2 more cents on naming

If I were re-naming this post it would be:

Wanting a Daughter, Needing to Change Her Name


“I Love You Like Crazy Cakes, but I Hate Your Crazy Name!”

It seems incredibly rare for parents who have adopted from
China (and other countries I might add) to retain their children’s names. Why do so few adoptees get to keep their names? Adoptive parents have a variety of reasons for changing their child’s name, commonly along the lines of:

“It’s just an orphanage name; she never even knew it” = the child’s original name is just a fluke and we “just know” it is of no importance to her.

“It’s too hard to pronounce” = SHE has to adapt, not us.

“All the American-born Chinese girls at Chinese school have Western names” = since “real” Chinese people do it, we can too.

“We don’t want her to get teased on the playground” = we haven’t really given much thought to whatever else she’ll be teased about.

“She can change her name back any time she wants” = she’ll have to pay money to do it after a time when everyone has known her by the name we gave her, and despite what we say, she will have to soothe over our hurt feelings in the process.

“By re-naming her, we are ‘claiming’ her” = “She’s our property damnit and we are exercising our right of entitlement!”

Adoptive parents surely must take great care in choosing just the right new name for their child. Sadly, it seems the names given by adoptive parents to their children from China often fall into the following predictable categories:

Place Names: These names typically come with altered spellings to designate a place. They almost make sense when the designated place is somewhere Asian, but even when they are not, they are downright laughable.

Examples: Asia (also spelled Aja, Azah), Chynna,

China-Lite Names: These names are like fortune cookies and crab rangoons – they are pseudo-Chinese with a decidedly American flavor. As sinoangle suggests, they smack of orientalism.

Examples: Jasmine and Jade, Mei Li, Maylee, Mayleigh, Meilee, Lusi (pronounced “Lucy” despite the fact in Chinese it wouldn’t be pronounced this way)

Resume Names aka Double-Take Names: These names are firmly Anglo in origin; they are intended to show the world that the child is “just like us.” One could also call these “whitewash names.” They may be designed to avoid red flags on a resume so that the child will not face discrimination in hiring. Ummm, have these parents not heard of in-person interviews?

Examples: Emma, Heather, Grace

Suckerpunch Names: These names provide some gratuitous social commentary, and are shockingly transparent in showing exactly why these parents adopted.

Example: Charity

Listen to what many adult adoptees tell us about retaining a child’s name: A name is an integral part of the child’s identity no matter who named her. To take away a child’s name is to erase a part of her past. Add if you must, but don’t take away (unfortunately, many adoptive parents run with this bit of advice by tucking away the child’s given name as a conveniently forgotten and never-used middle name).  Most importantly, honestly examine your motives for wanting to change your child’s name, and decide whether you are really doing it for her benefit or for yours.

(We’ve written extensively about naming before.)


6 thoughts on “2 more cents on naming

  1. i am curious to know how you felt about angelina re-naming her child Pax even though he had a name originally (and was adopted at an age when he was old enough to know/respond to/remember his original name). you may have written about it before, and i just missed it, but i am just curious. i found it to be a bit odd to give the child a new name, especially considering he was not a baby…i mean they are children, not pets, right?

  2. Personally, I try not to write anything about celebrity adoption. The press does enough of that already. Celebrities are celebrities, and overall they are few. I am much more concerned by the thousands of children who are adopted into “regular” families. I think all of our posts speak for themselves.

  3. As someone who has a modification of the name I was CALLED in the orphanage, but not the name on my birth certificate, I’d like to know what you think a suitable name would be. Only the name on the birth certificate? Most domestic adoptees have their names changed as well, sometimes something as seemingly inconsequential as John to Tom (such as my husband, domestically adopted.) Biological parents get to name their children anything they want, such as Apple or Moon Unit or Chastity. Are these parents exhibiting racism?

  4. Then there are the names that are Anglicized but close to “original” names?

    This was done so much in the 60s-80s to Korean adoptees to have become stereotypical “adoptee” names: Lee, Kim (or Kimberly), Leigh, anything including the syllable lee or ly (Holly, Leanna, Julie), Ann (close to Ahn).

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