Hi all - When adopting internationally, there are so many considerations. One of those is the name your child will be known by in his/her new life. Do you keep the given name? Use the given name as a middle name to hold on to the heritage? Do you completely change your child's name so as to symbolize the new life? Do you let your child pick out a new name? What have you done? Did you have a name already chosen for your child before bringing them home and after being matched?
Naming traditions are very personal, and there is no one "right" way to name a child, whether homegrown or adopted, though there may be some ways that seem a bit wrong.
Many religions and cultures have naming traditions that people follow. As an example, I am Jewish and of Eastern European descent. It is common among Eastern European Jews that children are named after deceased relatives. As an example, my parents named me after my father's mother and sister, who died overseas. My regular English name is an anglicised version of their names -- Sharon Ann -- but I also have a Hebrew name, used for ceremonial purposes, which is Sara Chana, from their actual names. When I was born, it was 1945, and people's memories of the Holocaust were very real and scary, so a lot of people didn't want to use names that sounded "too Jewish" as English names, lest their children encounter prejudice and discrimination. Hence, it was not uncommon to give children English names that were slightly different from the Hebrew ones.
When I named my daughter, I followed the naming tradition. My maternal grandmother died when I was of preschool age, and my mother had been very close to her. All my life, she said that she hoped that I would name a daughter after her mother, whose Hebrew name was Rebecca. And, indeed, I gave my Chinese daughter the first name of Rebecca, in her honor. My grandmother was usually referred to as Becky or Pessele (Pearl), but I called my daughter Becca, and that is her preferred nickname today.
I gave my daughter two middle names. For an English middle name, I used Joy, borrowing the J from my late father's name, Jack, and my late maternal grandfather's name, Joseph. The name also reflected how I felt about the adoption. I brought my daughter, my first and only child, home when I was almost 51, and she was 18.5 months old, and I was so, so happy that I finally became a Mom.
I also kept my daughter's Chinese name as a second middle name. Her original Chinese name was Zeng Chufang. In Chinese, the last name comes first, so Zeng was her surname, given by the orphanage, as she was an abandoned child. Her first and middle names, often written together in Chinese, were Chu and Fang, so I gave my daughter the middle name of Chufang, which has the meaning "clear and beautiful". Those names were given by the orphanage, which saw in her the beautiful young woman she would become.
As we are Jewish, I also gave Becca a Hebrew name -- Rivka Gilat. Rivka is simply the Hebrew version of Rebecca, used in the Hebrew version of the Bible. Gilat is one way to say "joy" in Hebrew, and is a popular girl's name in Israel, though not often used in the U.S. Gilat sounds a bit like Goldie, my late mother's name, and so I was honoring her memory with her Hebrew name.
I did not tell anyone the name I had chosen for my daughter till I adopted her. For one thing, I wanted to be sure that it would fit her, and that another name didn't pop into my mind when I actually met her. For another, I didn't want anyone trying to second guess my choices, especially relatives. Once I was in my hotel, with my daughter in my arms, I contacted a cousin to circulate her name, height, and weight among the relatives, and also sent particulars to a friend, for circulation among other friends.
And once I was home and over jet lag, I sent out very traditional adoption announcements, which featured her English and Hebrew names, and two relevant quotes from the Bible. One of the quotes was from the story of Sarah, the wife of Abraham, who laughed and said, when she heard that she would have a child long after menopause, "Shall I indeed have a child at my age?" That was intended to remind people that this modern Sara Chana would indeed become a Mom in her 50s, and that late bloomers were not unusual, having even existed in Bible times. The second quote was from Hannah (Chana) in the book of Samuel. Upset at being infertile, she prayed so fervently for a child that the temple priest, Eli, thought she was drunk. And when she finally conceived and bore Samuel, she said, "For this child I have prayed." And, indeed, I did pray, and think, and worry, for several years as I thought about adopting and then went through the process.
Yes, I took a traditional route towards naming, but I don't expect everyone to do things my way. Many Christians use Bible names, however, and Muslims often name children after Muhammed, his wives, and others in the Koran, as well as after Biblical figures such as Ibrahim (Abraham). The Pilgrims and Puritans often named children after virtues they wanted their children to have, like Patience and Prudence and even Felicity; the sister of a friend of mine is named Felicity, which means happiness. Using virtues is also common among Jews. The only problem with that sort of naming is that Chastity may turn out to be remarkably unchaste, and that Temperance may turn out to be a raging alcoholic, making the names rather ironic. Just about all cultures name children after famous people known for good qualities -- whether Martin Luther King or John Kennedy or someone else in the public eye. And there are lots of other people who just choose names because they sound nice or are associated with some modern singer or actor. The main problem there is that some people choose names whose history they do not know. As an example, someone wrote about naming a child Matahari, without realizing that the name is associated with a woman who was executed as a spy, and who was also a courtesan -- a woman with a series of rich lovers who paid her bills.
In international adoption, it is pretty common to give a child one name that ties the child to his/her new family and another name that anchors the child in his/her former culture. It is also common to use the actual name given by a child's birthparents as one of the names, if it is known. But there is no law saying that you must do these things. People adopting children from other countries often find that their names don't work well in English. As an example, there is a Vietnamese name that looks as if it would be pronounced like the "f-bomb", and is best avoided. A Jewish child won't do too well today with the Hispanic name Jesus, even though it is pronounced differently from the Biblical Jesus (who was also Jewish). And no one can figure out how to pronounce names starting with X, like Xiao; in Chinese, it's generally pronounced with an "hs" sound. Some families don't care for their child's actual foreign name, especially if it was given by the orphanage, rather than by the birth family, and choose another one that is common in the child's culture. While the customs have changed, some Chinese orphanages used to give names with meanings such as "Child of the State" to orphans; obviously, new parents would not generally choose to keep such names. And other orphanages gave ugly names to their children, to fool the spirits so they would not steal them; there was said to be a child, in the early days of China adoption, whose name meant "stinky duckweed".
My advice to families is that they should choose a name that is meaningful to them, and that won't embarrass the child in days to come. Certain names may appear cute for babies, but you may not want to think of a Supreme Court justice named Sissy or Buster. Most children will go through a stage of hating their names, no matter how beautiful and well-chosen they are, but they usually come back to the one their parents chose for them.
Sharon