March 20, 2012
Celebrity news magazines were all eager to report that actress Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights, American Horror Story) adopted a nine month old baby boy from Ethiopia. The news articles all pointed out that Britton endured a three year waiting process for adoption. Additionally, articles stated that Britton will call her baby “Yoby” , a nickname for his given Ethiopian name of Eyob. While this writer could not ascertain the exact historical meaning of the Ethiopian name, it certainly broaches the ongoing question of how to name your adopted child.
So many factors are tied to our name. It is certainly the most basic key to our identity and our self esteem. Even small babies recognize their name. Most adoptive families can distinguish that a child’s name is a link to their history. In fact, we name our children after our own fathers, mothers and grandparents to preserve that link to our own cultural and familial history. The conundrum lies in the fact that one name cannot link both the past of the child and past of past of the adoptive parent. Or can it?
My advice to parents often hinges on the child’s age. The older the child’s age, the less successful and more traumatic a complete name change can be. The trauma of separation and attachment issues can be exacerbated by a name change. Often, when a family meets a child with a particular name and through the adoption process, gets to know the child with that name, then later changing the name just seems almost silly. People grow into their names (or their names grow into them) and they simply fit-regardless of whose history it reflects.
There are concerns that keeping a name, such as the one that Connie Britton chose to keep, certainly can stereotype a child and potentially subject them to discrimination and peer alienation. Obviously, parents do not want to risk peer rejection during those crucial middle school and teen age years. But parents that truly understand the ties of the adoptive child to their culture along with the importance of seeking further pre and post adoptive counseling can greatly mitigate these issues. A name does not have to be a burden to a child with the proper knowledge and education.
The name a family chooses is of monumental importance and its effects last a lifetime. Since the very spirit of the adoption is the joining of a child’s lives, the life before the adoption and the life after the adoption, is it so impossible to join two names? The birth name with a twist so to speak. Some parents will Americanize the non American name or keep the non American name as a middle name. Other families keep a portion of the birth name adding a portion of the new family name. Whatever your family decides to name your child, it is best to take your time and do plenty of research for what’s in a name will last forever.