I’d like to preface this blog post with three thoughts:
- People, generally, for the most part, mean well
- Asking questions is a sign of curiosity, and that curiosity is the natural byproduct of showing that you care about someone (or their experiences). Please don’t stop caring about people
- I don’t have all of the answers, just opinions based on self-reflection
One of my biggest hopes through this blog is that it could help to provide a safe place to explore topics around international adoption — for myself and others — because truth be told, there are a lot of unknowns. There are so many times that I can feel people wanting to ask questions, but being unsure of how to navigate the appropriateness of their curiosity.
My job (and Michael’s job) are to be advocates for our future son. It’s to ensure that he never feels singled out by the curiosity of others, but that his unique experiences are honored and respected. We know that after his arrival, our approach to dealing with some of the inevitable questions we’ll receive will be in an effort to taking the spotlight off of him, and placing it onto our family unit where it belongs. Until then, I’d like to take the educational approach.
To that end, this post is about one of the most frequently asked questions that Michael and I receive when we talk about our future son:
Will you give him an American name?
Before we get into that, I want you (whoever is reading this) to think for a moment about what the phrase American name means to you. . .
The short answer to this question is no, but the long answer is the one I hope can spark a much-needed dialogue, share insights, and help to offer our opinion about the importance of names in building an identity narrative. Here are our top three reasons why we’re keeping our son’s name the way it is:
His name is part of his cultural connection
Our son’s name — with its characters, tones, and meaning — is an integral part of his cultural identity. It’s a link to China that shouldn’t ever be frivolously taken away from him, until the day he’s old enough to decide for himself what he would like his name to be. For our son, I never want him to live a single day of his life ashamed of where he came from, of his unique experiences, and of the beautiful country that he once called home (and that a yearning part of him might always call home).
We don’t want to erase, invalidate, or whitewash his name
As his future mother (and a half-Iranian woman), I’m uniquely qualified to tell you that whitewashing someone’s name sucks. It’s rude, and it hurts, and it causes an unnecessary identity crisis that could be avoided. While I don’t believe all of our white peers intend to come across as racially ignorant, that is how these types of microaggressions are received. If we were to give our son an American name, that immediately tells our son — and the rest of the world — that his birth name wasn’t white enough for our home, for our country, and for his new life. It tells the world that we just want him to fit in with his white peers.
Our son will not be white. We will be a transracial family. And when that day comes, we will love him and feel honored to have the privilege of knowing his unique experiences.
To send any other message to our child, for us, has far greater consequences than it would any true benefit.
We want to parent the child in front of us
I had a wonderful colleague recently gift me with two pieces of parenting advice. Most notably, she told me that it was crucial to parent the child you have, not the child you want. Our son — our beautifully unique, Chinese, wonderful son — will come to us as a person who has lived years of his life not knowing us. He will have lived his short time on earth being called a name, playing with his peers, hopefully being taken care of by his caretakers. He will come to us having heard and learned a different language, eating different foods, and living an entirely separate life without us.
On the day we’re lucky enough to wrap him on our arms, we will immediately become a family of three — but the work is just beginning. His life doesn’t suddenly start anew, and neither should his name. If we lose sight of that, even for a minute, we’ll miss out on learning from him, too.
One important exception
If our son were to have security implications surrounding his life or adoption and changing his name were the only way to keep him safe, then that’s the very crucial decision we would need to make for him to ensure he’s taken care of. However, I firmly believe it’s important to make him part of that process.
Until then, we’ll keep patiently waiting, hoping, and day-dreaming about our little man with his beautiful Chinese name and our eventual multicultural, transracial family of three.