Are You Whitewashing Your Adoptee's Name?

Names...we take naming our children very seriously. That's not a bad thing, if you think about, names are a core part of our identities. Around the world, across cultures, names are a meaningful and important part of our lives. Our names could connect to our culture, lineage, status, identity and more. So naturally, most people take care in choosing names for their children. I get it, it's an important part of life.

However, here in America, there has been a long history of erasing and invalidating non white names. For centuries, POCs have been forced to drop their cultural or "ethnic" names, and adopt "white" names in order to fit into this white american society. One of the most obvious examples being, slaves who were forced to take their slave owners names and be re-named, otherwise known as "slave names". We were forced to drop any ties to our african culture and heritage. Ain't no slave that came over from Africa with the last name "Brown" or "Johnson". Those names were assigned to us. Some more modern examples would be international students who have to pick an "american" name. Or American born POCs who have any form of a non white name, are forced to adopt a nickname or shortened version of their name in order to accommodate to white people's inability to pronounce anything that isn't "Bethany" or "Chad". 

"My name is LaTiesha"

"La-WHO? Imma just call you Trish".

This is whitewashing. 

This happens far too often to adoptees as well. Every single TRA (transracial adoptee) I know, has had their name changed. Personally, this pisses me off. Not because the names were changed but because WAPs (white adoptive parents) don't seem to change the names of white adoptees nearly as much as they do TRAs, and the names are only ever changed when it's an "ethnic" name. Why? My birth name was not Rebekah. The name I was born with was Waykedria, it was changed to Rebekah when I was adopted. Every TRA in my family had their names changed as well. Even those who were adopted well into their lives, who had lived with their cultural names until 10, 11, 12 even 17, were changed when adopted.Changed to something like "John" or "Sarah". This is the same story for every single TRA I have ever encountered in my life.

As mentioned previously, there is a long history of disregarding ethnic names as "valid" and erasing any name that isn't traditionally white. "It's too hard to pronounce", "Can't I just call you ___"? These are all microaggressions of erasure that POCs are all too familiar with. It's not that you can't pronounce it, you can, you don't want to try. You just don't respect our ethnic names. You can pronounce complicated white names such as "Tchaikovsky", You call random spellings of basic names like "Amandya" or "Morgaiyn" creative and quirky. Those complicated ass white names are considered "majestic" and elite, but you can't pronounce "Waykedria" or "ShaCondria", even though they are pronounced exactly how they are spelled, and are just as valid as whatever boring white name you come up with. So, anytime I see WAPs wanting to change their TRAs name to something more "american" aka white, I have to give them a side eye and wonder why. 

Personally, I find the changing of adoptee names extremely aggravating and in most cases rooted in racism. Especially when someone has lived with that name an identity for a time already. Now they come to this new family that they didn't ask to be in, they have their entire past erased and assigned a new name. Seems way too similar to what slave owners did for my comfort. In my own personal opinion, an adoptee's name should only be changed if THEY wish for it to be changed. I can think of many reasons why someone may want to change their names, especially adoptees. However, I believe that choice should be their own to make, not the adoptive parents. 

Now, I realize that because of white privilege, WAPs do not have to think about their actions in regards to race almost ever, so most WAPs may not be consciously be aware of why they are doing this, but you're still doing it. When you finally get your long awaited child, and are wanting to choose a name, I don't think "let me change this brown baby's name to something less ghetto" is going through your mind (although for some of you, it is). But it's something more like the microaggressions that were mentioned before. "This is too hard to pronounce", "It's too long", "I'm already tired of correcting people or the spelling" etc. That's a red flag to stop and think about your reasoning to changing an adoptees name. Are you doing it because it's inconvenient for you to have to put out effort?

I can also sympathize with the fact that when you adopt a baby, regardless of their age, to a parent, this is your new child and naturally we name our kids. So for many parents, its just naming your "newborn". I can almost get behind that, but like I mentioned before, many of us are not adopted as newborns. Many of us have lived our lives as ___ before you changed it to ____. How do you think that makes those adoptees feel? Also, for some adoptees, especially foster kids, this probably is not the first time their name has been changed. I know people who had their name changed with every single family they went to, imagine how shitty that would make you feel as a person, already struggling with identity and self worth. 

Obviously, no one can stop you from changing your adoptees name, or doing whatever you want with your children's lives, but I challenge both WAPs and others to stop and think about the reason(s) why you feel like you need to change, dismiss and abbreviate brown people's names. If you can't think of a reason other than it's inconvenient to you in some way or another, you're being racist bro. Lastly, I leave you with this video. 

A poem by Sha'Condria Sibley called "To All the Little Black Girls With Big Names (Dedicated to Quvenzhane' Wallis)"