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".