninterrupted.

A name says: I mattered to the people who named me. If only for a moment, I was in my rightful place; a recipient of family traditions, of memories and meaning, untainted by the human foibles preceding and following my birth.

And, frankly, for most adoptees, a name is all they possess of their roots and the difference between knowing and not knowing, having and not having, awareness and unawareness might be the difference between them feeling their identity is rooted in reality, rather than pulled from the ethers and worn like a shirt that doesn’t fit just right.

I didn’t expect her to drop her needs as a new parent and rush to embrace this. I waited for the questions to come . . . and they did.

So, you like the name your birth parents gave you more than the one your adoptive parents gave you?

So, you hate your adoptive name?

So, you consider your birth family to be your ONLY family?

So, why don’t you just change your name back if you hate it so much?

She insisted not all people feel as I do. Herself, for example: she doesn’t care about her history. Genealogy means nothing to her. And, in a great act of irony, to illustrate this point, she shared how she’s never even opened the family history book handed down to her from previous generations of her clan.

Ah, but, I explained, you grew up so enmeshed in your history you don’t have to seek it; you choose not to seek it. It is simply there; an integrated part of you, so integrated you feel no need to peer into the pages of that book. No surprises lay there; no mysteries. It shall not be the same for your children.

And then, of course, she chastised me. My feelings were nothing more than the result of a “bad attitude,” a “snarky” disposition. Her children shall be spared my pathology. She will see to that. She will reason with them and, because they shall be reasonable children, raised by people far more adept than those who raised me, they will understand.

God help them.

Rhonda Ruminated at 8:09 PM | Permalink |

18 Ruminations:

  • At 1:33 AM, Blogger Loz

    I'm with you. Personal history and a desire to know more of my ancestry is an important part of the journey of self discovery.

  • At 10:46 AM, Blogger Kim Ayres

    This isn't an area I feel I know enough about to comment on. However, I read your post and it made me think.

  • At 1:21 PM, Blogger Mel

    Rhonda, I'm so sorry. There are so many people out there who are so convinced of their rightness, no matter what harm it does to those in their care, that they refuse to hear any other points of view. I'm just sorry you met one that day, and that she hurt you.

  • At 3:56 PM, Blogger Andie D.

    Oh bugger.

    What many aparents don't want to accept is that when a kid is adopted, they lose that link to their history, heritage, IDENTITY. Changing a kid's name is almost like saying "The name your birthparents gave you wasn't good enough. I'll rename you, redress you, re-educate you and MAKE you good enough."

    Why some APs are so certain that adoptee voices that are different from their own mean that we're just plain wrong is beyond me. Who better to educate APs than someone who has lived adoption.

    Sorry. Rant. ;) I know how you feel. (((Rhonda)))

  • At 5:07 PM, Blogger Possum

    Oh - this subject drives me completely NUTS.
    Not the part of wanting your own identity - but the part of AP's that just refuse to get it - because that's not how they feel - and therefore - how could anyone else EVER feel that way??!!
    Great post Rhonda.
    Poss. xxx

  • At 4:05 PM, Blogger Rhonda

    Loz: I think so too. Thanks for the comment.

    Mel: She really didn't hurt my feelings . . . I've subjected myself to much worse on the adoption boards! I just feel very sorry for her kiddos knowing that, if she doesn't get a clue, she may some day respond to them the same way :(

    Kim: I know you must come here sometimes and feel you're reading a foreign language. I appreciate that you muddle through it anyway!

    Andie: Rant away any time. That was a good one . . .

    Possum: Thank you - and I "second" that arrrgghhh.

  • At 2:18 PM, Blogger Sven

    "God help them."

    The parents or the children? I suspect both.

  • At 3:32 PM, Blogger Rhonda

    Sven: Both. Definitely both.

