Q&A: Any advice on naming an adopted baby from a foreign country?
We are adopting a baby from a foreign country and we were wondering: Should we keep her name, give her a new American name, or a new foreign name? We feel so lucky and blessed to have this child. We would like our baby girl to be proud of her birthplace and her ethnic heritage, but we also don't want to give her a name that would make growing up in the United States more difficult for her. (Being adopted and coming from another culture, she might feel different enough already.)
We can't wait to welcome this child into our lives and our family. Is there a way we can let her know how special she is and that she belongs with us?
Oh, what a momentous time this is for you and your family and the little person you are welcoming into your home! How thrilling—and nerve-wracking.
With adopted children, naming takes on a special nostalgia. The story of how and what you choose to name your child becomes part of your child’s history. Many families choose to give an adopted child a new first name to celebrate her changed status and entry into the family while keeping a former or native name as the middle name to mark the child’s passage from her birthplace to her new home. With children older than three or four who can remember more, it’s best to ask them what they prefer. They may experience a loss of self or identity if forced to adopt a new name. Conversely, they could struggle with a foreign name, especially if there is a painful past attached to it. I’ve heard of children who insisted on changing to American names, and others who refused to be called anything but their birth names. Since your daughter is so young, it seems perfectly fine to choose a name for her that best reflects your love for her. By the conscientiousness you express in your letter, I have confidence that you’ll make the right choice.
Don’t feel you have to limit yourself or your daughter to certain names. After all, you don’t have to be French to name your daughter Jolie. If you like the name, or its meaning, then that’s good enough. If you want to convey your daughter’s rock-steady place in the family, you could name her Petra or Selah (which both mean rock, or stone). I am very fond of an international set of names that are easy to say, yet travel well across borders. Amara means “unfading or eternal” in Greek and Latin, but also means “imperishable” in Spanish. Amaya means “the end” in Basque, or “night rain” in Japanese. Zahara means “flowers” in Swahili and “shines” in Hebrew. And Kira feels right at home in Irish, African, Russian, and Japanese conversations.
You might also want to play around with our international baby name guides to see if there are names that reflect your child’s heritage and sound solid with your (assumedly) American-sounding last name.