Gabriel Plays Basketball

Little Man seems to be thinking a lot about who he is, how he came to us, what it means to have dark skin when ours is light, and most importantly, are robots real and can they get into his bedroom at night.

Little Man and Eby were our first adopted children, and we naively thought that we would give them new names, keeping their Ethiopian names as middle names. I’ve written other posts on naming our children, so I won’t delve into that now, but the real challenge with Little Man is that we couldn’t settle on a name for him. From the time we got his referral, we called him by his Ethiopian name, and then made lists of other names, tagging them on at the beginning – saying them over and over, trying to figure out what would be just right.

We had lots of big kids by that time, so they had LOTS to say on the subject of names. ย The end of the story is that Little Man ended up with a first name and two middle names, one of which is his Ethiopian name which we use every day, and the other is Gabriel.

Not long ago Little Man told me he didn’t want to go by his Ethiopian name any more because it was a “baby name.” I tried to explore this with him, but he couldn’t quite tell me what he meant. I wondered if somebody had teased him about his name (which is very unique and not at all like a typical American name); he wouldn’t say.

Then he and Eby went to basketball camp where, unbeknownst to me, he told the coach his name was Gabriel. When I dropped him off on the third day, the coach came to me and said that he noticed there wasn’t a Gabriel on his roster, and that although Little Man had consistently answered to Gabriel the first day, he seemed to have forgotten his name by day two. When the coach called out Gabriel’s name, Little Man didn’t notice. The coach finally solved the mystery and began calling him by his Ethiopian name.

I’m fully aware that trying on new names is not unique to internationally adopted children. When Samuel was eight, he spent an entire week of vacation Bible school being called Peter – another name we had considered for him.

Maybe that is all that is going on with Little Man, but perhaps it’s not. I have no brilliance here; I’m just observing and thinking about what it means to be a young black boy in a white family, where identity and belonging are complex. He’s six years old, so this is the beginning of a long journey – likely a lifetime journey, and we’ll be right alongside him.

Question: Are your children exploring issues of race and identity? How about names?

Lisa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRIยฎ Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

32 Comments

  1. Paula Miles Spears
    July 11, 2013

    My Ethiopian kids all go by American names. In the case of the twins, they have their American name as their first name and the Ethiopian name as their middle name. Our son came to us with my husband's name as his middle name (as all Ethiopian adopted children do), and we left his name the same, but we call him by his American middle name. There are lots of reasons why we chose American names for our children, and we have never had an issue. If they want to be called by their Ethiopian names when they get older, I'm okay with that. This is a complicated issue that doesn't have a one size fits all answer. There are pros and cons both ways, and parents have to decide which ones matter most for them and their kids.

    Reply
  2. Alyssa
    July 11, 2013

    My bio daughter, Bethany Hope, changed her name to Peace at age 3 (after she heard about a girl in a Liberian orphanage, where her aunt visited) named Peace. She uses Bethany a little, but mostly Peace! I have a sibling who did something similar for many years.

    My oldest son is a Gabriel, so I love that name!

    Reply
  3. Kathy Cassel
    July 11, 2013

    My twins, like all Haitian twins, had matching names–Fredlin and Frednise. I couldn't stand the thought of both being called "Freddy" which can be used to rhyme with a lot of things when kids tease you so I gave them new matching names –Kayla and Kaleb. The Haitian names are their middle names. What I didn't realize was that they wouldn't be able to hear the difference between Kayla and Kaleb and we also hear the wrong name sometimes so diong it over I wouldn't match them quite so closely (although in Haiti it's as close as possible) so maybe Kaylin and Kaleb or something.

    Reply
  4. Eileen
    July 11, 2013

    Our daughter is from China, and as much as I loved her Chinese name, I knew it would be difficult for the American tongue……it was difficult for MY American tongue–especially since the letters make different sounds than they do in English! We kept her Chinese name as her middle name and named her Maya. It seemed somehow a bit exotic and had the beautiful meaning, "God's creative power".