  • At 10:51 PM, Blogger Searching for answers


    Stay away from nasty know it all adoptive parents. I'm an adoptive parent and they irritate the hell out of me too. I think it's important to keep our children's birthnames. We kept our eldest daughters given name. She was named after her maternal grandmother and although we have never 'met' her I think it's safe to assume this was an act of love, passing down heritage in a family name. Why WOULD we change it??? With our youngest daughter however we felt differently. She was adopted from China and the Chinese orphanage staff told us that they named her. Basically she was given the directer of the orphanage's surname and ALL of the babies were named "Xiao" and another name by the orphanage staff. When we spent time with the staff asking questions, trying to see who knew and loved our little girl they honestly told us that nobody had bonded with our little girl and that they were so busy and had over 60 staff members taking care of all the babies. We knew then that we wanted to give our baby a special name that was lovingly picked out and chosen just for her. I wish we could have known what her mom had named her because we would have been honored for her to go by her real Chinese name. But we couldn't name her a name that we felt was given to her like a number that meant nothing about 'who' she was. We have given her the choice to be called her English name or her given Chinese name and for now she chooses her English name. Maybe down the road she will be able to find her birthfamily and one day know her given name. What I can say is that with our eldest there is no way that I feel she is any less our daughter because we didn't change her name. But I think it made me feel good knowing her name was given especially for her by people who LOVED her. Not a rotating orphanage staff who happily told us they never bonded with our baby. Just some thoughts I wanted to share. Christine

  • At 8:14 PM, Anonymous mia

    Blah to stubborn and self absorbed PAPs.

    Rhonda I believe in many states it is possible to get your OBC if you can provide death certificates for your natural parents. I know this is still pretty raw for you but something you may want to consider looking into down the road.

    I thought of you when I posted about the baby birds tonight. I know you will appreciate the pictures.

    Love you bunches.

  • At 9:11 PM, Blogger Rhonda

    Christine: Welcome, and thanks for telling your story. Your empathy for your childrens' experience shines through in it. I hope you stick around.

    Mia: I love the bird pictures. They are so ugly they're adorable when they've just hatched. And thanks for the tip about OBCs too. I actually do have mine because, in Washington state, a birthmother is allowed to access it. So, I asked mine and she got it for me. And now, I am healed. Ha!

  • At 11:11 PM, Blogger Nina

    Dead on, Rhonda.

    Sheesh. When we got our lab at 4 mos. from a breeder we kept his name b/c we thought it would be cruel to change it. And he's a DOG! I did enjoy reading Christine's post. It really struck me that, by comparison, so many other AP's sound so hostile and authoritarian. It comes as a relief to come across an AP with empathy. Whew.

  • At 12:38 PM, Blogger Jennifer McK

    Sounds to me like these people have the "I know what's best" syndrome. Dangerous.
    Sorry you had to run into people like this. Too bad they won't listen.

  • At 8:40 PM, Blogger kim

    I honestly feel sorry for adoptive parents with attitudes like the one you describe ... they are so single minded they only see what THEY want and how THEY feel. I dont think people realize what a big part genetics plays in things either. It is extremely hard growing up among people you dont feel a connection with and not fully understanding why. I spent years and years of my life not feeling like I belonged anywhere... always searching for something I couldnt explain or understand myself. I would have loved something as small as my birth name to hold on to ...

    PS: I missed you :)

  • At 4:32 PM, Blogger Mary

    my aparents changed my asibs names, they were both toddlers when adopted. They didnt like abro's name, and asis name they adapted to sound more American. I was the only infant adopted. They kept the first name nmom was going to give me, but changed the middle name to Beth. "its such a sweet name, it doesnt suit you" Amom (insert bad word here)

  • At 3:27 PM, Blogger Attila The Mom

    Oh dear. Poor little pound puppies. :-(

  • At 10:00 AM, Blogger Pendullum

    So sad...
    So frustrating...
    And you tried to make them hear... But they just do not know how to listen...
    And listening is one of the most important part to parenting....

  • At 10:19 AM, Blogger Real World Martha

    I found your post to be so interesting. I am an adoptive mother who painfully struggled to decide to change the name. We adopted a boy who's name I would normally not change but it's name brought about such strong negative reactions (and our birth son gets such positive comments) that we prayed and felt that it was in his best interest to change it. Again this is such a tough decision and you never know how profoundly it will effect someone. We moved his first name to his middle name to keep the history and he will have access to all his info when he is old enough to keep from any safety concerns. Thanks for bringing another perspective to the table. We have already mae the change but it's important to remember the significance it has on a person.


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