Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What's in a name?

I've been pondering the names of our twins a lot lately.  So much so that I wrote a question about names to a group of adult adoptees that blog and let adoptive parents ask them questions.   And then it came up on the yahoo adoption board that I am a part of today.

Some of the circumstances of our girls' story is hard.  And we are fortunate to know a lot about their story and we know some of their birth family (father's side).  I am so very thankful for this.  But it means we know a lot about choices that were made and how those choices affected their lives.

My own personal story (on my dad's side) is hard too.  And there were some choices made that affected my life in significant ways, but I have always wanted to stay connected to that side of my family.  Because they are a part of me.  When I got married I didn't want to part with my dad's surname (my maiden name) and I added it to my middle name.  Good or bad, it is my heritage, part of who I am and keeps me connected to my past.

Adopting children removes so much from their lives, it takes so much away (it also gives a lot as well).  They lose their country, their family, their culture, they sense of connectedness and belonging.  They lose any connection to their past.   And many times they lose their names (if they are known).   And they don't get a choice about that.

After writing my question to the group noted above, what finally sunk down deep in my heart was that my question was not a valid one in some ways.  I think what finally hit me, is that it shouldn't be my choice whether to keep their dad's surname or not in their new name.  It is their choice because it is their name.  It's theirs.  It's not my name to take away from them.  I realized that I was asking the question all wrong.  Of course I should include their father's surname in their name.  It's their name.  As much as adoption brings with it a new family, it doesn't erase the past, their family, and the genetic connection of that child to that family.  It doesn't mean that I should wipe it all clean and start over.  I love that they re congolese, I love their country.  Every moment I spent with their birth family was precious.  The name of their father is a gift to them (the good and bad), it is precious, a gift I have to give them that not all adoptive parents have to give to their children.   Maybe one day when they are adults they will change their names in a different way.  And you know what?  That will be okay with me.  They will have a lot of names to work from and two families that love them with names to connect them to their past, present and future.  

(These are my thoughts and personal opinions, I know there is a wide range of beliefs about names.  Mine is one of those.  And I'd love to hear others as well.)

ADDENDUM:   Our girls were not given any first names at birth, they had their father's surnames however.  We gave them first names.  Their middle names are currently the first names of significant women from their birth family and then our last name.


Jess said...

You are right, this is such a personal decision in families. We chose to change our daughter's name. Her given name would have been ridiculed up and down here in the states, and when it boiled down to it, we didn't like it. We kept our son's, for the simple fact that we liked it.

I have been thinking a lot about the idea of holding on to the culture that adopted children are from. Several of my friends are adopted, and I admit that my personal opinion comes from hearing much of what they had to say. But they both agreed that they don't see themselves as anything but American. Not Korean-American, or Colombian-American. Just American. I find this very interesting in this current day of holding onto whatever we can for our kids.

That is one thing that I love about adoption, kids basically are without culture in the fact that they have a new family and will be raised in a new land. (I know that many of you may disagree, but this is my own opinion). Our kids are American now. Yes they were from the Congo, but now, they are American. I find it interesting that everyone wants to hold onto heritage for their kids, but it seems that we only pick the "good" things to hold onto. What if our kids were from a tribe that has always had a history of witchcraft going back many generations. Would we keep that for them because it is a part of their culture and who they come from? I highly doubt it. We pick the nice things like holidays, and food and things of that nature.

Yes, I think that it is important to tell them about their country and where they came from. That is after all where they started. But I am not sure how important it is to hold onto everything for them because "that is who they are". That isn't who they are. They are who they become in a family that loves them, whether that is in the US,France, England or other places.

Family shapes them. I am my daughter and son's mother. They may not have come out of my womb, but I am their mother in every other sense of the word. I think that is why people always stress the difference between the birth mom and the mother. Most women can have babies, but they cannot all be mothers.

I view their culture in the same way. Yes, they came from a different country, but they are Americans now and that is how they will be raised.

In the end, I think it completely is up to the families on how they want to do it. And I don't think that it's right or wrong either way. The best thing is for people to make the choices that they feel good about, and to respect the choices of others.

Holly said...

Jess, thanks for the comment. Naming a child is a very personal and sensitive decision for sure. And certainly, every one has a right to their own opinion about this. Your children one day may share the exact same opinions that you express above, and I'm sure they will appreciate the thought and care that you gave their name giving. I have a couple of friends who were adopted that would agree with you 100%. Others do not. I only can hope that for all of us, if our children don't agree with us, that they are allowed to have the same right to those opinions as well. One day, if your son or daughter would like to change their names to incorporate the names of their first family, I hope that that will be understood and welcomed by you as well. Obviously, they may keep their names given by you their entire lives and be happy with those. If you are interested in reading some adult adoptee literature that shares differing opinions than those you expressed I can share some of those links as well.

I'm not sure how to comment on the culture question, except to say that it is indeed challenging to even begin to understand another culture from the perspective of our culture here in the U.S. And it is important to try to refrain from too much cross-cultural judgment. (This goes both ways. When I lived in Congo, I didn't like the stereotypes and judgments made about American culture either.) All aspects of anyone's culture are important, the good and the "bad". In the end your kids may agree with you 100% and only see themselves as American (appreciating what they have learned about their heritage from you, but leaving it to that). And they might want to move to Congo and immerse themselves in the culture they were born into but removed from by adoption. And it's all okay.

My last comment is that I personally have never stressed "birth mother" different than "mother" for the reason you suggested (because "most women can have babies, but they cannot all be mothers"). I have tried to be sensitive to the fact that when it comes to international adoption, many children are adopted because poverty made it impossible for their parents to care for them, not because they couldn't be a mother. I try to remember that if I ever was forced into destitute poverty with no resources and had to make the horrific decision to give my children for adoption that I would have done that from a position of being 100% my children's mother (making a very hard and desperate decision in what I considered for their best). For our girls, their mother died giving birth to them. My girls will always have two mothers, their mother that died giving them life is just as much as their mother as I am now.