What’s in a Name?


One question that people ask us a lot is “are you going to change P4’s name?”. That’s a complicated question we’re not really sure how to answer yet!  But here are some of our thoughts.

The first thing that is important to understand is that more than likely, P4 will already be on his or her second name: the name he or she was given at birth, and then the name he or she is given when he or she entered the orphanage.  It’s unlikely that the orphanage will know their given name, so they’ll be given another one.  And, often the name they’re given in the orphanage is not the name they’re called in the orphanage; many kids are given nicknames and that’s what they answer to.

The other part of that scenario is that often, names given to kids in orphanages are names that are culturally associated with orphans and being abandoned, which carries weight with it.  For instance, all kids in one orphanage might be given the same last name, which would identify them as an orphan to anyone who heard their last name – rather then giving them a common last name, they were given a last name like “Guo”, which means something like “ward of the State”.

On the other hand, a name is a huge personal identifier and something that we embrace as part of our personal identity, so changing that, especially for the second time in a child’s life, is a really hard thing to consider.  We are already asking our child to give up everything they know – home, friends, nannies, culture, language, food, EVERYTHING – and asking them to also give up their name seems like too much.

But, then, on the other OTHER other hand, if their name is very difficult to pronounce or literally not pronounceable in English, what then?

So, that’s a portion of the things we’ve considered when making this decision about what to do about a name.  The place where we’ve landed is that we’re going to wait until we’re matched to make a decision, and it’s all going to depend on what P4’s name is.  For instance, if his name is Bin, we would possibly change it to Ben or if her name is Lin, we might change it to Lynn because that’s a pretty close English match.  If it’s not a very simple change like that, our tentative plan is to choose an English name that starts with the same letter sound, like, for instance, if his name was Tian, we’d go with Tyson, or Tyler or something like that. Then we will absolutely keep their Chinese name as a middle name.  We feel like doing that gives him or her the option to go back to, or just keep using, their Chinese name if that is what they’d prefer. It also gives them an English name if that is their preference.  I’ve read so many stories of adult adoptees who feel like having their name changed stripped them of their personal and cultural identity, so it’s really important to us that P4 have both a Chinese name and an English name so there is no choosing one culture over the other, but embracing both.

The long story short is that we aren’t making any hard and fast decisions right now, and probably will travel with a very loose idea of what our name plan is, but wait until we’ve met P4 and figured out what name he or she she actually identifies with before we make any lasting decisions.

This is a tricky decision because we want to make sure that we’re making choices that honor P4’s culture and roots, but also will send him or her into a new culture with fresh wings.  So, we’ll see where that takes us.  But at the end of the day, no matter what their first name becomes, they’ll also be getting a new last name with all the messy Pollard family glory that comes with it, and a new identity as son or daughter.  So we can figure out all the rest together.