Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Name Game

Like many of my mommy friends, I get excited about names. I have spent an embarrassing amount of time on Nymbler. I have a growing and ever-changing list of baby names tucked away in my mind.

When my husband and I decided on adoption, we spent the long drives between our home and our parents' houses discussing baby names. My husband, I'm sure, would have preferred to discussing something else, but I was enthusiastic and adamant that we have the crucial baby name conversation time and time again.

Girl names came easily to me. Boy names not so much. I'd throw out a name only to have it rejected. My husband would throw out a name only to have me laugh or tell him that I had a student with that name who drove me crazy. (I've been teaching for five years and teach two to three classes per semester---so, that's a lot of names).

The conversations grew more complex as we tried imagined the races of our future children. I asked myself, "How would this name I choose affect a child who is black? Who is white? Who is Hispanic?" (By the way, our last name is SO white....)

We've all heard that employers will statistically select the resumes of white sounding individuals, based on their names, over individuals whose names indicate that they are of another race.

We hear white people remarking and sometimes poking fun at the odd sounding, hard to spell, or hard to pronounce black names. Or I've heard white people snort (literally) at names like Precious or Princess that AA women give their baby girls.

I once posted on an adoption message board about my conflicting ideas---how to name a child of another race? I remember some women getting very upset that I would even think that I had to be careful about how I named my child because he/she might be black or Hispanic or Asian or another race.

I didn't want to name my daughter Shaniquia simply because I wanted to help my child affirm my child's blackness. And then, how stereoptyical of me to even think of a name like Shaniquia and align that with any sort of indicator of how black my child would be perceived as. (How's that for good grammar?) I didn't want to be desperately trying to make up for the fact that she has white parents. As if a name could "make up" for that. As if I need to make up for anything.

The truth is, I want my daughter to be proud of her name and her family. The two very well have no connection. Or maybe they are connected, intricately, deep down, somewhere. I don't know.

The story continues now, a year after we adopted, because we call my daughter a shortened version of her first name. However, I find myself sometimes introducing her to people of her same race as her full first name because it sounds more black. Because I want the approval of strangers. It's bizarre. On one hand, who cares what anyone else thinks? On the other hand, the approval of the AA community (which I feel through individual encounters) matters to me. I don't want my daughter to be the white-black girl. She's black. And I'm out to prove that to the world. Stupid mommy.

Before you yell "shame" on me, please be patient. I'm trying to do the best I can. I'm trying to figure this whole adoption/transracial/parenthood thing out. It's going to be trial and error, like with many things in life.

Proverbs 22:1
"A good name is more desirable than great riches [. . .]"

1 comment:

  1. The "name game" is important, I think. At every Culture Camp we've been to (since our son was 3 years old), the name issue comes up during the parent sessions...from adult adoptees and parents. Should or shouldn't our children have part of their birth name...which helps them identify with their ethnicity. Obviously, since my child spent a couple of months in an orphanage, he already had a name (given to him by someone at the orphange) when we adopted him. We chose (like many of the parents we know) to incorporate part of his birth name, which happens to culturally identify him with his ethnicity, in with his English/American name that is easier to pronounce. But here are some of the issues/thoughts we've heard from adult adoptees (and maybe I'm not quite capturing their thoughts here but this, I think, is some of what I learned from their experiences)....

    1) One woman talked about the fact that when she went, for example, to a job interview, the people interviewing her seemed very suprised that (made up name here) "Christy Christensen" wasn't a blond/blue eyed woman.

    2) A couple of adult adoptees chose to legally change their first or last name back to their birth first/last name which ethnically identified them as who they felt they were. They stated that they loved their adoptive families but they felt a deep need to have something to identify with culturally/ethnically.

    3) A few of the adoptive families chose to keep their child's birth name and did not change it. They spoke about the pride their children seemed to feel about having a name that reflected their ethnic heritage...especially as they were getting older.

    So, I don't know if that helps...but just some thoughts.... And, if you ever get to see the film "Adopted," you's about transracial adoption and, I think, a very powerful movie. Here's the website...


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