Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What's In A Name?

Apparently, quite a bit. We have learned anecdotally that birthmothers often ask before or during a match what the adoptive parents intend to name the child. This makes sense to me, as names can be such an important part of an individual’s identity. I suspect that knowing what a child will be called helps to fill in a vision of his or her future.

...Which makes the question of what M. and I will name our child all the more troubling. What will a potential birthparent think if she asks and learns that we not only don’t know our kid’s first name, we don’t know his or her last name either?!

When M. and I began contemplating a life-long partnership, I brought up the question of changing my last name to his. I was somewhat surprised by our respective positions. Here I was - a proud feminist who emphasized in her undergrad thesis the importance of women retaining their family names in marriage to preserve independence – sharing that I’d be willing to take his last name as my own if it was important to him. And here he was - the only male descendant of his generation - indicating that he always assumed his wife would keep her name and that his family name would die with him. (Another example of why I love him.)

Fortunately, neither of us is so attached to our names – or was overly concerned about what our own families would think – that it became a big, contentious issue. But, we both do like our last names, particularly because they are evidence of our own dim cultural heritages.

So, when we made it official and got hitched, we didn’t do anything. We both happily (read: lazily) retained our own last names and chuckled (okay, sometimes we ground our teeth) when mail would arrive addressed to Mr. and Mrs. HisLastName.

Of course, the topic raised its head again as soon as we began planning to have a child. I expressed the preference that our nuclear family all share the same last name, to which M. concurred. We debated hyphenating, and also agreed that it isn’t ideal, as it usually just defers the naming dilemma to the next generation. We debated determining in advance that, say, if our child is female, she have M.’s last name, and if he’s male, he have mine, or vice versa. But then there’d be one person left out of our "family" name.

The solution that now seems most attractive to us is to create a whole new, original last name that we all could share. But which? I know of one couple that selected the name of the National Park where they met as their new last name. Unfortunately, just doesn’t work as well for us as Yellowstone did for them. The idea we like best at the moment is to combine the first syllable of his last name and the last syllable of mine. It makes a nice sounding last name that works pretty well with both of our first names. Truth be told, though, we are both a bit intimidated by the idea of announcing this change to our professional colleagues, not to mention the rigmarole of legalizing it.

So, we’ve got to come up with a good way of explaining all of this to a prospective birthmother without scaring her off. Any suggestions?

And then there is the issue of first names. This is something I spend more time thinking about than I probably should. It’s fun (most likely for the same reason it is a common question asked by birthmothers). When I hear of a name I hadn’t considered, I squirrel it away on a little list and wait to bring it up with M. after he’s had a glass of wine and seems in the mood to dream a bit about this child who is so late to arrive in our arms.

Fortunately, we are on very similar pages on this one. Matt expressed an early preference for avoiding: trendy names (like Ava), names that are spelled cr8tvleigh, and “made up Irish names like McKenzie and Declan.” I agreed…although I’ve noticed what we each think is too trendy hasn’t always matched, and some of the names he thinks fit into the last category, I think would be a nice tribute to his heritage, like using his very nice middle name: Quinn.

I suspect that if we had to this week (and I really wish we did!!), we could narrow our list to a half-dozen names for either gender that would be acceptable to both of us.

But then what? Should the birthfamily have any input? What if a birthmother is REALLY attached to a particular name, and we hate it? What if she just can’t stand any of our top contenders? And if we see names as a way to pay tribute to heritage, and birth heritage is an important part of an adopted child’s identity, how should the birthparents’ culture(s) influence our child’s name? Would it be just too weird to name our little Black son Lars, for example?

In most cases, birthparents determine the names that will go on the child’s original birth certificate, and adoptive parents determine the names that will go on a child’s amended birth certificate. I know of a few families, however, in which naming was well negotiated in advance, and everyone was happy about what name would go on the first document. That sounds really ideal.

I can tell you that if the names are determined and agreed upon before our baby arrives, they will NOT be widely shared until our kid is home with us. I know I’ve wrinkled my own nose reflexively too often upon learning a name of a loved one’s anticipated bundle of joy to risk the disappointment in opinions that advanced scrutiny might bring.

At least there is one (seemingly) simple part of this whole complex naming issue for our kid: we’ve determined the middle name! If it’s a girl, it will be Marie, like M.’s sisters’ middle name. If it is a boy, it will be Martin, as my mother and father both oddly share this middle name

….I’m glad I can’t see you wrinkling your nose.


Leigh said...

