When my brother told me a few weeks ago that he and his girlfriend are expecting their first child, one of my first questions (after offering my congratulations and inquiring about Kate’s health) was, “do you have names picked out yet?” Naming a child is one of the most profound ways in which we claim our newly born children. You are my child, for I have named you. I’m pretty sure there’s a Bible story or two that I could reference if I weren’t drawing a total blank right now. Anyhoo, naming ceremonies are prevalent in many cultures. In Ethiopia, names are chosen with great care and are imbued with meaning. I plan to write about Ethiopian naming conventions in further detail soon, so stay tuned. Right now, however, I would like to focus on the dilemma adoptive parents face when deciding how to name their adopted children.

In international adoption (unlike domestic newborn adoption), the child referred to you already has a name, typically given by the birth family. The dilemma is: do you keep the name or do you give your child a new name? On the one hand, your child’s name is the only thing he was able to keep; how can you take that away from a child who’s lost everything else? What if your child was named by an orphanage worker and not the birth parent? Does that make a difference, or is it still part of the child’s story and therefore worth preserving? On the other hand, don’t adoptive parents have a right to claim their children too? One could argue that it’s part of the bonding process: you are now my child, for I have re-named you. To complicate matters further, there’s the fact that an American name will make the child’s life easier, less likely to be teased in the schoolyard or discriminated against as an adult. These are, in my mind, all valid arguments; there are no easy answers here.

So where do I stand on this issue? I certainly don’t want to take my child’s culture away from him by giving him some bland American name just so he’ll fit in better. I used to feel differently, but two words changed my mind: Barack Obama. Otherwise, I’m torn. Honestly, I never thought I would give up the right to name my own child. I won’t carry him, I won’t give birth to him, he will always have two mothers in his heart – don’t I at least get to name him? And yet I don’t think I can take his name completely away from him – it’s the one thing he’ll take with him halfway around the world to his new life, where nothing is familiar except for the name he came with.

Without having a referral – without hearing his name, without knowing who named him – I can’t say for sure what I’ll do in the end. Here’s what I do know. 1) I will either keep his name as a first name and add a middle name of my choosing. Or 2) I will keep his name as a middle name and add a first name of my choosing. One of those two options. And the name I choose will be Ethiopian, but it will be unobjectionable to the American ear and relatively easy to pronounce. Most likely. This is all subject to change, by the way. Like I said, I’m torn.

*Tsgereda is the Amharic word for rose according to www.amharicdictionary.com.

ETA:  Typos are embarrassing.