Friday, March 2, 2012

Ethiopia - What's in a Name?

Since Zac and I have been married, we have always had a running discussion on our children's names.  I think this is common for most couples.  We've had a few favorites over the years that we've agreed on, but some have dropped off the favorites list as they become too popular with other parents.  Girl names are always easier for us to agree on than boy names.  We had one good boy's name once, but then our friends had a son and named him that, so we crossed it off our list!

As we began the adoption process, we discussed names for our child(ren), but determined to not decide on a name until we saw their picture or met them.  We wanted the name to fit them.  Some of the names that had been on our favorites list were more suited for white children.  Yes, I realize you can name a child whatever you want, but it seemed a little silly to name a black child Lily.  It didn't fit in my head.

Additionally, we discussed whether or not we would give them a new name, or keep their given name if they had one.  We really wrestled with this because there were pros and cons to both options.

If we kept their given name, it felt like it was honoring to their mom or dad or whomever had given them the name.  That's also who they were born as, and that's significant.  However, their name may be difficult to pronounce to English speakers, and we don't want our child to have to explain how to say their name to their teacher every year, or say and spell it numerous times over the phone when on a business call.

If we gave them a new name, it would feel like we were welcoming them into our family.  Naming is significant.  One of my friends was adopted when she was an infant, and her family gave her a new name.  It was a family name, and to her that was incredibly meaningful.  However, I don't like the feeling of taking away our child's name altogether and replacing it with a new one.  I felt like I was taking away the only thing they had left in life. 

With such a difficult decision to make, we resolved to just wait and see who we were matched with.  Maybe we would have more clarity then.

The day we got "The Call" from our agency, we learned we had a daughter.  We saw her picture and her name - Feven.  Within minutes I googled it to see what it meant and if there was an English equivalent.  Feven is a Biblical name, and in English we'd say Phoebe.  It means brilliant or radiant.

For about 10 seconds we discussed if we should name her Phoebe, but then decided against it because all either of us could think about was Phoebe from the TV show "Friends."  That show is such a huge part of our culture that many people would think of the character of that show when they would hear our daughter Phoebe's name.  Yes, I realize that her future friends and classmates won't know the show "Friends," but I will.  And I can just picture my daughter singing the Smelly Cat song to me someday.

Our naming conversation continued on the day we learned of her, and I came up with the name Adelaide.  We both really liked it.  It worked as both a kid name and as a name for a professional adult.  It was unique, and it seemed to suit her when we looked at her picture.  We could call her Addy for short, and maybe even spell it "Addi," like the first part of the capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa.  It was perfect!

We began to refer to her as Addy to one another, still keeping in mind that we wanted to meet her, see her personality, and see if Addy still fit...but we were pretty certain we had an Addy!

 At this same time, we were also asking around to see how to say the name "Feven."  At times we were told "Fee-ven," then "Fay-ven," and even "feh-ven" (like heaven).  Additionally, some of our paperwork spelled it "Feven" while other documents listed it as "Feben."  What was our daughter's name, anyway!

Only recently did the light bulb click for me.  The language spoken in Ethiopia, Amharic, uses characters and not letters.  "Feven" is spelled correctly in Amharic characters, but it's translated to English letters and that's why there's such variety.  Here is a sampling of some Amharic: How would you know what letters to use in English for this?!?

When we traveled to Ethiopia, we were so excited to meet our daughter, and also so excited to see if we had an Addy!  What transpired surprised both of us.

At the transition home, all of the nannies knew Feven.  When we were walking around the complex with her, they would call to her in loving tones and try to wiggle a smile out of her.  She had so many nicknames from the nannies, too!  We heard "Fee-ven," "Fay-ven," "Fay-boo," "Fee-boo," and "Fee-bee."  I think once I even heard "Bee-ben."

The most amazing thing was that Feven also knew her name.  We would talk to her and she would ignore, us, but then we'd say her name and she'd look at us.  She was 8 months old, and she recognized her name.

On one of the many early mornings when Zac and I laid in bed, wide awake at a ridiculous hour, we began talking about her name.  In my heart, I knew that I wanted to keep her name Feven.  Zac was pretty adamant prior to our trip about giving her a new name because nobody would know how to pronounce her name.  Heck, we didn't even know exactly how to say it!  The conversation that ensued surprised me, as both of our hearts were set on keeping her name Feven.

She is Feven.  She was given the name Feven by her mother, who loves her very much.  She is known to the people that love and care for her everyday as Feven.  And SHE knows she is Feven.  She smiles when she hears her name.

And besides, she didn't really look like an Addy anyway.

So, we have a daughter named Feven (Fay-ven).  We don't know what her middle name will be yet...we're still trying to decide.  We're wrestling with it because right now her second name is her mother's first name.  I want to honor her mother by keeping it, but we want to name her too.  We want to claim her as a part of our family and give her a name of our choosing to signify this.  Naming is incredibly significant.  I think I'm beginning to see just how important and meaningful a name can be.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, Amber. I agree that naming a child is very significant (and hard)! I think when parents know, they just know. We struggled for MONTHS and I believe that's part of the reason it takes 40 wks to have a takes that long to decide on names! I recall my bball coach in HS adopted 2 kids from Africa and they struggled w/ names too since both their children had been named by their mothers. They ended up giving them"American" first names and then keeping their African first names as their new middle names. If she's a Feven to you and Zac, then that's what she should be. :)
    Jen V