October 7, 2010

Names: Fitting In vs. Standing Out

Lately I've been obsessed with baby name books.  One book that I personally own is called, "Beyond Jennifer and Jason".  I bought it years ago and when the book is set down, it naturally flops open to one well-consulted, dog-eared page.  At the top of the page are the words "Fitting In vs. Standing Out", a list of names that in the opinion of the authors will be unique, yet not weird.  And while I might disagree with the authors that a boy named Barnaby would fit in, while an Aiden (as I said, this is old) will stand out, I do agree that "unique, but not weird" is a balance I'd like to strike.

When I was with family at a recent reunion in Idaho, I threw out a few names and was surprised by the reactions.  Across the board, family members felt that a unique name would be a hinderance to our son.  Their reasoning was that a Chinese boy who will be in predominantly Caucasian classrooms will already stand out and that an uncommon name would be just one more thing that would classify him as different. Fitting in, they thought, should be of the utmost importance.  "Why not Jake or Ryan?" they asked.

As a group of adoptive parents, I'd love to hear your opinions.  Do you feel you're more or less likely to use a unique name for your internationally adopted child?  Did their Chinese heritage influence your naming decision?  Has a unique name been a hinderance to your child?  Have any of you chosen a name and then changed your mind once you met your child in China?

These kids are being asked to give up so much and make so many changes.   I don't take that lightly.  Their American name, as much as anything, is a symbol of their new life.  It's a life where I hope my son always feels like he fits in, even while standing out.


  1. We take this very seriously as well. I think one must also take into consideration the 'uniqueness' of their last name, if it's hard to pronounce, etc.
    We like to strike a balance between uncommon, but not unusual. The difference between Vivienne and Villette. One might not be used often, but is recognizable. No one is going to say, "WHAT?" when you tell them this name. The other? You'll barely get it out of your mouth before the questions start.
    We did try to choose less unusual names for our Chinese children as we don't want them to feel they stand out more than they already do. But we also don't want them to have to add their last initial to their name permanently because there are already three kids with the same name in their class :)
    So, what name did you choose???

  2. Our son's Chinese name was ZheWen. We dropped the "zh" and named him Ewen (think Ewan MacGreggor for pronounciation.) This worked very well for him, because the name sounded very similar to the Chinese pronounciation, and from day one, he was calling himself "Ewen." Now... Since we've been home, we realized this may not have been so well thought out as we had originally thought. People who see his name written (all those doctor's visits!) but who've never heard it pronounced are completely at a quandary as to how to say his name. Seriously? 90% of the time, they will say the first part of his name like "ewwww" (as in, ewwww, gross!) 5% of the time we get "Owen?" Those who have any clue as to the complexities of the English language will get it right, but that's way too seldom for my liking. Maybe we should have tried it out a bit before we fell in love with it?

  3. I named my daughter the name I had loved for many years...I would have named any daughter that, regardless of race. I did change the spelling though (mostly because I could not decide which common ending I liked..sey or say), & that is fairly unique. It doesn't change the pronounciation & actually, it fits her & nearly everyone remembers that she is Lindsi ..with an "i". Turned out to be very close to her Chinese name of Lin Da.
    I had a bunch of names picked out for daughter #2..most with a hard "C"...Carloine, Cassidy, Becca, & Jamisen.... I asked a friend what she thought of the names & she said...the only obvious choice is Jamisen. When asked why, she explained that Lindsi's delayed speech made it impossible for her to (at that time) same any of the other names, but she could handle Jami, just fine.
    My only hesitation was that I thought people would think it odd that I named both my girls after Bionic Woman....Lindsay Wagner (the big reason I fell in LOVE with the name Lindsi), played Jamie Sommers. I mentioned this to my sister (a mere 8 yrs younger than I) & she had no idea WHAT I was talking about. I think that comparison has only occurred to me...no one else has ever mentioned it. Jamisen goes by Jami & I've kept the "I" ending to be consistent. Jami is nothing close to her Chines name, but oh well.

  4. Amy and Debby, I think it's great that you were able to use names that were an easy transition from your children's Chinese names. We've tried to find something that would be an easy transition from Yun Xi, but are coming up empty!

    Stefanie, I wish I could say we have a name. Actually, I, the one who should choose, have chosen a name, but the kids are not on board. One actually cries when she hears it. They are all set on Owen. Even my youngest can write it and frequently leaves me pictures she's drawn with "Owen" neatly written underneath. It's hard to resist it. However, I've felt like we should use the name Levi. I like that it's biblical. I LOVE the meaning--joined in harmony, and I think it strikes a nice balance between not too trendy but not too out-there. My husband is mostly staying out of the Owen/Levi battle. It didn't help though when I heard him mention to his hygienist yesterday that we're thinking of the name Levi and she said, "Oh, you mean like Bristol Pallin's boyfriend?" Nice. I could just see my husband thinking, "chalk up another point in favor of Owen."

  5. We are keeping our daughter's Chinese name, but using it for her middle, so we chose a first name that sounded nice with it. It's also important to keep their initials in mind...don't want them to look/sound like something terrible (i.e., TRD):0

  6. I just wrote about our experience naming our 10 y.o. Read it www.shallrunandnotbeweary.blogspot.com
    If you don't have time...basically I said "check the meaning in a Chinese translation"...something that had not occurred to us.

  7. I love this post! I think names are very important, and this subject warrants a post in itself! I love reading the comments, very insightful!
    We named all our children with the "k" sound (not necessarily the letter). I have no idea why, it just started out with our first-born 14 years ago and trickled down as tradition...(probably because I am the baby of 5 girls all beginning with L!)
    We're running out of "K" sounding names now....ones we could use anyway! ;)
    We kept our adopted children's Chinese name as part of either their first or middle name. They are very proud to say their whole name; I'm really glad we kept part of their Chinese name now.
    Thanks for the post!
    Laine Ferrill

  8. We are in the midst of that discussion again in our house right now...
    Not sure which way we are going to lean with this one!

