This blog has moved! Please join us over at!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Baby Naming Issue: A Dilemma with an Adoption

Jodi writes:
You helped us name our last baby (Baby Girl or Boy Young), and I know you are a much busier girl these days, but I'm hoping you and your readers will be able to help us with our current name dilemma.

We are adopting a five-year-old boy from Eastern Europe, and we have definitely decided to keep his first name as his first name, though we will probably use a different nickname than he currently goes by. Our plan for the past few months has been to give him a middle name that we have always wanted to use for a boy (we have four girls) but probably wouldn't now because we have already used the same initial for one of our daughters. It seemed like a perfect fit. We both love the name, we love the meaning, we love how it sounds with his first name. Why look any further, right?

Here's the hitch. My mother-in-law has mentioned to both hubby and me that she feels it would be a shame for our little man not to have a family middle name, since all of our girls have a family name either as a first name or a middle name. I know this isn't her kid to name, but I do appreciate her input, and she makes a valid point. Will our little guy feel like we don't really accept him as part of our family if he doesn't have a family middle name?

It had crossed my mind before she brought it up (twice), but I rationalized it away, thinking that his first name reflects his heritage/where he comes from (like a family name does for our girls) and his middle name will be our gift to him - something we love and that is very special to us. Each of our girls has one family name and one name we just loved; we aren't into giving him two middle names, so one or the other has to give, right?

If it helps to talk in more concrete terms, his first name is three syllables and starts with N. The middle name that is *the* name we've always loved for a boy is Barnaby. It means "son of encouragement", and while I generally agree wholeheartedly with your take on names and meanings, this meaning seems pretty well-agreed-upon and also so very perfect. The main family name that has come to mind is Dickson, which bears some resemblance both in sound and meaning to his current middle name. Maybe that way he gets a middle name that is a cool sort of bridge from where he came from to the rest of his life, but we just don't love it like we do Barnaby.

I guess this is as much an adoption psychology question as a name question, but I trust you and your readers will have some valuable insight to share anyway. Thank you!

Oh, what a VERY INTERESTING question!

My FEELING is that, in general, if there is a good story for why each name was chosen, children won't have that "left out" feeling: that is, if three girls have L names and the fourth girl gets a N name but the parents talk about how they fell in love with the name when etc. etc. etc., all the children will likely feel well-contented in a way they wouldn't if the parents shrugged and said, "I dunno, we just ran out of L names."

But you're right: an adoption situation makes this a much trickier dilemma.

Here is one way to spin the story for even a non-adoption situation, though it makes a few assumptions we wouldn't want to make too firmly. The gist would be that a girl might decide to give up her family surname when she gets married, so it's nice for her to have family middle name as well; but boys almost always keep their family surname, so.... I mean, I'm not sure how you'll end that sentence, and it can be a bit of a minefield when we're talking about what children might do with their names later on, but that would be the concept: that the divide is between the girl names in your family and the boy names in your family (just as any family might use common names for boys and unusual for girls, or family names for boys but not for girls, or father's-side names for girls and mother's-side names for boys, or M names for girls and J names for boys, or WHATEVER), not between the non-adopted names and adopted names. Possible future complication: if you have another boy later on.

I think the concept you've already come up with is much better: that his first name IS his family name, or serves the same intention as the girls' family names. When telling the story, I would snip the part about not being able to use Barnaby because it repeats an initial, and just focus on how it was a name you loved so much and were dying to use and wanted to make your gift to him. This avoids tricky girl vs. boy issues, and also wouldn't be a problem with any future boy: your naming style becomes consistent as soon as you say that you choose one name you love and one name of significance (rather than "a family name").

But I also admit a bias based on nothing but personal preferences: I think Barnaby makes a great middle name, and "Dickson" is a little awkward. Not DEALBREAKER awkward, but changes in slang terms has caused many a Richard to change his nickname to Rich.

Well! I don't know! This is definitely a pickle! What do the rest of you think?

Name update! Jodi writes:
I wanted to update you on our sweet little boy from Eastern Europe. We actually had to name him (with very little warning, while in the backseat of a car) on our first trip to his country about seven months ago, but I wanted to wait until he was home to update so that I could send a picture. He is finally home!

Thanks largely to the response from your readers (escpecially the ones who have some experience with adoption), we decided that he did need a family name like all of his sisters have. His name is Nikolai Dickson Y. and we're calling him Niko. I love everything about his name, and I am thankful for your and your readers' help!

In the meantime of our long wait to bring him home, we also managed to add another family member in the usual way, and we even named her without anyone's help! Her name is Coraline Audrey, but had she been a boy, hubby says he would have pushed for Barnaby, so I guess we're not ready to slide it to the middle name slot yet after all.

Thanks again


Nicole Trager said...

I read this and had the same exact advice!! Go with what you love, and the "story" of the name will stand out and give him a connection to mom and dad. I too agree that boys will forever carry their family name as a last name, but girls possibly not (although times are a changing and more couples are choosing hyphens or alternatives).

If it is the family bridge you like but not quite the name..
Alternatives to Dickson could be

Dixon or

or try a combination of both Barnaby and Dickson


Also I might suggest to just go with both names and give your son two middle names Barnaby Dickson. Depending on the length of your last name this could work. Good luck!!

Elle said...

Totally agree with Swistle. Go with Barnaby. Your son will be proud to hear the story about how you've always loved the name Barnaby and were waiting for so long for a son to bestow it upon. How could he *not* feel loved?

