I had no idea before I joined the adoptive community, but when you talk about naming your adoptive child the conversation can sometimes get heated. I remember when Angelina Jolie adopted three year old Pax, I thought “Isn’t he a little old to be getting a new name?” That’s pretty much the crux of the issue.
When you adopt from China, you usually don’t know what the birth parents might have named the baby. There is no way to legally relinquish a child, so most are secretly abandoned. This isn’t the case in other countries where the child you adopt usually comes with their birth name. Sometimes these children are true orphans, perhaps from disease or warfare. Other times they are relinquished because of poverty and you might send updates to a family member back in Haiti or Ethiopia.
So why am I telling you about abandoned versus relinquished? Because those who feel a child’s name should not be changed usually say that changing the name does not respect their past or their culture. They already have names, why do they need new ones? It might give the child the idea that they aren’t “good enough” as they are and their identity needs to be changed.
However, adoptive parents really like giving their child a new name. Most couples love to discuss names that they might one day give a child. Adoptive parents might want to change the child’s name to help them to feel a part of the family, to fit in better in their new country, or perhaps because their name is either hard to pronounce or has a negative meaning in English.
Matt and I were open to keeping our child’s name if we adopted an older child. Like most babies from China, Leo was given a name by his orphanage, so it doesn’t have any connection to his family of origin. We might feel differently if we were adopting a child that we knew still had the name given to him by his birth parents. Since Leo was very young, we didn’t feel he would have any of the mixed feelings that an older child might have.
Many adoptive parents today keep the child’s original name as their middle name, and that is what we chose to do. He will be Leo YuQiang. Like many other adoptive parents before us, we felt he would fit in with our family better with an American name, and we thought he might get tired of having to tell people how to spell or pronounce it. We knew many Chinese students from Matt’s days in graduate school and most of them went by American names for this reason. But if he were to decide one day that he would rather be called YuQiang, then that would be fine with us.
When we were deciding on Leo’s American name, we had a list of names and Leo was toward the middle of it. We had a few nudges that Leo was the right name for him. First, he was listed on Holt’s website right around the feast day of St. Leo the Great, who talked Attila the Hun out of sacking Rome. Look at what name he was listed as on our agency’s website!
When we received his file, it was clear why they had him listed as Leon, because it was very similar to his Chinese surname. All of the children at his orphanage are given the same last name. His file said that he was given the first name YuQiang to express the desire that he will grow to be strong. Leo is Latin for lion, and so it has a connotation of strength for most people. Now we can say that his name means he is strong like a lion!
He is called Qiang-Qiang by his foster family and the nannies at the orphanage. Although that’s kind of a mouthful to American ears, we will start off calling him that, and then transition to calling him Leo over the first few weeks.