WOW, that's a lot to keep up with! You certainly have given this some thought :)

In my situation, I had a name for my girl in my mind, but just put Baby Girl "My Last Name" on the birth certificate. I guess I didn't feel that I had any say/place in the adoptive family's decision, since I was giving them my daughter to be THEIR daughter.

It turns out, thankfully, I love the name they picked. It was pretty and well suited for the girl my baby has become: Margaret Grace and they call her Maggie. I think it's cute. (Oh but I may not use that name on my blog for privacy sake so shhhhh) :)

As for your last name...can't help you there!!! Though does have a nice ring to it.

Rebecca said...

I stumbled upon your blog a while ago and have been quietly reading along.

Now that you're discussing names, I feel the need to chime in! My husband and I did not change our names when we got married. We never really considered any other options; I don't even remember having much of a discussion about it.

When our daughter was born, we gave her a hyphenated last name: Mylast-Hislast. To me, this is sort of like having a family name: We could call ourselves the "Mylasts-Hislasts" if we wanted, and it's always clear that our daughter is our daughter. (I've heard that one disadvantage of giving the child just one parent's last name is that people assume the other parent is a step-parent.) Another advantage of this naming scheme is that it requires no extra paperwork at all. Just fill in the baby's name on the birth certificate and it's done.

I don't really buy the argument that hyphenating "defers the naming dilemma to the next generation." Each generation will be faced with this dilemma no matter what. Our kids can figure it out for themselves when the time comes, just like we did.

I have thoughts on the first name, too, but I guess this comment has gotten long enough already!

Sally Bacchetta said...

Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog. I've enjoyed wandering through your blog this morning. I'll have to make time later for the article I was supposed to write this morning!

I'm sure you'll know what's right when the time comes. Both of our adoptions are partially open, with pictures and letters throughout the year, and an annual face-to-face meeting with our son's birthmother.

Our daughter was four days old when we met her, and her birthmother had chosen a name for her. We decided to keep it (luckily, we loved it) because we wanted her to always have that gift from her birthmother. We did change her middle name.

We were at the hospital when our son was born, and his birthmother asked us to name him. That was kind of stressful, because she had said she likes "way out there" names, and although we didn't want anything trendy or overused, we knew her "out there" was further "out" than ours. We wanted to honor her but also wanted a name that felt right to us, since we are his parents. In the end we decided to go with what seemed right for our family and hope for the best. She liked the name just fine. I suspect that her wanting us to name him was part of her closure process.

I'm enjoying your blog very much. I'll be back soon!

birthmothertalks said...

Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog. I don't know how much you have read or not, but when my daughter was born I named her. When I met the people who wanted to adopt her I asked them if they would leave her name as what I chose. For me it was important, because it was all that I could give her. I won't lie it also helped me know how to find my daughter, but that wasn't my plan. I have only recently been able to confirm that they honored my total wish of the first and middle name. Good luck with whatever you choose.

Bobby said...

I'll give my two cents, after I tell you I just found your blog after you commented on mine, and I love it! That said, in our case we debated over first names for months until we decided on "Sabrina". At our match meeting we didn't know what was going to happen, and our counselor just asked us "So have you thought of a name?" Silence, then "Um, yes.." More silence because we didn't want to presume we were naming the baby--we hadn't discussed this with our child's birthmother. "So, would you like to share it?" with nervous laughter from the BM. So we just announced it, and it was good--she liked it. As for last names, we thought about hyphens, but our names don't "roll off the tongue" and since his is easier then mine, we went with that. At some point I may add his to mine as a middle name (it wouldn't sound too out of place) but we'll see what happens.

Anonymous said...

We kept the name our birthmother gave our son. Honestly, it wasn't a name we would have chosen, but it wasn't one of our two deal breakers (Jesus or Christian -- we're Jewish!). I'm glad we kept it. I do view it as a connection to his birthfamily and a way to honor his birthmother. And it's a name that I now love because it represents my beautiful son and no one else in my circle. Ultimately, the naming issue became much less significant years out then it was in those vague, pre-adoptivemoments. Even our last names, which we spent a long time thinking about have really faded in importance. The kids have a new mixed version of our 2 last names, and it's no big deal. So not a big deal that we've talked about both going back and changing our names to their last name, since a large part of the world now assumes that that is our last name! Nomineno

Jacksmom said...

This is something I have thought about a lot and actually mentioned on my own blog. I think when we meet an emom, we would like to hope that we could all come up with a name we all like. We're not really much for trendy names (I say that even though our two year old is Jack-we just loved it too much to change it), and do have a few ideas in mind, but really feel it's important for our child's first mom to have input. Heck, if we're lucky she'll have a name picked out that we love already!