Monday, November 3, 2014

What's in a Name?

Recent posts about children being matched with their forever families have raised some interesting questions about names and name changes, and we thought it might be interesting to try to answer them!

Perhaps the best way to explain about names is to start at the beginning…

The beginning part of the life-story of a child now living at New Day is, by definition, sad. They began life with their birth-family, but were at some point, whether it was on the day that they were born or some time later, separated from them.  Maybe their birth-parents chose a name for them, maybe they didn’t. Parents here cannot legally hand their children over to an orphanage, so their original family name, as well as any given-name, will always be unknown.

When a child is found and brought to the local orphanage, the orphanage will have to choose a name for the child to put on their paperwork.  The name they choose will be the child’s legal name, until the day that they are adopted.

New Day Foster Home is privileged to care for children from state orphanages that need surgery and medical care.  The children come to us with their names chosen by the orphanages they came from, and the nannies (and other Chinese staff) call them by these names (usually an abbreviated/nick-name form of them).

These are their names; the names they answer to, the names that will cause the babies to turn their heads when their nannies call them.  They are the names on their bedroom doors.

They are names that are a little hard for foreigners, with little or no grasp of Mandarin, to pronounce and keep track of.

We love to share the pictures and stories of our children, stories of how love makes a difference and hope can be brought to the hopeless.  Putting a face, and a name, to Chinese orphans with special needs can inspire donations and even adoption.  We need funds to continue our life-saving mission, and orphans need families.

So where do the names that you see on our website, blog and Facebook (and Twitter and Instagram!) come from?

When a child first arrives at New Day, a volunteer or visitor will be given the huge privilege of naming them.  It is not done lightly, the ‘namer’ will think carefully, consult a baby name book if necessary. Sometimes the child will be named after a loved-one, sometimes the ‘namer’ will chose a name for a meaning that they want to bestow on the child.  Perhaps a name will be chosen that reflects the meaning of the child’s Chinese name.  Naming a child gives you a special link to them, and volunteers will certainly not forget the child they named…

This then becomes the name that the child is ‘known by’ on our website and Social Media.  Using a name that is not the child’s ‘real name’ also helps to provide a level of privacy and protection, just like when adoption agencies choose names for the children on their lists.  On the Chinese version of our website, we use the ‘nick-name’ versions of the children’s Chinese names, also to provide a level of privacy.

Once a child turns two and starts to attend preschool (and later, the 'backyard school' for older kids), they will be called by their English name during school time.  One of our aims for preschool is that they can start to learn English, and using English names during class is pretty standard practice for language lessons in China.  Volunteers may call the children by their English names at other times (although some learn and use their Chinese names), but for the majority of the time, children will be addressed by the Chinese names.

So why the name-changes when a child gets matched with a forever family?

It is totally the choice of adoptive families as to what they will call their new son or daughter.  Maybe they will keep the English name that a New Day volunteer gave their child, maybe they will choose a new name entirely. Some may use their child’s Chinese name as a middle name or even a first name. Some may choose to keep the name that their adoption agency used for their child.  Sometimes we get to hear that a child has been given a new name, other times we don’t hear anything and don’t know what name a child will receive on adoption.  Families in fact do not have to provide information about name-choices until they complete the adoption.

If we do hear that a child has been given a name by their new family, it makes sense to begin using that name so that the child can start to get used to it.  Older children may be confused by the change initially, but they do get used to it eventually (and sooner is surely better than later).  Also, the older children that are given new names by the forever families are excited and pleased that they have a name that their parents picked for them.

So, that is the somewhat long answer to the question ‘what’s the deal with the name-changes?’!

We acknowledge that it is not ideal, that having multiple names (maybe a birth family name, then an orphanage name, then one or two English names) is not the best thing for a child.  Being an orphan is not ideal for a child, so far from ideal that it is heart-breaking.  We do the best that we can to help, and this is how we do the name part.

Adoptive families, we would love to hear your ‘name stories’!  If you would be willing to share, please leave a comment about how you chose a name for your child/children.


  1. Laura--thanks for this very clear explanation of the naming process. I know that our son's name was used for a child shortly after we left from volunteering and we were pleased and chose to be a sponsor of that child. When he was adopted, the family chose to change the name and I think I felt a little disappointed, but knew that the name chosen by the family had meaning for that family and may even be a family name. What is most important is that the name is something that ties the child to that family. With my own adopted daughters we chose names that make them more a part of our family tree. We cannot graft them on there genetically and erase their past, but we can symbolically remind them through their name that they are chosen and beloved.

  2. Janai was known as Nicole at New Day. But long before she was born, I prayed for a little girl. One day, 3 years before Janai was born, in the midst of praying, God told me He would give me a little girl from China. I chose the name Janae for her because it means God has answered. We saw Janai's paperwork for the first time 6 years later. Her Chinese name AiXin means loving heart. So we molded our name and her name to get Janai Xin, God has answered with a loving heart. We also kept her English name, Nicole, as a 2nd middle name. We could not let it go because we knew it was an important part of her life story and who she is. Now I am curious to know the story behind how she was named Nicole.

  3. We changed both of our daughters names completely. We ultimately chose not to keep their Chinese names because they were generic (particularly our oldest) and given to them by someone who cared nothing for them. Stock names. They were getting a who,e new life & needed new names to go with it, so we very carefully chose names that meant something. The oldest's name means 'strength', which she clearly had to have endured such neglect. The youngest's means 'free', which we thought was perfect because she was free from being an orphan. They have grown beautifully into their names! By the way, neither girl cares at all that they had a previous name.