Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Names, names, names - join the carnival

Grown in my Heart is having their second blog carnival. It's a wide open topic this month: Names. Anything about them. Go here to jump in:
Also, check out the newsletter now available over at GIMH - Surviving the Holidays!

Now, on to the names!!!

Our children got new names along with a new country, new family, new food, new smells, new home – pretty much new everything. Honestly, that was part of our reason for doing it. The one extra change was taken in stride with all the others. But, it goes much deeper than that. Here are a few reasons we changed our children’s name (yes, first name, middle name and last name).
o I don’t have a lot of their stories to tell them. I don’t know about the rush to the hospital when their first mother went into labor. I don’t even know if they were born in a hospital. The only stories I do know are sad ones. I wanted a story to tell them about how we prepared for them. I tell them often of choosing a list of names I loved for each of them. That list was based on a premise that matched with our oldest son’s name. I can tell them about their brother looking over the list and weeding out a few names that he didn’t think was either ‘cute’ or ‘manly’ enough. I can tell them about the exact dinner we ate the night we showed the list to Dad and some of his funny comments about names that eventually dropped off the list. I know where these names come from – our hearts and souls and it’s something we gave them…it was part of our nesting.
o Many children in Russian orphanages are not called by their birth names. There may be 20 Vladimirs and therefore each one becomes a pet name of their own. Some children don’t even know their birth names after living in the orphanage for a length of time. Bringing them home and calling them by the name on their birth certificate would be the same as calling them by a new family chosen name to them. My daughter did not know her name (hadn’t even been called it in her first family) and when we mentioned it to her one day she argued that it wasn’t her name. Our son did know his name and had learned to spell it – but was not called that as far as he can remember…again, a pet version was what he knew.
o When we had to fill out the papers for new birth certificates, we did not know our children’s names. It was a strange glitch that happened after we lost our first two referrals. So, we had to pick blind. Either check the box stating “Leave names as current” or “change names to XXX”. There are simply some Russian names that I am not in love with and that don’t ‘translate’ all that well. We found out later that our son was Andrei and our daughter was Anastasia (btw, that name is not pronounced like the Disney movie and the chances of anyone ever saying it right were slim to none). Had fears of Igor…honestly…
o The day we told our daughter (through the interpreter) what her new name would be she replied (in a dramatic fashion that we now know and love) “It’s like a choir of angels singing when I hear that name”. She remembers saying that and she still loves her name. And fittingly, she is that name -perfectly. People who don’t know our adoption story have said “wow, she must have just looked like a XXX when she was born”. She embodies it perfectly. She’s proud of her name!
o When we told our son his new name, he asked how to write it in English and he continued to write it for a long time. I have the notebook he carried on the 14 hour flight home. He filled nearly every page with his name – first, middle, last – over and over. Never tired of it. In Moscow, he walked up to a hotel maid and spoke to her in Russian. While I could not understand most of what was said I did get “my name is now XXX and this mama and papa chose that for me”. In her broken English she said “a beautiful name for a wonderful boy…you are all blessed”. I remember that still.
o When we met our first referrals, we chose names for those children. After losing them, we didn’t simply ‘recycle’ the names. Those names belonged to those children – and we still talk about them now using those names. We pray for them and all our children discuss them from time to time as lost family that we no longer see. It wasn’t about ownership when we chose new names – it was about inclusion…again, about the story being a happy one.
I’ve chosen to not use my kids’ names here in public forums. I want them to have a modicum of privacy. But, it makes me sad. Their names and their being have become one. They are Russian – new names did not, would not, could not, take that away. They can move through life and choose who to tell their stories to and that, also, was part of our decision to rename.


  1. I think it's wonderful that your kids were able to embrace totally new names as part of the adoption process. It's not always an easy thing, especially for older kids. Sometimes, it's the only thing they have to hang onto that is truly theirs...there is a great deal of loss already for many kids who come to our families through adoption. On the other hand, some parents have commented on the boards that their kids welcomed the change as a way to completely break free from what came before.

    As you know, we kept our girls' first names, both because we really liked them and because that's what they wanted. (The older generally goes by her Russian diminutive but answers to and sometimes gives her full name) The older was already suffering from tremendous loss (much of which we didn't learn until later) and the younger had a pleasant, yet somewhat unique first name that transliterated well.

    M, you've done very well by your kids. The struggles sometimes are challenging, but your kids have outstanding parents, both to take care of them and to be role models for thier own lives should they someday become parents, themselves.

  2. One thing I forgot to mention in this piece is that when my DD talks about the past, she refers to herself in third person - using her Russian pet name. Like "I remember when XXX had to go barefoot in the snow". It's her, but she has separated somewhat. I worried about this for a time - but therapist says it's a nice 'tool' for her to have. When you ask who XXX is - she says "me".
    It does work differently for every family and every child. I don't personally know anyone who changed a child's name and had immediate dramatic results - but I'm sure it's happened. For us, it was just a question of what were we 'keeping' for them? Not a lot of good associated with those names.

  3. Jim - Also wanted to add that I appreciate your kind words. You've been there literally "from the beginning" and you know that IN that beginning I hid from a lot of truths. So, the names does actually seem to be something that went the way it felt like it 'should' go...but re-reading this today made me realize I wrote it like some kind of fairy tale or something. They do love their names...they have loved them to this point...but things in the future are never a guarantee. We'll cross that bridge when it comes I guess (heck, DS1 wants to change his name some days!).

  4. I loved reading about how you chose to rename your children! Great post, and I look forward to checking out the rest of your blog!

  5. I loved hearing your daughter's reaction to her new name. Oh, the drama (in a good way)!