Monday, November 30, 2009

NaBloPoMo 30--What's in a name?

I figured I'd end on a post I've been meaning to write for a long time.  Stephanie referenced something to this point the other day, and since I've been wanting to write about it forever, I thought it was finally the time to do so.

Long before I ever had Patrick (in fact, long before I ever met Jason), I had dreams about having children someday.  This was odd enough since when I was conscious, I never thought I would get married or have children--I just didn't see myself that way.  I always saw myself in a cool apartment, hanging out with friends, and having a grand old time.  But in my dreams, the oldest or only child was always a little blond-haired boy who looked just like Patrick as a toddler.  The others varied but he was a constant.  And even though I never thought I'd have kids, I knew that I would name a little boy Patrick John.  Before I was ever pregnant, I knew that would be his name.

So I was shocked when he was born and I spent hours while we were in the hospital agonizing over my choice!  What if he's not a Patrick? I wondered.  What if I've chosen the wrong name for him?  Does he look like a Patrick?  Naming a child is an incredible responsibility.  In many ways, it sets the stage for them.  I've been surprised at how often a person's name fits them perfectly.  Clearly, we chose to keep Patrick as his name and I can't imagine him with any other name.

When we chose to adopt, we originally wanted to adopt an infant and planned to rename him.  We planned to keep his given name as a middle name, drop his last name for ours, and give him a first name of our choosing.

Then we learned that children in Ethiopia are given their father's first name as a last name.  It didn't feel right to drop that--it's too important to him.  So we figured we'd keep both his names as his middle names, but still give him a new first name.  An American first name, one that would be easy to pronounce and spell.

While we waited, though, I read a lot of adult adoptee blogs.  (I still do, actually, though they are not easy to read in many respects.)  I heard their words about many things, and one of the things that resonated with me is the importance of having their name, of knowing their name.  It's one of the few things that their firstparents are able to pass on to them, and not even all of them have that.  Those who didn't seem to keenly feel its loss.  I thought How can I do that to my child?  How can I take away the name that might be the only thing he has left of his family?  When Jason and I discussed it, we both felt the same way--we couldn't do it.  It didn't feel right for us.  We decided that having the same last name was enough "claiming".

Besides, with a sister named Siobhan, hard-to-spell-and-pronounce names are nothing new to me.

When we told people about our referrals, one of the first questions we always got was "Are you going to change his name?"  And we replied, "No, it's his name."  At first we prevaricated, saying that since he wasn't an infant, it would be too hard for him to learn a new name; ultimately, we just told people that we felt it was important to keep it.  Still, many people persisted in telling us that Melkamu would need a new name, one people could pronounce and spell.  Someone told me "It will be too hard for him to spell!"  (When I pointed out that it has the same number of letters as Patrick's name, he stopped saying that.)

In Ethiopia, when the adoption is complete, a new birth certificate is issued for the child being adopted.  Instead of the child's original name, it has Child's first name - Father's first name - Family last name.  Melkamu Delelegn became Melkamu Jason Morrey.  I figured we would immediately rename him when we did the readoption to be Melkamu Delelegn Morrey, but Jason liked having his name in there.  Go figure.  After much discussion, we decided that he would be Melkamu Jason Delelegn Morrey.  It's a mouthful, but every part of it is important. 

Still, I have to admit that an exasperated "Melkamu Jason!" doesn't roll off the tongue as easily as "Patrick John!"  It's getting easier the more I use it, and I use it a lot lately (oh, 3 is fun...).

Melkamu means "The good one" and "Handsome".  How could we possibly have chosen a more appropriate name for him? We've yet to find out exactly what Delelegn means, since it's not a common name even in Ethiopia, but the closest we can get is that it may have some reference to trade as a business.

Names are important.  Names have meaning.  A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but Melkamu by any other name would be missing something vitally important to his heritage.


Jess said...

Oh my, I love this post!! And I really love that you kept Melkamu's name (and unless I'm butchering it, which I don't think I am, I don't think it's hard to pronounce OR spell).

I think it's absolutely special that you kept both fathers names in there, too. What a lovely way to blend his history with his adopted family!!

Wendy said...

As the mom with boys named Wodajo and Tedla - I couldn't agree more. (Although we are going to change Tedla's middle name. I didn't mind the first one being Wodajo Edward but I feel a bit outnumbered with a husband named Edward and two sons with Edward as their middle name is a bit much!)

I loved following your NaBloPo. Good luck this week. Looks like you've got a lot going on!

Emily said...

I love this post Erin! I completely agree that names have very special meanings! We chose to name Owen, Owen Everett before he was even conceived after his grandfather and great grandfather. Well it turns out that those names mean: "strong and courageous like a wild boar" and I am pretty sure you know all that he has been through in his short little life. I couldn't agree more with you keeping his name, it is perfect!

stephanie said...

LOVED this post, Erin! If you see a slew of bruises on me the next time I see you, it's just from me kicking myself all over again for changing Moe's name.

wilisons said...


Loved this post!

Melkamu has a wonderful, meaningful name. A name that IS all his, rich with meaning and traditions. A name he can cherish forever.

I chose to keep Tamar's name too. Ok, so I moved the ending A to start her middle name. The meaning was there as was her connection to her first mother. I can only imagine how angry and full of grief she would have been if I took this from her.

Libby's name was harder so I stuck with meaning shifting from the Russian "love" to the Hebrew "my heart". Oh how fitting since she was just what our family needed!


mayhem said...

I love hearing about how people decide what to name their kids, adopted or born to them. So interesting! My kids both have long names-- first name, two middle names, same family name.

Siobhan (a.k.a. Seestor) said...

Wait, are you talking about Mel-koo-moo? (As Bubbi would say.)

I'm unqiuely proud that you guys kept Melkamu's real name because as the owner of the world's stupidest name, he and I will share a pain that you normally-named people can never understand. It's a joy.