What's in a name?

You get some funny questions in this journey, don't you? We aren't that far into it, and we already have a collections of odd, ill-informed, and the downright offensive comments and questions. One thing in we continually get asked about is Seoul Baby's birth name.

He will be named in Korea, and we do have the ability to change his name after bringing him home. We've talked about this many times and haven't made a final decision.

Renaming someone seems wrong. It feels like taking something from Seoul Baby that was not ours to take. It seems like giving him a new name to match his new country and his new life, is an effort to wipe the slate clean of his past. It can be viewed as "cultural erasure" as a blogger (and Korean adoptee) at Twice the Rice has deemed it.

"Adopted children whose birth parents named them deserve to carry that piece of their heritage with them, as it is one of the few parts of their birth histories they can lay claim to, as part of their very own, real, authentic, true-life stories. 

Adoptees, such as myself, whose names were given to them by social workers, nurses or orphanage intake workers may find that although those names don’t represent a piece of their birth histories or bloodlines, they nonetheless represent pieces of their rightful histories."

Read the rest of her fabulous post on keeping a child's given birth name here.

There is something special about having a name bestowed to you. Think of all the thought that must have went into that decision! My full first name is spelled quite originally (I don't post my full spelling here for anonymity reasons) . It's something I hated as a kid (never could find cool pencils or bracelets at the fair with my name on them) but something I've cherished as an adult. A man recently commented on the creative spelling of my name, for which I gave my mother credit. He asked if I was creative (which I am) and it was his opinion that your name sets the foundation for your life. I was given a creative name, and therefore I am creative. Perhaps he has something there.

Seoul Baby's given name, whether given from his birth mother or foster mom, is a link to his Korean identity. It's a real connection to his birth country. And it's part of his history. 

We are two middle-class white folk, and although we will do our best, he won't be able to learn much about his Korean identity from us. His name may not tie him to his family, but it was given to him by people who loved him, cherished him, and made the best choices for him that they could.

Who are we to take that away from him? And for what? Because we want him to fit in? Because we want to choose a name of our liking? Because it's hard to pronounce some Korean names?

Those concerns are, of course, very real. How do we balance these things?

We are keeping in mind that children don't like to stand out in a crowd, which he will probably already do. So will having a Korean name make his life more difficult? Will it exacerbate the differences he may already feel from his peers? Would it become a constant reminder of the people and life he left behind? Or could it be a portal to help him fit in with other Koreans?

He will also be at least 8-months-old when he comes home (and likely older) and may not respond well to a name change.

I don't know. There's plenty of opinions on this topic from adoptees, on both sides of the fence.

Back to our decision...we are pretty sure that we will keep his Korean name, we just not sure if it will be what we call him on a daily basis. We want to see what his name is and work from there. We think we'll know the right thing to do when the time comes.

One person, on learning that we were considering keeping his Korean-given name, seemed appalled. "I certainly hope you are going to raise him American." I have no idea what that means. What connection does having a Korean name have to do with raising him American?

I guess that's a topic worth exploring later.

(photo credit: djearworm.com)


  1. Fascinating! Thanks for sharing this analysis!


  2. Really interesting post. I'm going to check out the link. Funny, almost everyone we've told about our plans has asked if we'll be changing our child's name. We haven't decided yet, but we're leaning toward changing his first name to an "American" one, and preserving his birth name as his middle name. A lot depends on what his name actually is, though! I hate the thought of him having to spend his life pronouncing, spelling, and explaining it to people... it's a tough decision.

  3. Amy, we are in exactly the same boat. I too worry about the challenges of having a non-traditional American name. But my name is hardly traditional, I've constantly had to respell if for people and correct their pronunciation too, and I don't think I'm too scarred. Wishing you the best in figuring this out...it's tough!

  4. Very interesting post! I have given this some thought too. Both my brothers are Korean and my parents changed their names (first and middle) to American names. I'm not sure my brothers minded. We grew up in a very "midwestern" town (read white) where everybody had "midwestern" names, so they would have stood out even more with their Korean names. Interestingly brother #1's high-school nickname was his Korean last name.
    And having grown up with the second-most popular name from the mid 70s, I can assure you that I wish my parents had thought to be a little more original when choosing my name. It kind of sucked having 7 people in my graduating class named Heather...

  5. It's such a personal decision! We discuss it often and we aren't even fully on the same page yet. I'm sure we will be when the time comes to make any real decisions (since we're still early in the process). Thinking of you! Thanks for your thoughts!

  6. I am with you that a name sort of defines who you are, but remember that often the names we choose to be called as we grow up define us just as much and are an expression of how we like to see ourselves. I think keeping the original name will give your child the option to hold onto his/her heritage, but s/he may feel that his/her heritage is in your family. If I were in your shoes (and I'm not so I don;t really know at all) I think I would hold onto the original name and give the child a name I choose too first and second names and it probably doesn't matter which way round it goes, whichever sounds right. But this is just my take on it from the perspective of someone who has no idea.

    Wishing you all the very best with your path to parenthood and all the tough decisions that all parents have to take to do the very best they know how for the well being of their children.

    Happy ICLW!

  7. What an interesting question. I have never thought about this before, though I have known a number of families who adopted internationally.

    It seems like this process must really reveal a lot about people you come in contact with--"raise him American"--?!?!?

    Regarding the decision, you will make the best decision you can at the time, with the information you have. It is so easy for me to second guess myself later. I can imagine that would be even easier to do with decisions made about our children.


  8. I love this quote. I also just read your post about the baby name. what a lovely idea. I love the meaning behind keeping the baby's name. I wanted to wish you the very best of luck on your journey.
    Thank you for your comments on my blog

  9. This is a beautiful post.

    Fwiw - I agree with the blogger you mentioned. A birthname is a part of the child's history, and especially doing an intercountry and intercultural adoption, I would think it would be even more important to maintain that link to his birth country.

    There is nothing to say that you can't give him a second name of your choosing.

    Where I live there are a huge number of refugees and immigrant families from all over the world. Many of them choose to take an "Anglo/Western" name as well as their name at birth. For instance, the beautiful african baby in class with my baby at daycare - his given name is Obol, but his parents also like to refer to him as Frank. So he is referred to by either name, and he maintains his cultural heritage with his given name, but also has a name that they feel "fits" with the country he is being raised in. This is really common where I live and seems to work for all the children and young adults I have encountered.

    Something to think about maybe?

  10. What a thought provoking post!! My Godson was adopted and my cousins changed his name. To actually be a Jr of his Adopted fathers name. I know for a fact his birth mother gave him his name. And I wish they would have let him keep it. Or at least add a new name to it so he would have had that connection. Because now he is at the age where he is asking questions and he knows what country he came from. I know more questions will be coming soon. I'm so glad your thinking of letting Seoul Baby keep that connection to his birthplace. And I'm so glad you are putting this out there for other parents to think about.
    Thanks for stopping by!!!

    ICLW #62

  11. Thank you for sharing this with me. I really appreciated this post as well as the linked entry from Twice the Rice. Regarding that last paragraph about raising him American, I think that some people tend to view Asian Americans as perpetual outsiders simply due to external characteristics such as their name and appearance. Even though I am a US citizen, go by an anglicized name and speak English fluently, I still had classmates who assumed I was a foreign exchange student in both grade school and college.


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