    Well, in kindergarten, there happened to be 2 Mayas and strangely enough, both Mayas were adopted from China! The teacher asked me if our Maya had a middle name and if perhaps they could call her by both names to differentiate her from the other Maya. We often call her by her Chinese name at home, so we thought it was a good idea and our daughter was excited about it as well. A week into it though, she came home frustrated. "Mom," she whined, "They keep saying my name wrong! They say Maya Chee or Maya Chai." Her name is pronounced Cho, rhymes with "go", however, it's definitely not spelled that way! Maya is a very precocious girl and we couldn't help but laugh when she said, "So I told them, 'It's Cho! Q-I-U, Cho!'" My husband said, "Well, spelling it certainly should have cleared up the confusion!"

    In the end, the teachers just started calling her Maya B.

    Reply
  5. Rebecca
    July 11, 2013

    I have no brilliance either, but one thing you wrote — "what it means to be a young black boy in a white family" — reminded me of something helpful somebody once said to me. Which was, you are not a "white" family. You are a family with white members and black members. He may be exploring what it means to be black with white parents, or with white siblings — it's not that there's not racial questions to unpack. But for me, that re-framing of the situation was very helpful.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      July 11, 2013

      Thank you so much for pointing that out, Rebecca. I'm a little embarrassed that I didn't see that myself – but that is exactly what we can do for one another.

      Reply
      1. Rebecca
        July 11, 2013

        Yes, that is what we can do! But only when we are able to say to heck with embarrassment and posturing, as you did, and do, with your blog. Thank YOU for your bravery and commitment to your kids, which I expect is the real driver in your sharing. And it benefits all of us. Thanks, Lisa, and thanks for your graciousness.

        Reply
    2. Cindy
      July 11, 2013

      Agreed! Lisa, whatever you post, I'm always blessed and challenged. Thanks for sharing your life with us!

      Reply
    3. SleepyKnitter
      July 14, 2013

      Love this viewpoint! I’ll be using it from now on. Thank you, Rebecca.

      Reply
    4. Paula Miles Spears
      July 16, 2013

      Rebecca, I love this… very helpful, indeed. Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  6. Katy@PurposelyFrugl
    July 11, 2013

    Our foster son has been with us for a little over a month. He's our very first foster child. He sometimes says our last name when saying his full name. I'm not sure if he's doing in play or not. And by the way I'm so thankful for your blog! It's an encouragement to me!

    Reply
  7. Ann
    July 11, 2013

    Not the same, but related: when our daughter Laura was 4, she started calling me Ann instead of Mom. I said that I thought people should be called what they wanted to be called and that I wanted to be called Mom. After a pause, Laura said, "Then I want to be called Megan." I called her Megan so many times thereafter that she went back to Laura after about fifteen minutes.

    Reply
  8. Lori Larson
    July 11, 2013

    Yes who knows where he is coming from. One of my daycare boys renamed himself “Little Foot” (after the dinosaur movies). He would only answer to that name for one whole winter. About the time we all finally got in the groove of calling him Little Foot the phase was over!

    Reply
  9. shelley
    July 11, 2013

    When Joseph was 4, he told everyone his name was Sprinkle for a few weeks.

    ๐Ÿ™‚

    Atleast Gabriel was a good pick! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
    1. Gwen
      July 11, 2013

      My bio. daughter called herself "Buddha" for two solid years between the ages of 2 and 4. We are a Christian family, with Buddhist friends who truly, sincerely believed that she might be the next Buddha…. awkward.

      Reply
  10. Emily
    July 11, 2013

    "… and we’ll be right alongside him."

    There it is, friend, the only answer maybe we can come to so many times. And you live this parenting truth beautifully. True. Story.

    Reply
  11. Emily B
    July 11, 2013

    We adopted three girls from U.S. foster care. When we had our pre-placement staffing, the team relayed an order from the judge that we were required to change the girls' names. For the girls' safety, the new names were in no way to resemble the old names. We were shocked, but when we learned the details of their bio parents' criminal histories, we understood. The girls were thrilled to have new names because they had not liked their unique, created names at all. Our youngest girl (4) asked us to choose her name. Our middle girl (6) had a name idea of her own that was a common name in my family. We modified it to a very similar name so she would have her own name, and not be sharing a name with 3 aunties. Our oldest girl (7) was very opinionated about her name. She chose it herself (with our okay on the choice, of course). 10 months later, that same girl came to me in tears, asking that we change her name to the name we would have chosen for her. It occurred to her that she is the only kiddo in our family whose name was not chosen by Mommy and Daddy. We can't change her name now, but we reminded her that the name she chose is beautiful and special, and we never would had okayed it if we didn't love it for her. She's still sad about it, but she understands there's nothing we can do now.

