Thursday, August 24, 2006
A rose by any other name
Would not be as sweet as my YuYu. My dearest little love sponge, the most gentle, kind, spacey love bucket child, started first grade on Wednesday. Although she didn’t come home with the dreaded family tree project (sigh of relief, hate to start the new year with the need to lecture her teacher about insensitivity to children who’s family trees are pretty sparse), she did come home with a questionnaire about her name, e.g., what does it mean, who gave it to her, where did it come from(?), was she named after anyone. I sat down and filled in the blanks in what I like to think of as the sanitized version because, although her teacher could not know it, my precious YuYu comes with a name that is loaded down with emotional and cultural baggage. But, I was calm, it’s not her English name that's loaded and I figure I don’t need to go out of my way to pound on her teacher over a seemingly innocent little assignment that isn't so innocent for this particular student. I just filled in the questionnaire in a way that does not bring any special or extra attention to YuYu’s name. She is named after my cousin who died too young (Kathryn), YuYu’s brave great-great-grandmother who immigrated to the US from Germany (Wiemar Republic, raging inflation and political instability, but pre-Hitler) only after earning enough money to send each of her 12 children on before her in the 1920’s (Marta) and raised them all by herself when she was widowed in the 1930’s. I also kept YuYu’s second and third Chinese symbols, Rui (auspicious) Yu (treasure). But YuYu’s first symbol? Baby’s named a bad name.
The good folks in charge of naming at the Nanning SWI gave every child who entered the orphanage the same surname: Yuan. Giving every child the same surname is not an uncommon naming practice in the realm of Chinese orphanages. All children from Ellie and Mimi’s SWI (different provinces) are named Fu (good fortune) blank blank. At Nora’s SWI, the surname changes every year and identifies the child’s birth year. However, no family in the Guilin egroup has indicated that they have a child who was abandoned more than a year after his/her birth and whether the SWI changed the child’s name to match the same name as other children born in that year or the name of the children brought to the SWI that year. Clear as mud?
The sad/bad aspect of YuYu’s Chinese surname? It’s the Chinese symbol for orphanage or institution. Every child that remains in the Nanning SWI until they age out into who knows what kind of life will carry the burden of a name that brands them indelibly as a person who was raised in an orphanage. Happily, this practice has changed, but only within the past year. The orphanage officials did this from a position of extreme insensitivity or, worse, they did it on purpose and they knew exactly what they were doing to these kids. For example, the director at Mimi’s institution gave every child who came into the SWI in 2000 the family name of “De” which means the morality/integrity of the Chinese people. Mimi is Fu (also not a real family name in China, no one except an orphanage kid would be named Fu) De Xin. Before I was scheduled to travel to adopt Mimi, I joined the Fuling egroup and there was a discussion about the meaning of De. A parent who traveled before me wrote that she had asked the director why she chose De for this “class” of children. The director’s response knocked me back: she said she gave the children a symbol of strong morality to make up for the immoral acts of their parents, no further elaboration. I had intended to use De Xin (symbol for keep in touch/write a letter) in Mimi’s permanent name, but dropped it like a hot rock and quickly notified my agency to make sure the paperwork was completed for Meredith Jean Fuling (where she spent her first year).
So, I didn’t pound YuYu’s teacher about the name assignment, and YuYu can be proud of her English name and the Chinese nickname she prefers, I blogged about it instead. YuYu’s teacher doesn’t even know the bullet she just missed, more info than she needs, more info than YuYu needs to know until she is MUCH, MUCH older. See, most kids have scrapbooks; my kids are going to have this blog.