  9. We kept their Chinese names (all three of them) as their middle name. For two, we kept the entire name (these two oddly enough have only two names; no middle Chinese name and were called by both surname and given name). for our other, we gave him two middle names (I know, I know) with one being his given Chinese name which he was called.

    We went into with all three planning to keep calling them by their Chinese name if they so desired. all three (two very sternly) have decided they wanted to be called by their English names. None of them however can really say them well. Not sure we took that into consideration though I thought the J sound was used there. Guess not as our 10YO (no speech issues) cannot say the "J" sound well at all.

    He does not like us to call him by his Chinese name anymore but we have made it very clear it is still part of his name and we will gladly call him that at anytime and that he can use it anytime he wants.

    As for people who allow older adopted children to choose their own English names. I just don't get that. I would say 99.9% of people do not get to choose their own names; their parents do it for them. Just my two cents. :) L

  10. Our son was 4 when we adopted him last April. We kept his Chinese name as his first name and named him Julian as his second name. We also kept his surname as a third name and our surname as his new surname.
    He call himself QingXin Julian all the time. He often just uses Julian but loves to say QingXin (ching sheen) too. Nobody knows how to say QingXin but I am so happy we kept it. It will be his choice as to which he uses in the future as his common name.

  11. First I have to say I LOVE the name Levi!! Once you name them that is just who they are . . . My son from Ukraine was named Oleg. I didn't like that name at all - however we had chosen Elijah and they basically have the same meaning. It is perfect for him. Our daughter from Chinas' name is Tia, we also gave her a longer name "Kristiana Hope" as I was nervous about the fact that Tia means Aunt in Spanish - and Kristiana Hope means "Anointed Hope" which I love. I'm sort of wishing we had skipped the Kristiana just because we never call her that and it is on all her official documents. Another note - we didn't feel a peace about her Chinese name being her middle name and so we didn't use it. When we got to China we found out they just gave her the name of the hospital where she was found - we were thankful we listened to our hearts on that one. Go with your gut feeling - it will be right :)

  12. It does depend. We gave both of our adopted children their chinese names as middle names and "english first names. My daughter, adopted at 17 months goes by her american name, but my son, adopted at 6 1/2 years old, goes by his Chinese nickname "Bin Bin" (which is very unique here in the US, does make him stand out, but not in a negative way at this point), so neither the Chinese name nor the american one get used except for on "official" paperwork. I have to remind him sometimes, like at a new doctor, that "Thomas" means him! For older adoptees, I feel strongly that they should be given the choice - your name is important!

  13. Interestingly, I just got an e-mail from my dad asking about how the adoption is going and if we'd chosen a name yet and for us not to forget the importance of a middle name..... Hmmmm, I think he's kind of hinting that he'd like a namesake. I wrote back that I feel strongly that we should use our son's Chinese name as his middle name. He'll be nearly four years old by the time of adoption and I want him to always feel like he has the option to be known by his Chinese name.

    And sorry Dad, I won't give him the American name of Ronald!

  14. I wanted our daughter to have a unique name....so did everyone else in her kindergarten class apparently!!
    Not kidding....here's the names:
    Raafay (m)
    Islendy (f)
    Mugdha (f)
    Ethan (m)
    Casey (m)
    Grant (m)
    Mya (f)
    Joelle (f)
    Artemio (m)
    Astrid (f)
    Ignacio (m)
    Sydney (f)
    Carson (m)

    My daughter asks us all the time why we didn't name her Angela!!

  15. Oh, the name game! Currently, our gang is running through names trying to get one that flows nicely at the end of the five kids we already have named. Not an easy task with my "requirements."

    (Oh yes, we've moved to "when" and have deleted the "if" conversation from our interactions! that's a whole post in itself...)

    #1 - I would really like it to be a Gaelic/Celtic type name, as the other two girls have strongly Irish names.

    #2 - I really don't want or like names that others are sportin' at the time. Back when I chose "Aidan" for Li'l Empress, NO ONE was naming their kids that. And all the research I had done on it was that it was originally a Gaelic female name (you know, back in the days of clans and all...) Currently, there are three Aidan's in our life. I am not.happy.about.that.at.all. A fact which delights my family. :P

    #3 - her name must have a strong, godly character trait associated with it. I am raising an army of the Lord - I want to give them something to shoot for - to grow into!

    #4 - it has to flow nicely as the first name with that her Chinese name as her middle name.

    #5 - The Boss to like it and not make "the face" when I try it out around the house at the tail end by yelling, "Micah, Caleb, Shayne, Judah, Aidan, and . . ." up the stairs for dinner. :)

    So, you see my dilemma. Not an easy game to play around here at all.

  16. For the gang's momma:
    Aalish : Gaelic (of noble kind)
    Brie : Gaelic (The exalted one)
    Eilis : Gaelic (My God is a vow)
    Shannan: Gaelic (God is Gracious)
    Seanna: Celtic (God's grace)
    Sheena: Celtic (god is gracious)
    Shylah : Celtic (Loyal to god, strong)
    Makayla: Celtic (who is like god)

    For what it's worth, I vote for Sheena.

  17. Well, anonymous! Thank you very much!!! I do love Sheena and Seanna, but I have another daughter named Shayne (beautiful in its Hebrew derivatives, and I'm told gift of God - like Sheena? in its Celtic). Taken from Seann in the old Gaelic. I'll have to think on the others. There are some good ones there :)