The Fallacy of Choice In Names
EDIT: Thought I should note I loved my Canadian name as a child, well into my teenage years. Yes, I loved it, because it was unique and uncommon and I felt it identified me quite well. As of recent years, I’ve felt that name no longer solely fits me like it once did, just like I feel my Chinese does not solely belong to me.
Whenever I’ve talked about wanting to change my name (legally, as in, have it recognizable under the law, not just some far-off citizenship), I get the following responses:
“So what are you waiting for? You define who you are. Change your name if that’s what you want. It’s your choice.”
It’s my choice.
As long as I can withstand the amount of backlash that would come up against me. The surprise and confusion from friends. The outrage from those who just view it as “abandonment.” The hurt and grief from [my?] adoptive parents. The constant reminders of “you’re not really Chinese because you were raised by Canadians!” or “You can’t speak Chinese, that name doesn’t suit you.”
So physically it’s my choice. Emotionally, however, that one move could potentially alienate a ton of people who only know (and see me) as my Canadian upbringing. See, they know I was born to a Chinese man and woman over in “that Eastern place.” But they don’t see me as being of them. They see me, having been raised by my Canadian parents, as being of my adoptive parents’ upbringing.
Having an ethnic legalized name brings that all up to the forefront and smacks it into everyone’s faces.
Then there is the whole: “If my child wants to change their name when they’re older, I’d support them. It’ll be their choice.”
Sounds endearing. Sounds supportive. Except the whole set-up in adoption is designed so that it’s a fallacy of choice as dictated by government officials, social workers and adoptive parents. The system is designed to wipe the background of the adoptee and transfer all legal and ethnic rights to the adoptive parents. Before you argue semantics about how we’re all part of the human race and connected to the same ancestors – an adoptee cannot legally have two sets of parents. Adoption is not set up for a legal balance. Therefore, that doesn’t really leave much of a choice.
My own parents left my Chinese name as a middle name. But it’s quite clear they don’t see me as fitting that name. Or maybe they do, I don’t know. It’s a little like saying “Oh, I know you were born in China, but I don’t really think of you in that way.”
Because the adoptee is being raised in another country. Henceforth, I am not Mei-Ling to my parents. I am borne of another set of parents, but my adoptive parents don’t use my Chinese name. They don’t see me that way because they raised me to be Canadian.
Resist Racism once talked about it here:
Let’s be perfectly clear here: They aren’t giving the child a choice. First, there is a power differential. But in addition, if they really were going to give the kid a choice, they’d leave the name alone. But the paperwork reveals the parents’ choice: The new name.
How many adoptive parents do you know who kept their child’s name in its original form? I don’t know any. How many kept their personal names? I know just a few.
Undoubtedly someone will read this and think:
“Well why haven’t you changed your name back yet? If you feel so strongly about it, then do it!”
Resist Racism sums it up nicely here:
“She can change her name back any time she wants” = she’ll have to pay money to do it after a time when everyone has known her by the name we gave her, and despite what we say, she will have to soothe over our hurt feelings in the process.
If you’re an adoptive parent and reading this, don’t sit there and lie and tell me it wouldn’t hurt you. You gave your child an American name out of pride and love. If that child-turned-adult rejected that name and switched to their birth name, yes, it would be both legal and semantic rejection.
Guilt is a powerful way to discourage something.
You don’t have to say anything.
We know. We already know. We know if we legally reclaim our names it’s the same as rejecting you and the symbolism in our American names.
Because you raised us and you are our parents too.