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Growing up, I was fascinated with the concept of how you get named, who decides, what circumstances surround this, and how names can hold so much meaning. For example, people are often named after family members and thus names get passed down through generations. People also name their children after meaningful people in their life.
I read a lot growing up and always had a running list of my favorite names. Even in children books, there were some elaborative stories of names. This further showed me just how important names are.
As an adoptee, my name was especially fascinating because I have two. I have my Khmer name and the name my parents gave to me. Many people in my life are surprised to know I that I had a name before my adoption. My US birth certificate has my English name, Sophie.
My Khmer name was given to me by the orphanage director. I am named after a Thai actress whose on screen persona was a well behaving and obedient daughter. Since I didn’t cry a lot and was a pleasant baby, she thought it would be a good name for me. I found this information out in 2016. So for my whole life until then (I was 18 at the time) there was all this information about my name I didn’t even know about. When the orphanage director told me this story, I just started crying. It was then that I realized I didn’t even know that my biological parents didn’t name me Just another question on a list…??!!
My experience of having two names is common for adoptees. This does NOT mean you can just ask adoptees if they have two names, a “real name”, etc. Don’t ask for this information unless someone willingly talks about it with you. There is such a fine line. Names can be triggering for some and not everyone feels empowered or “chosen” by their name. DO NOT question them!
Growing up, I often wondered why my (adoptive) parents gave me an English name. Would I have faced more barriers with my Khmer name? Probably… Having an English name meant I presented as white and was more so accepted.
It interests me how much power people have in your life to name you. The power of your name is often overlooked BUT highly nuanced for me.
What Does Your Name Mean to You?