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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Rose By Any Other Name

Today is all about names. Oh how we've grappled with them since coming home last Christmas. Tomorrow is our scheduled re adoption court hearing, during which Jonas will receive his new name.


I wonder, as my son grows, how will he come to terms with the complexity of his owning many names? Reflective of so much of my young Jonas' life the changes of his name speak to all that he has gained and lost. While his names will never be able to completely define his person they do tell at least a part of his story.

For me, it's just one more instance of how adoption is never simple. Not for any of us involved.

Jonas was given the name Yonas A* Geremew by his birth mother. (I'm leaving out parts of his name on purpose) We treasure his given name because of it's significance and history. Each name was lovingly chosen for him by his first mother and has deep meaning. It is unique that he was given 3 names at birth. To this point I have not known any other Ethiopian with what we would consider a middle name.

In Ethiopia the custom is to name a child and for their second name - what we would call a last name- the father's first name is granted. So, for example, the son of a man named Fikadu might be Yonathan Fikadu. There are no real surnames in Ethiopia.

After the Ethiopian courts granted us custody of our prince they dropped all but his first name, Yonas. As is custom officials gave our son his father's first name. Then they tagged on our last name (I guess this was their effort to Americanize the name) We knew from the beginning that Yonas Dustin wasn't going to stay Jonas' legal name.

We were burdened to make the right decision in renaming Jonas. We wanted to honor his first mother and bestow upon him a place in this family as well. Because Jonas is the English translation of Yonas it's obvious how we came to that conclusion for his legal name though we often call him Yonas or his Ethiopian nickname, "Yoni".

A* will remain the same because it is the male version of his first mother's name, thus we value it deeply.

All the members of this family have middle names which begin with "L", so we determined that Jonas would have to have an "L" middle name too. Liben is an Amharic name meaning "Ethiopian King" which, of course, he is!

We made the tough decision to drop Geremew from his legal name and add Liben instead.
Honestly, I'm not entirely sure what is the "right" thing to do.

There is so much to consider when renaming. We wondered if we should we leave his first name intact. Could altering it to the English pronunciation be something he would grow to appreciate? We also worried that not having an "L" middle name might make him feel left out in some way. I think he will both mourn trading yet another piece of the history his first mother granted him by naming him Geremew and appreciate the common bond of our "L"-ness. I did imagine Jonas growing up with 5 names and wishing we had edited a little so he could be like every other kid.

Ultimately, four names seemed like plenty enough for a legal name. So, the child will be Jonas A* Liben (and our last name). I find great solace in the fact that my nephew has two middle names as well. Thus the two can commiserate when in each other's company.

We will teach Jonas that all the names he's been given are his possession regardless of what any piece of paper says. He is so much more than a name and can never be defined by one (or, in his case seven.)

I pray one day Yonas A* Geremew Dustin Jonas Liben will understand how painstakingly and thoughtfully we attempted to proceeded in choosing his legal name. Then, I pray he'll find grace and peace for all the decisions made which were out of his hands.


Elizabeth said...

Hi Jen -

Received a link to your blog from a mutual friend. I live in the same area, have a 17-month-old from Ethiopia, and she has 2 middle names!

If you'd like to e-mail more privately, please drop me a line at I'd love to meet!


Apryl said...

I have two middle names :) Causes me problems sometimes (like when I'm adopting and one document has one middle name and another has the other...) We struggled so much with naming Ella and finally just nixed her entire Ukrainian name--never really let go of the guilt on that one. So this time we did what we felt was 'right' for our kids. It sounds like Jonas is going to have a wonderful name to grow into :)

E said...

The boy with seven names (because you left your last name off the list). :) I think it's sweet & he does own them all, regardless of the paper. A (our A) only has one name we left off, which is the misspelled version of my husband's first name that the Ethiopian officials gave him. It still pops up though since that was his legal name for a time. So...that's part of his "name story" too. Part of his history.

I agree with Apryl - wonderful name to grow into!


Krista said...

Jen, this is sort of a wonderful problem to have. With Elias his circumstances were not like this at all. His given name was probably not even given to him by his first mother given the circumstances. For us we changed the whole name... I might also mention that Abel Hands (if we kept the first name) is humourous anyway :)

beBOLDjen said...

Krista- That is humourous. Able Hands would definitely be an eyebrow raiser.

Yes, I do think we have sort of a wonderful dilemma. We realize that, for many, the history just isn't there. We've been given many special blessings in the form of information to pass along to Jonas which many kids spend their childhood dreaming about knowing. It is for that very reason that we feel a certain responsibility.