Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Keeping His Chinese Name



Originally, when we traveled to China to adopt Wenxin, we gave him an American first, middle and last name. We followed the advice of books, social workers and other adoptive parents. We called him his Chinese name in the beginning, and then, while still in China, we introduced his American name through our interpreter. The plan was to gradually transition from calling him his Chinese name, to using his American name all the time.

Wenxin, however, felt strongly about keeping his Chinese name. He didn't want to change. We heard his concerns and decided to incorporate "Wenxin" as a "second middle name " in his legal name.  We call him "Wenxin" in everyday life.    If he wants to go by one of his other names later on, it will be his choice. 

"But aren't you worried that people won't be able to say it?"

No, not really.

If you've only seen Wenxin's name in print, you are probably mispronouncing it.  The "x" throws people off.  His name is pronounced "Wen Sheen,"  just like actor, Charlie Sheen.  Once we say that, everyone gets it. 

And the America of today is a nation of many ethnicities and many ethnic names.  We have a president named Barack Obama.  Probably, most Americans had never met a "Barack" before President Obama, but we all learned to pronounce his name correctly.

Older children adopted internationally have almost all their choices taken from them. They have to accept new parents, move to a new country and learn a new language -- whether they like it or not.  He was almost eight years old.  We simply couldn't take his name as well.

Most children adopted from China transition to an American name. I think we are the exception, not the rule.  Time will tell if it was the right move or not.  Sometimes you just have to go with your gut.

If you have an adopted child, did you keep his/her birth name, change his/her name or do a little of both?  What were your reasons?  How did your child respond?


24 comments:

  1. I love his name! Sam is very proud of his Korean name, which was given to him by his birthmother and therefore kept as a middle name. So his full name is Samuel James Kyu Min Mitchell... In school, he will sometimes write his name on his paper as S.J.K.M.M. This is coming from someone who never had a middle name growing up because my mom thought 2 names was plenty!!!

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    1. Yes, Wenxin's name follows the same pattern as Sam's. Sometimes in homeschool, I let the kids just write their initials on their papers. I mean, really, there are just four of them. Today, Wenxin asked if he could write all his initials. Smile. Every now and then we talk about the significance of all the parts of his name.

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  2. We kept Joshua's Chinese name as his middle name with funky capitalization. Joshua FanKang Peterson. Why not, right? He was very happy with Joshua because I think his personality wanted to please us. I love Wenxin's name, it suits him. Thanks for the post as we are naming #2 and it's not going well. I am thinking of keeping her Chinese name as her first name. I like it and it suits her. These decisions are tough when you are naming an older child.

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    1. Agreed. And it's impossible to know for sure what's best for the child before you meet the child. Everyone told us he would want an American name - even our Chinese case worker. I love your approach -- considering what is best for each individual child.

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  3. We changed our son's name. We did keep his name as his middle name. However, our son is Deaf and had never heard his name. He loves his "new"name and it is much easier for him to sign. I do love his Chinese
    name though and use it often.

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    1. I love that you chose a name that is easy for him to sign! And I love that you "love" his Chinese name. How old was your son when you adopted him?

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    2. Our son was 6 1/2 years old when we adopted him. It was tough! Since he is Deaf they hadn't taught him any language and he didn't know what was happening.

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    3. I looked at your blog, Lisa, and even told my husband about it. Wow, the world has certainly changed for your son. I can't imagine how hard it must have been for him (and for you) in the beginning, but what a blessing to be able to open up a whole new world for him. It will be exciting to see what God does with his life.

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  4. Hi Dana,
    Just saw your post on the BCWI forum and thought I'd take a peek at the blog. We kept Xiufen's Chinese name as her middle name but used it the whole first year we were home. She was 6, almost 7, when we came home in 2008, so had already established her own ideas and opinions and identity. We did give her a family name, Rose, as her first name, partly to make it easier later if she chose to use it and partly because my older daughter has a family name as well. By the second year, she chose on her own to go by Rose. I think as you said, it's about the only thing they have any control over during the adoption process. Adopting older children is a whole different ballgame and people need to be prepared to accept what amounts to a small "adult", wherein their opinions are already formed and their view of the world and what's important has already been formed, and some of that may never change.

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    1. I like the "small adult" comparison. I think you're right. Thanks for posting. I hope as more people chime in that the comments sections of this blog will become as valuable or maybe even more valuable than the original posts.

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  5. I just came across your blog and love all that you are doing! Our daughter was 2 when we got her so she transitioned to her American name before we even left China...if fact she responded better to it. We really struggled with her name because I felt very strongly about keeping her Chinese name (it is the only thing they really bring with them from that part of their life and it is part of their heritage) but I also have drempt of sharing my middle name with a daughter. So we opted to keep both even though our last name is two words which makes her name VERY long. Maggie Marie XinQian Van Orden-- how is that for a name? We figure as she gets older she can choose which ones she wants to write. :)

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  6. My daughter was 7 at the time I adopted her. I felt strongly from the start that her Chinese name was hers to keep, but that I'd add an English middle name. However, I could not think up a suitable English name and after she'd been home for 6 months I asked her about it. It was the only time I ever saw her clam up and turn to stone. She had very strong feelings about changing her name and it had been the only thing she was dreading about the adoption. I'm so thankful that I'd already decided to keep her name. I eventually found a beautiful Chinese name that I put as her middle name so she has two Chinese names, which are four Chinese characters. This is strange in China, but it suits her very, very well.