Slim said...

Another vote for two middle names.

I like "Dickson" much better than "Barnaby," and I know it's not my kid, but to the extent that one might want to give a kid the option of using a middle name instead of a first name, for whatever reason, you might as well give a couple of options.

Even though, yeah, probably not going to use "Dick" or "Dickson" until he's out of school.

Ashley said...

When we adopted my sister, we decided to keep her first name but changed her middle (and last, obv) like you're doing. My parents allowed me, actually, to pick her new middle name- and I picked a diminuitive of Jane/Jean, similar to my own (which is Jeanette).

My middle name is a family name, and while the name I came up with ended up having a family connection, my parents didn't feel like they had to give my little sister a family name, too, because they knew that she would be just as much a part of the family as I was- we didn't need to "tie in" her name with ours.

If you are truly undecided on the right middle name for your new son, then I suggest doing what my parents did: let your other children choose between the two names! It will make an even MORE meaningful story, and it will allow them to feel that much closer to their new brother.

Patricia said...

My husband and I named 9 children - the first two born to us, the next 4 adopted as babies and the subsequent 3 adopted at school age; all 7 were adopted transnationally. I agree with your mother-in-law: especially since your daughters have a family name, this son should have one too. I think it's great that you're keeping his first name as his first name -- that's a part of him always (whether or not you kept it as part of his name), but it doesn't link him to his adoptive family as a family middle name would.

As it happened in our family, the first two children (born to us) -- a girl, then a boy -- were given names of family members other than ourselves. The first two children we adopted -- a girl and then a boy -- have my first name and my husband's as their middle names. In a family with kids who are born to the parents -- and look something like them -- along with kids who were adopted transracially, it can be a positive link for an adopted child to have that special name link with their parents or extended adoptive family. We knew it was always very special for our first son from Korea to share his middle name David with his father. He always said he would name his first son David too -- and he did.

Karen L said...

My first suggestion would be that you go with two middle names. I know you say you're not in to it but I think that it's a regret-preventer. I'd rather live with a little nuisance every once in a while when filling out forms than live with the regret of never using the name I loved or slighting someone (especially your son or possibly your extended family) by discontinuing the family-name pattern.

I know some people have very strong feelings about the number and order of names but in my extended family it is very common (and for some cases, actually tradition) for people to have two middle names and/or go by their "middle" name. It has never been a big deal or source of annoyance, that I know of.

Otherwise, I like the idea of seeing his current name as the name of significance, plus a name you love, and with the knowledge that you ARE giving him a family name - his new surname.

Phancy said...

Good question. I wonder, how obvious are the "family" names? For instance, in my family, my brother was named after my father and I after my maternal grandmother. (And my father after his father, and my mother after her aunt, etc) So the names were closely linked to people we knew well. Therefore, a non-family name would have really stood out. But if the family names are more distant, or middle/maiden names, then I don't think it will make your son feel left out. I hope that makes sense, I was struggling with how to phrase it.
Secondly, I always appreciate the advice on here to use the name you love, not the name you have to use.

The Mrs. said...

We adopted our son. We gave him a family name for his middle name. Our daughter (born to us) is older, and she is NOT named after any family members.

We spoke to a sizable demographic of guys who had been adopted, and they all felt strongly that a "family" name was necessary for our son... not just our surname. The guys who didn't have a "family" name said they never felt like they really belonged to their adoptive families. The ones who did have "family" names felt like they did belong.

I won't pretend to understand the mind of a man (much less one that has been adopted), but that's the feedback we received.

Baraby is wonderful, and if it's the perfect fit, I agree with Karen L. (above) that perhaps two middle names is the way to go.

All the best to you as you welcome this treasure of a child!

kimma said...

I think it would be of greater value to him in later years for you to use a family name in the middle. As I read your email he will continue to be introduced to people primarily by his existing first name. If you were considering using Dickson as the name you are to introduce him by I would have a different opinion – or suggest you use a different family name – but in the middle name slot I think it is a good choice.

Patricia said...

I completely agree with the idea to go with 2 middle names, so you have no regrets. Choosing Barnaby because you love it and a family name to help him feel connected are both warm, loving ideas. My daughter is adopted and I kept a form of her first name, chose a name I loved for a middle name, and chose a family name for a second middle name.

Diane said...

It's certainly only an anecdote, but to agree with what someone above said -- my father was adopted at the age of 6 (domestic). He kept his first name, but was given his mother's maiden name as his middle name. I think it was a very strong link for him, as a child who had been tossed around a lot, to know that he was really, for real, part of the family. For whatever reason, it had more meaning for him than the new last name. Since he was 6, they let him give his input and he helped to choose the name. Is that something that might be a possibility here?

If you don't want to go with two middle names and you aren't a huge fan of Dickson, perhaps you could dig more into the family tree to find a name you would love.

Amber said...

I love Barnaby, and think that the story of why you love it is terrific. Also, (as I think someone mentioned) as a boy, he will always get to keep your family surname, whereas most likely your daughters won't, so that's a family name that is just as lasting as a middle name.

Not that it matters much, but when I got married, I chose to keep my middle name vs. dropping that and using my maiden name as my middle name. My reasoning was that my maiden name was bestowed by chance, but my dad chose my middle name and that to me was more special.

christine said...

Congratulations on the adoption! The photograph made me a little misty and his name is just PERFECT!


may said...

Wow. Your family is beautiful, and Nico is precious. Families are so freaking awesome. : )