    When I was 7, I told my family camp counselors that my name was Rosybread. They called me Rosybread all week until my mom noticed that I'd written Rosybread on my nametag. I'm sure the counselors questioned my mom's judgement in name choice…

    Reply
  12. AmyE
    July 11, 2013

    Interesting timing of this post. Our ET son has a long ET name that conveniently could be shortened into an American sounding name. So we left his name as it appears on his ET adoption decree. A few people from when we were first home still call him by his full first name, and when I am talking to dr.'s or schools, I use his full name. He overheard me on the phone, and got really upset. Said, he hates that name, he only wants to be called by his nickname. I think there are many deeper issues that he can't give voice to. He also said he hates ET food when we went to a restaurant a month or so ago (and then began devouring it once it was served.) We have been intensifying our counseling over the summer, and my gut says he just doesn't want to have anything around him that reminds him of ET. He just wants to be like everyone else … without the hard story of loss and trauma … and rejecting all things ET is a way of coping for him.

    Reply
  13. Lauren
    July 11, 2013

    I was called by my middle name until I was 3, and then my parents switched to my first name (the relative that I was named after came for a visit–and then died suddenly). I've pretty much gone by my first name ever since, except for one grandpa and my sister calling me by my middle name.
    My sister began going by her middle name in late high school, and still does. However, family and old friends call her by her first name. She also the year prior to HS spelling her first name differently.

    We changed our adopted kids names to varying extents. We wanted them each to have a "family" name, and then a "name we liked". For our first two children, we hadn't chosen the "name the we liked, we stuck with the birth name for one, and the nickname-to-a-firstname for the other. For our third child, we completely renamed him, because he had no tie to name, and we wanted to honor his birth mother's family by naming him after them.

    Anyway, I think names and identity matter, but I think it's within comfortable bounds to try different combinations on for fit.

    Reply
  14. Rebekah
    July 11, 2013

    We adopted 2 boys from foster care and changed both their names. In the process of that, our then 3 yr old bio son decided he as changing his name from Jonah to The Barn. He insisted for a while but has gone back to his real name now. We have no idea where he got the name from. Hahaha!

    Reply
  15. Kimberly
    July 11, 2013

    Great post! We waited for the child's story to decide about their name. Ruth (named by her Father in ET because Ruth loved God) we added her mother's name because she is with Jesus and it is beautiful, Ruth Genet. Our next two foster babies came to us at 5 and 3 and there was nothing negative with their names or story related to their names and they were older so we kept them and only dropped a jr since their bio-dad is with Jesus too. The age and story are important! They were both excited this month to try out their names with our family last name since we finalized in court. So far they like it.

    Reply
  16. Heather
    July 11, 2013

    I don't have adoption experience, but having travelled to India and Africa, I wanted to mention something. There are actually cultures (especially India, but some parts of Africa as well) where children have a "baby" name, and are given another name when they're older. It often has spiritual connotations, but can be a celebration of them getting older and ready for more responsibility.