    I'm adopting a teen in a couple of months and an English name popped into my head from the start. I love her Chinese name, too, so I'll keep it and add the English name, if she likes it, but will probably call her by her Chinese name.

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    1. Wow! You are the first parent I've talked to who actually continued to call their adopted child by his/her Chinese name. Thanks for sharing your experience. Congratulations on you new daughter. You'll have to stop by (in all your free time, wink, wink) and let us know how it's going.

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  7. We left all our children's first names - their Chinese language names and gave them an English middle name with the exception of our 4th child, who has a two word middle name. I did split our 2nd daughter's name into two words. The two youngest at adoption - age 8, we called them by their Chinese names from the get go, and while they have English middle names, have never called them that.

    As you said about your son, our first son, I could not take my everything from him - because it was his birth name (given up by his parents to the orphanage). So he lost his surname, gained ours, got a middle name. Original paperwork had his English name first followed by his Chinese name but finally I just could not do it and reversed it for passport and everything else.

    Since our 2nd daughter was right at 10 on adoption day, we had the guide ask her on our last day in China her preference of name. She chose the new English name.

    Same story for our latest child, except, he told the guide he liked all the names - but has declared himself to be - his Chinese name. His case though is more intriguing because he was old enough when he went to the orphanage to remember his birth name....

    Thus we have three being called by their Chinese names, one by her English name.

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    1. Tim, thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I saw that you had a frustrating time getting your post to appear. Here's what happened. All comments are saved to be approved before posting. This keeps spammers from filling up the content section of my blog with ads for prescription drugs and fake purses. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I hope you'll give your input on other posts as well.

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  8. Our son (will come home shortly after his 14th birthday) has a first name that sounds an awful lot like a girl's name.... there's a lot of ignorant rednecks where we live and for his own good we are going to suggest he take the name Michael since his dream is to "dance like Michael Jackson".... then it's a name HE might LIKE and we'll move his name (spoken by Leslie Nielsen in a Naked Gun movie....) will move to his middle name, as well as his chinese last name which means "Dragon" and is easy to pronounce. Maybe we'll just call him that as his nickname.... "Meddle ye not in the affairs of dragons for ye are tasty with ketchup....."

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  9. We kept their names because it's one of the only things they have left of their heritage and culture and birth family. I blogged about it here: http://likethelove.blogspot.com/2011/12/whats-in-name.html Getu sounds like "gay too", so we've received some rather rude comments about that, but otherwise everyone has been very gracious and kind about their names. It's interesting, though, that now that they're in school, they have asked for new names. I mostly think it's because Endale thinks his is too long to spell and wants to change it to that of a famous soccer player. :) We will give them American middle names, so if they ever choose to go that route, they can. However, I can't really imagine that they will after 7 and 8 years of having the same names.

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  10. HI Dana - I just linked up to your "adoption stories" thread. I've enjoyed reading your blog this morning. We had planned to give our Ethiopian daughters new first names (family names) and tried our best to use them in the beginning but it was hard for a couple of reasons. They were siblings and for months spoke their Ethiopian language to each other and used their names ALL the time - even while learning English they would say "Jemila do it," or "Kulate like this." We found that it was hard for us to not call them by their Ethiopian names as we had referred to them as those names for the entire year during the adoption process. In the end, their American names became their middle names and we never use them! I actually love it now and people love their names. Now as we are in the process of an adoption from China, we are struggling with the same thing...to keep the name or call by an American name. Our little girl's third Chinese name is Ting - which we love and I am sure, we will end up calling her that. Her Chinese "middle" name is Xiao - and like your son's will be a difficult one for others to read (her name is XiaoTing - which sounds like "shouting"). Why is the name thing so hard? Love your son's name and have enjoyed your blog. God bless!

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  11. I should say that I know very little about adoption and therefore haven't read all of the researched reasons why a name change would be encouraged. Every time I read of it, I think it's really sad that kids, especially older ones, have to have even their name changed. It just feels wrong to me for so many reasons :(

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  12. spelled barack :)

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    1. Thank you. I guess we all learned how to say it, but not how to spell it. At least not in my case. Making the change now.

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  13. I think you made a great decision. I have no direct experience with adoption, but one of my high school friends had been adopted from Korea at 3 and was upset that her parents had not kept her Korean name at all but gave her first, middle, and last names of their (English/Scottish) ethnicity.

    My son's school is very diverse, and one of many things I like about that is that he doesn't think anybody has a "weird name". He is totally accustomed to classmates with names like Sriyashi, Eytan, Xiaohui, J'Nyha, Haruka, and Asante, and although he's a weak speller overall he quickly learns to spell their names. It's a big contrast to my childhood in a very middle-American town where we once had a substitute teacher named Mrs. Horowitz and everyone thought that was such a wacky name!

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  14. We adopted two at a time - Fenfang (Grace) a week before she turned 14, and Chonglin (Seth) when he was almost two. We needed a medical expedite for Seth because of his complex CHD and Grace was about to age out. This was our first adoption and we got it done in five months because we were frantically trying to get Grace before she aged out and Seth needed surgery ASAP. We were so busy that www didn't even think about that before we were in China. Fenfang liked the name Grace better and Chonglin just fit Seth better (yes, we are aware his names means second born brother unicorn:)). Seth is now seven, and we call him Chonglin. His teachers call him Seth, as do about half his friends. He is slowly transitioning to Seth, but I think he will always be Chonglin to me. :)

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