Thursday, June 28, 2012

on naming our children

when we set out to choose names for our children, we knew we were undertaking a very serious task. we didn't want to choose names simply because we liked them or how they sounded or because they were family names. we wanted names with meanings, names that our children could live into.

i know the question of re-naming (or not re-naming) adopted children causes friction in the adoption community. i know some people who think it's simply wrong to take away a child's given name, primarily because it's stripping them of the one last tie they have to their birth culture (and, in some cases, birth family). i know others who believe it's the privilege of the adoptive parents to give their child a new name (like God re-naming abraham and sarah after he makes his covenant with them). and still, i know others who believe re-naming an adopted child is good for practical reasons (for example, so your child isn't the kid who gets his name mispronounced on the first day of school every year).

the thing is, based on how things have worked out for us, i'd probably tell all prospective adoptive parents to "wait and see" on the name. otherwise, you may have to write a blog post and circulate it to all the people who now know your children by the wrong names. most people go into the adoption process feeling really passionate one way or the other without considering all the variables. for the person who "knows for sure" they're going to give their child a new name, consider that your child may flat out refuse the name (this most likely won't happen if you're adopting an infant) or won't understand (because of language issues) that the new name is a name and not some other way of categorizing identity (ie, another title like "mommy" or "sister"). this has been the case with our daughter, and the reason why we have ultimately decided not to change their names. at 4 years old, our daughter knows her name is kalkidan. and while she seemed to like the name ruthie, she never latched on to ruthie kalkidan and instead consistently referred to herself as kalkidan ruthie. frankly, we decided it was unfair to force a new name on a child who so adamantly preferred her given name, especially since we have no way of really explaining the re-naming concept (likewise, i'd also say it's unfair to force a child to keep their given name if they specifically ask for a new name, which i know is common for older adopted children to do). plus, kalkidan (particularly her nickname of kal) is much more fitted to her fiesty personality, something we wouldn't have realized had we not at least been open to not re-naming her.

and for the person who "knows for sure" they're going to keep their child's given name, consider that your child may come to you with a name that's flat out crazy (ie, they could be named madonna or obama or something like that) or their name could present a religious conundrum for you (ie, you are a christian but your child's name means "the strength of allah" or something like that).

so if you know us in real-life, this is the newsflash that we're going to confuse the heck out of you by telling you that our kids' names are rebuma and kalkidan and not ruthie and ephraim. their full names will be rebuma ephraim dean and kalkidan ruth dean (because ruth flows better than ruthie after kalkidan), and you can go here to see what each name means.

and if you're thinking about adopting, my advice is to remember that there's no right or wrong way to approach naming your child. our kids may resent us one day for sticking them with names that are extremely unique and, for some, difficult to pronounce. they may also have resented us if we had changed their names and taken away their ethiopian names. i think each child, once they understand the issue, has the potential to take a different stance based on his/her personality. for now, we've done what seemed best with what limited perspective we all have.


  1. thank you for sharing and writing lauren. as someone who also recently went through this with an older child and had to process a decision to keep or change the name I appreciate you sharing and your perspective. I totally agree with what you've shared.

    when our child first mentioned that he wanted to change his name, we were all at a group meeting with about 10 other people. it totally caught us by surprise because we hadn't even thought about it. once we began to understand...we realized that for him, he wanted to leave the past behind him.

    however in the end -- he opted to keep first name and change the middle name. and truth be told - we know that this will be another opportunity for God to redeem the past. his name, does not define who he is. God does!

  2. Well said Lauren!!! Each family has to do what is best for their child. I agree that there really is no right or wrong answer with this one. And as someone who had to reissue the memo about the name thing, I feel you. Praying everyone is taking it in stride, we had a few not so nice responses to it.

  3. Well, cool.

    As you said, you have to do what works for you and for your kids. We didn't rename our kids (not that we could have in the beginning, anyway), which causes some confusion sometimes since Small Fry and I share the same first name, but hey, this is how they know themselves.

    By the way, did you get the package we sent? (To the kids, with the wrong names, but oh well.)

  4. What a humble and teachable approach to naming your kids. LOVE it.

  5. well said. We thought we'd keep our kiddos' ethiopian names as their middle names and we actually decided to the opposite and give them fully new first and middle names. Like you said- to each his own. There are good reasons to keep or drop their birth names. I've been meaning to do a post to explain it to our friends and family too because they all think they still have their ethiopian names as their middle names. So glad you're kiddos are home.