    Reply
  17. Elizabeth
    July 11, 2013

    We have had our foster kids for 8 mod – they were 12 & 13 when we got them. I have 3 other bio kids and one we adopted at 7 mod. All of our kids are American…we changed our little guy's name because his name was actually a "family" name of mine that we would never had used ๐Ÿ™‚ He was 7 mos old it was a completely closed adoption so we had no quams about it at all! In our family we have a "theme" all of our names begin with an A or an E. When we got our foster kids parental rights were already terminated and they were placed with us for adoption ๐Ÿ™‚ Sooooo about a month after they were with us our foster son said he wanted to "fit in" with our family and change his name to one that begins with an E! I need to tell you that we are all Caucasian – not that that matters at all to us and when we answered the "call" to adopt we were and still are willing to accept all races it just so happened that all 3 times they were in foster care and were placed with us and happened to be Caucasian! OK now back to the names ๐Ÿ™‚
    I thought it was super sweet that he wanted to change his name at 12! So we gave him several names that started with an E for boys and he chose his favorite! Elijah!! But he goes by Eli ๐Ÿ™‚ We all agreed to keep his middle name the same and of course when the adoption is final he will take our last name. We talked to his sister about this too and she was THRILLED to pick her own name and said she never liked her name because it also doubles as a name of a model of a car ๐Ÿ™‚ So she chose Adelynn with 2 n's copying the end of her middle name which was lynn – we gave her "Faith" for a middle name to "match" our other girls names of Grace and Hope for their middles~ Anyway our experience has been that this helped them feel more like family members…we have had criticism of course and many people think it is crazy and controlling. However they don't live the day in and out with these traumatized and horribly neglected precious souls that long to be loved and accepted…we have given them both and for them the name change has helped in this and the connection. Our adoption is very close to being finalized and I asked them the other day if they were 100% sure they wanted to make their legal names the new ones…both separately without hesitation said "YES I don't even recognize my old name"….Even in difficulty so far there has been no screaming about going back to the old name. I think this was the best decision for us and I hope it helps someone in their journey!! Love all you sweet Mama's for your Kingdom work through adoption!!!

    Reply
  18. Anita
    July 11, 2013

    We kept our son's ET names as his middle names and added a first and last name that "claims" him to our family too. His new names are family names from my husband's family that go back many generations. We wanted our son to have both the history of his genetics and the history of his "forever family." We felt it was important to keep the integrity of his ET name since children are named after their ET father and we wanted him to still feel the honor we give his birth family. In addition, several internationally adopted adults talked with us at a conference and mentioned how they just wanted "American" sounding names when they were teenagers. Our son can choose whatever names he wishes…right now, he chooses his ET first name and we celebrate that as unique and "one of a kind". It works for us and we hope everyone chooses what works for them.

    Reply
  19. Gwen
    July 11, 2013

    This is [another] timely post for me, because my daughter has spent every morning this week at soccer camp. She shyly told me yesterday that she has told everyone to call her "Abby," which doesn't even remotely resemble her real name. Her Ethiopian name is easy to pronounce and most soccer families in our small town already know her, but she is insisting her name is Abby and refusing to answer to her real name. This is the first time that either of my Ethiopian children (home 2.5 years) have done this, and so far I'm just accepting it with a nod and smile… but am also kind of wondering how long Abby is going to be staying with us! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
  20. Sandra Zimmerman
    July 13, 2013

    our 5 year old daughter is in the midst of this very struggle. She is sensitive about her brown skin, which I think is beautiful! We also have a son who is currently not able to live at home and that stirs up feelings about love, family and where she really belongs. On pinterest I saw this cute idea take a brown and a white egg, crack them open and they are alike inside!

    Reply
  21. Margaret
    July 13, 2013

    Lisa, I always feel as if you have so much parenting experience, it is odd to have an experience hat you havent gotten to yet! Our son is fifteen and has been in our family from ET since five. His Ethiopian name sounds like an English name, but for years he went by his ET nickname, which doesn't. then he discovered that he could use the American version of the nickname, and not deal with any mispronunciation or comments. He used this American nickname on baseball teams, in a new church and in a new school. Now he is working as a camp counselor at a camp he attended under his old nickname. Two other kids use the American version, so he uses his ET nickname.
    What does all this mean? I know that my son thinks ALOT about what it means to be a young African American…he shares his thoughts at times. He thinks about how his way of thinking and presenting himself differs from African American friends from African American families,and Ethiopian American friends growing up in the US with Ethiopian parents. As a younger kid, he did not want to tak about these things, but he did want to minimize differences. he has always been very open with people about having been adopted, but he wants to set the terms of the conversation…he hates it when other people bring it up. For me the tricky part of all this has been to leave him the space to figure things out, be supportive of him, keep the channels of communication open but not force him to talk when he doesn't feel like it. We had to show him that we were aware of race and bring it up enough that he didn't think we didn't want to talk about it but not so much that he felt like we were stressing his differences. I am so grateful for what he does share and always fascinated by his thinking about race which is very complex and ever evolving. You have all that to look forward to with your boys!

