Tuesday, January 8, 2008

A kid by any other name…?

Many people have asked us, What are you going to name your son?

It’s a tricky thing for us because – really – he has a name. He’s four years old, which means that (unlike an infant) he has spent the last two years going by “Yong.” It is by now pretty much as entwined in his identity as your name is with your identity.

That makes it difficult for us. We are already uprooting him from everything he’s known and plunking him down in a new country in a new strange house where he will live among freakish giants – one of whom has sunshine hair and blue eyes. We don’t talk right, we eat weird food (have you seen the things Jason can and will eat?), we keep a giant dog inside the house. And after growing up with tons of kids everywhere, he’ll suddenly find himself alone with us.

Psychologists tell adoptive parents, "Don’t be thinking you’re the hero, swooping in to save the day for this orphaned kid – no matter how bad it is, it’s the only life he’s known." It’s his entire world. And it will be gone.

Of course, it’s not something we feel guilty about. We know that he will have a much better life as part of a family. He will have a home, schooling, a whole new circle of loving family and friends. He will have opportunities he would never have had otherwise.

Even though he’s at an orphanage now, at some point (if he stayed in China) he would place out and be on his own, very alone. That’s pretty bleak. Imagine having – literally – no one who had your back. No one to turn to. No one to tell you you are loved - individually, created by God with a purpose, that you have a hope and a future!

And this brings me back to the “naming.” I remember learning something fascinating about ancient Hebrew culture: a baby was not considered to truly have identity until it received its name. A name literally conferred being. Sometimes God Himself gave someone a new name to reflect a life-change. “Now you will be called…”

I’ve e-mailed a couple people who have adopted older children (3- or 4-year-olds, even one 2-year-old) to ask them about the “naming” issue. I learned it’s pretty standard for people to give a new American first name and keep the Chinese name as a middle. But the parents all tell me that the question becomes, Which name does the child want to go by?

One adopted 4-year-old insisted his parents call him by his Chinese name, but other people could call him his American name. Then after a while, he decided he only wanted to go by his new American name. (Many times the kids are so happy in their new life, they associate their new name with their new life). But there’s another 4-year-old that has kept his Chinese name. And interestingly, the 2-year-old I mentioned was insistent, even at that young age, that she be called by her Chinese name.

I can tell you one thing. It doesn’t matter to us what the birth certificate says. Dang Yong by any name will still be as sweet…

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