This is a topic I have received so many questions about and to be totally honest- some pretty brutal judgement. In the first months before and after we adopted Nova I received some condemning emails about our decision to re-name Nova. In one message I can remember shaking as I was reading it as we were called names (like racist, entitled and self absorbed) for choosing to name our Chinese-American daughter an American name. I will be honest that at the time it hurt like hell and I was at a loss for any way to feel besides defensive. I expected backlash about other aspects of our adoption- but never the naming.
In time, I’ve been able to figure out my own perspective and examine our intentions and decision privately. In this post today I want to make it crystal clear that I am sharing our experience- not saying what is right or wrong. I want to be careful not to just dismiss the critiques we were given, because I definitely do think they are a part of a big and important conversation.
So to begin let me clear up some assumptions about our own adoption story. Many questions we get assume that Nova’s Chinese name was given to her by her biological parents or that she was called by this name every day until we met her and so it would be very confusing to her to get a new name. I completely understand these concerns. We had these concerns as well. But they were not the reality of our situation. Every adoption is different and this is just one story.
A lot of people don’t know that placing a child for adoption is still not legal in China- and for this reason most children are left anonymously. So unless the biological family leaves a note with the child’s family-given name or their birthdate these become unknowns.
The orphanage will then assign a name and an estimated birthdate (which becomes the official birthdate on birth certificates and documents from then on). We had Nova’s birth certificate name translated and it we were told it meant- female from the province she was in. In our situation we felt that the name was given to her for the purpose of paperwork, but that it was assumed we would give her an American name. Every adoption story is different, but we were told in our file that Nova was called a nickname instead of the name on her birth certificate. We were told two different translations for the name, “baby” and “hair” (because of her white hair), and we still do not know for sure which was intended by the person who prepared the file, but we figured we would use the nickname when we met her and we hoped it would bring her comfort.
On the day we did meet her we had a list of questions with us for her caretakers. They spoke very little english. One of the questions we asked was what name she was called (we wanted to be sure we pronounced it correctly) and they told us a completely different nickname.
We tried to use both nicknames, but she never responded to either one. So from the first few days we began to call her Nova. And in less than two weeks before we had left China she began to say, “Nova”.
In the future, if we have a chance to connect with Nova’s biological family (which we plan to pursue) the first questions we would ask them are what was the name they gave her and when was her birthday. We long to know these things and to meet the family that gave her life and ultimately gave us the chance to become parents. It would be our dream to know this family and to have a relationship with them!
That said, for the time being I feel good about our decision to name our daughter Nova. I realize that a case can be made for how we have taken something from her or stolen a part of her heritage. I hope she never sees our decisions in this way. But in reality, we make lots of choices as parents that we hope are good choices. We do our best and we don’t know for sure how our children will feel about our choices until they are much older.
The re-naming conversation is complex and there is no need or benefit in trying to simplify it. In toddlers it’s tough to tell their opinions on certain things, but with older children I’ve heard naming stories all over the map. Kids who want to keep the names they are used to and identify with and kids who request new, American names and plenty of families who find a way to combine both names. These are all options that have been right for different families.
There is no reason to assume intentions on an adoptive family- especially if you don’t know the whole story. And it is my very strong opinion that there is no right and wrong when it comes to naming. Like so many other elements in parenting, different things work for different families.
If there is one thing I’ve learned so far about adoption it is that adoptees do not like to have their feelings generalized (I mean- do any of us?). So let’s all collectively let go of any judgements we have and spend that energy asking questions and hearing stories.
And if you’re considering adoption and I’ve just terrified you, I’m so sorry! I always feel really torn when I write about these more debated subjects because I don’t want to scare anyone away from adoption. Yes- I got some mean emails, but I also have a big audience and I get mean emails sometimes- I’m not saying it will happen to you. But if it does- hopefully reading this story will help validate you that there is not one right way to do things, no matter what anyone tries to say. 🙂 Honestly- it’s just being a parent on the internet…. welcome to 2018.
Considering adoption? Our agency, Holt International, is happy to talk you through different options for adoption (it’s free and there is zero commitment). Holt has adoption programs for China, Korea, Vietnam, Colombia, Thailand, the Philippines, Haiti and India. You can get in touch with them by clicking here.