Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I Got a Name

This week we filed our paperwork for the US to officially recognize our adoption. This is when we reaffirm or change their birth names and specify the name that will be used on all official documentation going forward - social security, passport, drivers license, college transcript, property deeds, etc.

So what to do? On the one hand, our girls already know themselves as Meron and Emnet, and we want to honor their Ethiopian roots. On the other hand, we don't want to handicap them with names that Americans cannot pronounce and for which the gender is ambiguous. My name, for example, is always being butchered into Pinkham or Titcomb or something more rude. I habitually say my name and spell it whenever I meet someone new. It's enough to make me wish I was Smith or Jones or Hill.

We wince at some of the Ethiopian names American parents have preserved. "Aiofe" may be my favorite example. Accidentally buy too many vowels? Seriously, how many Americans can even guess at how to pronounce this name? Is it male or female? How about spending the rest of your life spelling that name and repeating it six times every time you meet someone new , make a restaurant reservation, or open a new account? Then you get "Come on, seriously, what's your real name?" Dear Parents, why not change it to Ava (especially because that is how it is spoken)? Let's pray this child is very good natured or becomes a major celebrity so everyone knows her name.

Back to us. Meron is a beautiful sounding name when spoken in Amharic. It is "Mare....trill the R.....on". A sweet, soothing sound. I love to call her that when I sing her lullabies. It means "the holy water". But how many Americans can trill an 'R'? And how long before some adult in an unkind moment, or some bully on the school bus, changes it to 'moron' just to get a cheap laugh. So Meron will become Marin.

Emnet is a totally foreign name. It's meaning is beautiful - "the ashes Christians use on Ash Wednesday". An American has no idea if this name is male or female and no idea of its ethnicity. It's unfamiliarity will raise doubts and bias in people who have not yet met her. So we can choose Annette or Emma - the two closest American female names in pronunciation to Emnet. We choose Emma because Emnet calls herself "Emmy".


2 said...

Hello, I'm a friend of Tizita and Fekadu. I really enjoy reading your posts! Beautiful nuggets of your life with your girls.

I'm a little sad that you are changing the names of your children. I've grown up with a "strange" name, an ancient Nordic name, that nobody can pronounce or spell. And yes, I was teased and yes some times I didn't like it, but in the end, I LOVE it. It has played a large role in making me who I am.
My brother and his wife debated about naming their son Odin or Karl when he was born. They thought about which name would get teased more and what other kids are being named and decided that Odin was a better choice. And really, kids cab be mean and if they want to tease, they will find something regardless of what you do.
More and more kids have "strange" names these days, and yes spelling and pronouncing it can be a pain (or a conversation starter), but I've never had to share my name. It has always been mine and me only. There is never any confusion about which Tyra people are talking about. Pronounced Too-ra in English.
So now that your children's names are legally American-pronounceable, I do hope that you continue to call them by their Amharic names, so they can keep rooted to that part of their past. It will be their special name from you, the special name of love.

Leo said...

Well, we didn't really change the names. We modified them while staying as close to the original as possible.

And yes, when we are in the privacy of our home, we do call them by their Amharic names

Chris said...

I am an american recently baptized into the Tewahedo faithful, and krestenna-sim-e is Habte Selassie, a name which I cherish, and had waited years to adopt. That being said, I say don't let America swallow you alive, as it does Americans. Who cares if Americans can not understand your culture? What better an opportunity then to explain it to them? In America people have no culture, they borrow from each other, so why not contribute to this process, instead of taking away from it? Be proud and testify the glory of Ethiopia, the Americans will just have to adjust.

Peace and love

Empress Heaven Kush'Iya said...
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Em G said...

My name is Emnet, I grew up in America with that name and though when I was young I was a little embarrassed amongst the seas of Amy's, Emma's, Sarah's and Rachel's - as I grew up it has become a point of pride that I have a distinct name that connects me directly to my culture. As an Ethiopian growing up in America I am and always will be different than the mainstream culture, there is no changing or denying that and as that has become clearer to me the uniqueness of my name is something I find comfort in, it reflects that I have a different background, that I have a heritage and that my story is unique. I love my name and it is distinctly me, I have grown into it and all I have ever gotten is compliments for it. I would advise, especially since your children are adopted and will have little connection to their Ethiopian roots that you keep some vestige of the culture alive for them and let them keep their names.