You will recall that when I introduced our children to you after we passed court, I introduced them as Seth Asrat and Lizzie Senait.
We've been asked a few times whether Asrat and Senait are their birth names, and why we would choose to add a new first name. In the adoption world, opinions vary widely on the subject of whether or not to change a child's first name, particularly if the children are a bit older (as ours are), the concern understandably being that they have already lost so much in their young lives and that their names are part of their identity.
I thought I would bring the topic up here, and explain a little bit about what we're thinking at the moment.
First, yes, Asrat and Senait are their birth names. Seth and Lizzie are names that we have chosen for them and, if possible, these are the names we would like to use. I say if possible because we will not make that final decision until we get to know the children a little and see how receptive they are to a new name. If the children really hate the idea of using a different first name, or if we bring them home and they simply seem to suit their birth names more than the ones we have chosen for them, we will absolutely reconsider.
However, here are a few reasons why we decided that, if possible, we would like to use different first names for them (and keep as middle names the first and surnames they were given at birth):
First, without fail, people see our boy's name in writing and pronounce it in a way that could not be less flattering...with an 's' sound that is like in the word 'brass.' Every. single. time. Even Geoff has a hard time pronouncing it properly. Properly pronounced, one says his name "ahh-z-rahht" - with soft 'a' sounds (like a sigh) and a slight rolling of the 'r.' I don't find it difficult to pronounce but I can assure you that, sadly, most people read and say his name differently than it was intended. I so don't want the name to cause him embarrassment or taunting later on. Incidentally, while I'm on the point of pronunciation, Senait's name is pronounced "Seh-nite" - with the second syllable containing a long 'i' sound and sounding like "night."
Second, if we change one child's name, we will change them both.
Third, when Matthew entered our family, though he did so biologically, we spent a lot of thought finalizing his name. Though we knew that Matthew was a popular name, and that he would likely know a lot of other Matthews, this was the name we loved. It was also important to me, given what a God-given miracle his conception and birth were, to provide him with a biblical name. Matthew means 'gift of God.' He totally is that.
It feels similar to me now, with two new children about to enter our family. They have been so long-awaited and the result such a miracle that we want to give them names that are honouring of their entrance into our family as well as names that are biblical. I know that this might seem old fashioned to some, and I get that, but it's important to me. For years, I have 'discovered' names that I love, but they have never been exactly right in the end, because I kept wanting to return to the classic, biblical names. I finally just recognized that it was important to me that our children have biblical names with meaning, and narrowed my scope of search.
The name 'Seth' is not terribly popular as yet, though that's not really relevant for me. The name comes from the Old Testament of the Bible. Remember the story of when Cain killed his brother Abel? Well, their parents (Adam and Eve) had a third son, a replacement of sorts for Abel, and they named him 'Seth;' that Seth became part of the lineage of Jesus. It means 'anointed one.' I love that name, and its meaning.
Lizzie's name comes from the name Elizabeth, which will be her legal name, and 'Elizabeth' means 'consecrated one.' Elizabeth, biblically, was the mother of John the Baptist, and I have always loved the reading of her story. From the time I was a child, I have loved this name. We will shorten it to call her Lizzie, for two reasons: first, my sister's name is also 'Elizabeth' and we call her 'Lib' in the family...so we needed a different short name; second (and here's the fluffy part of the reason), I have loved Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice for twenty+ years (since my English lit days in university) and the main character's name in that movie was 'Lizzie.' On all levels, 'Elizabeth' is a very special name to me.
Fourth, there is something of a claiming right (an adoption term) that we are choosing to exercise by providing the children new names...whether they end up as first or middle names. We want them to be (and feel) connected to their new family. We know of several adoptive families who have brought home older children and who have provided their children with new first names, and it has gone well; I think it would be accurate to say that in at least a few of these cases, the children wanted new first names.
Finally, I know from our adoption agency that most people do change their children's names, which I asked out of curiosity. This isn't a reason for changing their names, but perhaps a small comfort that many others choose similarly and their children are ok.
There are undoubtedly things that I have missed in the above explanations, but this is a good starting point. As I noted above, we are not 100% determined to use their new first names, if it just doesn't go well. We will use both names, Seth Asrat and Lizzie Senait for quite a while before making that decision. You will notice that I will refer to them by both of these names as I blog about them, and I will probably continue to do this until one of the names gradually drops off. I think of the children by both names pretty much equally, and we increasingly use both names together (eg. Seth Asrat and Lizzie Senait) when we talk about them at home. I hope we can end up using their new first names, because we love the names and because there was much love that went into their choosing...but we might end up not changing them - I simply don't know how it will go yet.
I will finish by noting that the naming of a child is a very personal issue... and a sensitive issue. I know that others will disagree with our reasoning and I get that; I really get that there are two sides to this issue and that some would not even think about changing their child's name. I was very deliberate about not announcing our children's names (their Ethiopian or Canadian names) here until we passed court, in part because I didn't really want opinions on whether people liked or disliked their names or on whether people approved or disapproved of our choice to possibly change them.
I don't mind for a single second adoptive (or prospective adoptive) parents telling me about their decisions about naming and why they chose to make that decision...in fact, I'd be very interested in why other adoptive (or prospective) families chose to either keep/change/modify their child(ren)'s first names and I welcome your comments. I would simply ask that you try to refrain from telling us what we should or should not do in this regard - we've had that experience already! Otherwise, comment away!!
P.S. One thing I forgot to mention was that we were not particularly inspired by the meaning of the children's birth names: Asrat means tithe; and Senait means good.