    Reply
  22. erika
    July 13, 2013

    This is regarding your post but not exactly your question. My siblings and myself and our kids all started getting called by last names when playing sports. But we're sure this probably started in middle school age when kids start calling each other by last names, if your playing on sports teams.

    Reply
  23. Lindy Gregg
    July 13, 2013

    Confession: We've been home for 3 1/2 years with our daughter and haven't validated our adoption. Therefore, her middle name is still my husband's first name, as is customary with all Ethiopian adoptions. While in process, we had decided on the name 'Keira." We loved it. That's how we prayed for her, thought of her, etc. She was 20 months old when she came home, and it tells you MUCH about her and her personality to know that her first sentence in English was "NO Keira! Emebet!!" So, we kept her Ethiopian name. ๐Ÿ™‚ We were going to keep Keira as her middle name, but in the past 6 months, we kind of figured out that our other daughter and I have rhyming middle names. I hadn't realized that before. But Eme sure did, and so we have now come up with a middle name for her that rhymes with ours. It makes her very happy, and I think she really feels a part of "us" in that respect. It actually was quite fun for her to help in the choosing. Maybe soon I'll get to the paperwork required for validation, and make it official. She'll be thrilled to no longer have a man's name for her middle name. ๐Ÿ™‚ WHile we're at it, maybe I'll change my middle name to "lazy."

    Reply
  24. Jennifer Litz Seivert
    July 14, 2013

    We adopted from foster care a sibling group. They were ages 3.5, 1.4 and 4 weeks old when they came to us. After being asked to adopt them a year later we found out that the middle child's name was hispanic slang for a drug. He was already two and we were worried about changing his name, but didn't want him to have the stigma of a name like that when he is older so we dropped one letter from his name to make it more appropriate. We did end up changing the baby's name because her brothers had only called her "baby sister" and refused to use her given name because it was so much like the older boy's name. We allowed the boys to choose a new first name for their sister and they each chose a middle name for themselves as well. We kept their birth father's last name as a second middle name so they don't lose that piece of their history. Social workers were very upset that we were changing their names, but we did what we felt was best for the children and considered the advice of the boys' therapists too. Anyway, I think these decisions have to be considered on a case by case basis.

    Reply
  25. SleepyKnitter
    July 14, 2013

    We kept our children’s Chinese given names as their middle names and gave them American first names. We adopted our first two as infants, so it made sense to us to give them family names while they were tiny and didn’t know any different. The next two came to us at 8 and 14, and it seemed painfully awkward to me to give them American first names, but because the 8-yr-old’s Chinese birth name sounds like a silly American cartoon character and the 14-yr-old’s name contains a difficult sound that is not found in the English language, we went ahead with giving them American first names. The 14-yr-old requested that we continue using her Chinese name, which of course we willingly did. The 8-yr-old wanted to use her new American name, but after nearly two years of that asked to go back to her Chinese nickname, the very common “Lilly,” which we willingly did. I think each family should do whatever seems to work in their family, and that it is not a good idea for other families to say on the one hand, “How culturally ego-centric of you to take away their names,” or on the other hand, “If you really love the child as your own, you will give her a new name when she is ‘born’ into your family, just as you would your bio child.” Naming is not only a personal issue for the child, it is also a personal issue for the family, and each child and family should be relieved of outside pressure to do what another family feels is the “right” way to do it.

    Reply
  26. JeffCindy Blair
    July 15, 2013

    We adopted 4 children from Ethiopia ages 12 to 4. I have strong feelings on keeping their birth names, that they were given. They are older in age and have good feelings about their names. I also was told what there names mean and they had such beautiful meanings. So much has been taken from them, I felt their name is apart of their heritage that should be kept and honored. I love that every time I say their name I am reminded of Gods creation and how He brought them into our family to rock our world:)

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

I accept the Privacy Policy