Naming Children

A scrap of paper found in one of my children’s baby books.

Names are important. Our children are all named for somebody in the Bible that we hope they will emulate and a family member we love. When we first decided to adopt our children from Ethiopia, I assumed we would give them names that we had chosen for their first names. I had no idea what a controversial issue that was until I got a caustic comment on my blog and had a few “relationship building” conversations about it with my friend who is also an adoptee.

We prayed about names A LOT and talked for hours. My husband can attest to the numerous conversations we had; he says that naming is one of the hardest things about adding more children to our family. In Boo’s babybook there are post-it notes and napkins with lists of names on them, evidence of dates devoted to eating calzones at Sellas and trying once again to settle on a name for the new baby.

When we received our referral for our little boys, one of the names was difficult to pronounce and the other was the name of a Dickens character that isn’t usually thought of fondly. Then we added Dimples to the mix and all of a sudden we had three children to name in a relatively short time.

We began to search for information about their names. Dimples’ name means “covenant or promise” which is beautiful. So we kept that for her first name and we took my two sister’s names, Elizabeth and Laura, and combined them to give her Ella for her middle name. Then there was Eby. We gave him a first name that we love and kept his original name for his middle name. We did the same thing with Little Man. I’ll confess that we took a list of names with us on the plane to Ethiopia and finally settled on them somewhere over the ocean.

But something had already happened in our hearts and minds; all three children had become the names that we had been calling them since their referrals. Each one of them had been lovingly named by a family member and in Ethiopia names have great meaning. Eby’s Ethiopian name means “Stone of help” and refers to a stone that the prophet Samuel set up to give thanks to God for his help in defeating their enemy. Now that is a great name!

That still left Little Man whose name was unfamiliar to our American ears. Two wonderful things happened when we were in Ethiopia, the first is that so many names that had seemed unusual became beautiful to us once we met people who had those names. No longer were these letters strung together in an unfamiliar way, they had faces associated with them and were tied in our hearts to Ethiopia. Secondly, we had the incredible opportunity to meet one of Little Man’s living relatives who told us that his name means “I have seen something great”. That had meaning to her and to us because God had done a wonderful thing by bringing Little Man into this world and his life had already changed so many of us; God was doing something “great” with him.

In the end, all three of our Ethiopian children use their Ethiopian names as their primary names, and if you could meet Eby, you would know how well he carries off his name! We feel that it honors their heritage and their Ethiopian families who loved them so much. The children have lots of choices for the names they will use throughout their lives, but this feels right and good to us.

I started this entire post to share what I had learned about B’s name, but I am out of time now. Little Man is pulling on my sweater saying “cookie, cookie” which means lunch needs to be made. I’ll try to post something about B. soon.

Thank you for stopping by my blog.


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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 TBRI® 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.


  1. Signe
    April 22, 2008

    Okay, this is too funny. Rick and I had a heated debate about names. I’m going to have him read this. Thanks for sharing this part of the journey!

  2. thecurryseven
    April 22, 2008

    I agree that the name-thing is tricky. Actually, it seems more like a mine field. We have chosen to use our sons’ Vietnamese names as all or part of their first names. (One son has the whole first name and another has part of his given name with another VN name added to it. The other name would be unpronouncable by American speakers.) They both have family, more typical American names as middle names.

    We also took a long time to come to this decision. But were finally influenced by conversations with both adult adoptees and and non-native born Asian US citizens. Some comments we heard from them included: (1)sometimes it’s hard enough being different, but when people see a name without a face they have certain expectations. An Asian face with a completely Anglo name usually occasions surprise and/or comment. It gets tiring. And (2) by keeping the child’s name, we are in a way honoring and accepting who he is and where he comes from. We are making a statement that says, yes, our child is Vietnamese and we think that is a valuable part of who he is.

    I know that naming a child is a hugely personal decision. Initially, I wanted to use the American names as our children’s first names. But after much soul-searching we chose a different route. I have to say that I have had several Asians mention their pleasure at our sons’ Asian first names.

  3. the ewings
    April 22, 2008

    Love the meaning of names and your explanation of your children’s names. Asher means happy and blessed and that is what we are. Since he didn’t have an ET name we gave him one and actually he has four names. Maybe confussing but lots of options on what he’d like to be called. -Chris

  4. Adrielle
    April 23, 2008

    At first the new names were hard to remember and even harder to pronounce but now they have become as dear as my newest little cousins them selves! They have “become” there names, Do you know what I mean? Its the same way I felt when Mama and Daddy picked Yaron’s name, at first it was just a sound, ( and I didn’t like it at all! 🙂 and now its him! ( And I adore him!) It was even hard to call Alyce by her name at first and I called her Angel or Princess most of the time, (or Jenny by mistake! 🙂
    I also can relate to lists of names and have been making them for years! I wanted to have lots of kids some day just so I could use all my favorite names! Thankfully Aus and I have similar tastes in names- I like either classic names or unusual names and he likes to name after loved family members which lands us in both those categories !

  5. darci
    April 23, 2008

    oh, i am so with you…we have had lists and lists of names..with many circled(by me) and many crossed out (by him) lol!! i really love the meaning of names, whereas mark figures we can make up our own! 🙂 we named the middle names after loved family/friends, darci:)

  6. jen
    April 30, 2008

    Loved this post – we too, struggle with names! We ended up using one of our Ethiopian children’s names, and one (Dimples) we have changed…though Y does not at all acknowledge that we have changed his name. I don’t mind; I just wonder how it is going to play out as he gets older.


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