Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Lana's Name

I've been following some discussions about name changes on other blogs. These discussion started with Angelina Jolie's choice to change her son's name from Phang Quam Sang (I could have the spelling wrong here) to Pax Thien Jolie.

Many people are upset that she changed a three-year-old's name, since he is old enough to know what his name was. On one blog, the discussion then switched gears to discuss family names.

I will admit to feeling conflicted about the fact that we changed Lana's given name. After all, she is four years old. She knew what her name was. And because she knew what her name was, we elected NOT to use the name we had chosen for a younger child. Had we adopted a female child as an infant or young toddler, her name would have been Sophie. But, Lana KNEW her name was Lan, or Bich Lan. And because of that, we didn't feel completely comfortable changing her name to a totally different name. BUT, the fact that her name was Lan was kind of a gift. It was an EASY change - from Lan to Lana. Lana isn't a common name in the US, but, it struck me as classy and elegant. Images of old Lana Turner movies and whatnot. I like the meaning of Lana, which means "peaceful", and because I thought it was important to preserve the meaning of her original name (Lan means elegant or orchid in Vietnamese), we chose a middle name for her that also means elegant.

But, truthfully, had Lan's name been, say, Phuoc...or Huong...let's be honest. She would be Sophie right now. Or maybe Phoebe or Hope. But, she wouldn't be Phuoca or Huonga. It's difficult to preserve the sound or feel of many Vietnamese names. Changing Lan to Lana seemed like an easy way to preserve her sense of who she was, while at the same time giving her a name that would help her assimilate into a new culture and family and language.

I will further be honest and say that I am not invested in the name Lana in the same way that I am invested in the name Gabriel. We chose Gabriel's name with great deliberateness. The meaning was important to me. The sound was important me. The fact that I like both the nickname of "Gabe" and the entire name "Gabriel" equally was important to me. The significance of the Archangel Gabriel in Christianity, Judism and Islam - that was important to me. The fact that we waited to see his face, to know if he was a Gabriel or a Sebastian, before making a final decision, it was IMPORTANT to me. So, if Gabriel woke up tomorrow and insisted on being called "Sebastian" or "John" or "Firebender" or something - I would be upset. I would be confused. I would be p*ssed off.

Conversely, if Lana woke up tomorrow wanting to be called Lan or Bich Lan (pronounced Bit Lan) - I would probably be undisturbed. We do occasionally call her Bich Lan anyway. (Not as much as we used to, but, every now and then.) If as an adult she wants to change her name back to Bich Lan, well, certainly I am in a position to quickly assist her in that effort. I mean, I'm the attorney who prepared the original name change petition, for Pete's sake. I would worry, if she did, what kind of reaction she would get from people. I would worry about how often she will be called "Bitch Lan". But, I wouldn't stand in her way.

But, her FAMILY name? Never once, not for an instant, did we consider not changing her family name to our family name. From my point of view, leaving her with the family name she came with is tanatmount to rejecting her outright. The same as saying, "we are taking you on as a charity case, but, we don't really love you the way we love Gabriel. We don't love you enough to give you our name, to make you one of us." Doesn't our family name indicate the clan to which we belong? Lana is one of us, now, she is no longer part of the family who left her behind. When Husband and I got married, I took his name - not because of some patriarchal ideal, but, simply because it was important to us to show the world we were ONE, not two, but ONE, a cohesive whole. If we failed to extend our name to Lana, we would be keeping her separate from us, at arm's length. We would have failed to invite her to become a part of us.

I understand that she may someday be unhappy about this and any or all aspects of her adoption. She may be angry with me, she may be angry with her birth mother, and with the orphanage direction and with her foster mother and with the government officials who made decisions about her future. Bich Lan didn't have any say in these choices. And frankly, there weren't a lot of good choices to be made for Bich Lan. Her birth mother could not keep her. Despite my agency's efforts to arrange a domestic adoption for Lan in Vietnam, it didn't happen. The choices remaining were to stay in foster care until she aged out, or be adopted by an American family. I have to believe that being adopted by an American family was preferable to never having a forever family.

Because she is ours, we give her our name. If she is angry with us, later, so be it. I will make sure she knows that she can talk to me about her anger, her sadness, her frustration. That is the best I can do. That is the only thing I can do. I cannot go back and change what her birth mother did, what the orphanage director did, what her foster mother did or didn't do. I cannot change the decisions made by people who weren't me. (For that matter, I cannot change the decisions that *I* made. *I* chose her. I chose her from a stack of files of children who needed families. I cannot undo that, and I cannot undo the fact that right now, there are children who need families who don't have them and whose files I didn't choose. I chose her. I'm not sorry and I hope she won't be either.)

Right now, Lan has embraced her new identity of Lana W~. She likes to tell everyone, "I Lana W~! This Mommy W~! This Daddy W~! This Gabriel W~!" Right now she is rejecting Vietnamese food and Vietnamese people (to the extent she tried to hide under the table at a Vietnamese restaurant the other day because the waitress was talking to her in Vietnamese.) I will continue to take her for Vietnamese food, and I will continue to make sure she hears Vietnamese spoken, because it has never been my intent to erase the fact that she is Vietnamese.

It is only my intent to be her mother.



Blogger Jennifer said...

There was no way, no way we could keep the girls names as they are, being the exact same and all. We kept part and gave them new ones. BUT it is easier, they are only 9 months and 5 months when we got them. Every other child, well almost every other, was named the same thing as them and I don't feel it was special, just for them.

I think of them as Anh and Anh alot though. More the full Vietnamese way of saying their names...Last, Middle, First. I have a difficult time saying their name Vietnamese name the other way.

We never questioned changing their names as the same name, birth date and face is a hard way to grow up. And has been a nightmare for us and would be a nightmare for them. But they can do whatever they want to their names when they are older.

I dont have a point. just mindless rambling. And my take on it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007 5:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Christina said...

Are those adoption blogs talking about Pax's new name? Or just gossipy people?

A friend of ours - who came to America with her family from Vietnam when she was 3 years old - has a son (bio) and he does not have a Vietnamese name. At all. (Her husband is Indian, they gave him an Indian first name and a trendy/American middle name) When I asked her why she said because no one can properly pronounce Vietnamese names and it bothers her when people mispronounce her siblings names. So, I feel a lot less guilt now about giving Zeeb a "new" American name. :-)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007 7:44:00 PM  
Anonymous anya said...

Phenomenal. So well thought out and so well written - this should be published in a magazine somewhere.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger Robinson 4 said...

I can barely pronounce Huong, let alone trying to pronounce Huonga. haha We try to keep Huong's name the same but she didn't respond to even our best attempts. Very nice post LM. Elegantly written as always. :-)

Oh, and relpy to my email lady!!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007 5:17:00 PM  
Blogger La Turista said...

Great post.

My goddaughter, whom I've mentioned before(?), was adopted from Russia, and her mom used the English translation of her Russian name (Yulia) as her middle name (Julia). Much like Lana, it preserves her former name, and it goes beautifully with her first name, which literally came to her mom in a dream but which I totally guessed anyway because I am THAT good.

Thursday, March 29, 2007 10:27:00 PM  

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