Monday, March 15, 2010

What's in a name?

Four years ago when we started our adoption journey, we tentatively picked out the name Tess. We agreed that whatever first name had been given her in China, we would give her as a middle name. When she got older if she wanted to choose to go by her middle name, that would be fine.

We jokingly called her "Tess Chinese Name Cornell McKim" and waited patiently to meet her. Over the years of waiting we stopped talking about her and her name, so when this referral arrived on February first, we were not sure what name to use. Her Chinese name is Yi Xiao Jian. The characters used to represent the name are pictured above.

In Chinese, Yi is her surname. In this case the name given to all the babies at the Yiying Social Welfare Institute in Jiangxi Province.

A friend who speaks Mandarin writes, "The surname “Yi” is very rare; I’ve never met anyone with that surname. It’s an old character that refers to an arrow with a string tied to it, used for hunting birds. The first character of her given name, “xiao,” can indeed mean “dawn ,” though it also means “understand.” The second character of her given name, “jian,” means “build” or “establish.”

We thought more about possible American/English first names. We mixed it up a bit and threw some more names into the pot. We liked Lane and Kai. We considered Willow. We liked Julia (My grandmother's name and a dear Aunt's name.)

Our son, by the way, did not like any of the names. We pressed him to think of one of his own, but he told us he would only give us the veto or approval and not suggest any names. We forged on alone.

When we filled out or acceptance form to be delivered to the various governments and consulates involved in this transaction, we had to name her. Geoff finally said he liked Tessa. He thought that Tessa McKim sounded like the perfect name and we could call her Tess or Xiao-Jian or Tessa and I quickly agreed.

Geoff wonders if we change the meaning of her Chinese name by hyphenating. The same friend writes, "This business of hyphenating or running names together is actually a very old controversy among Chinese who traveled abroad. Mainlanders do not hyphenate, and so would advise Xiaojian. Taiwanese hyphenate, and would counsel Xiao-Jian. I'd suggest you fuse the names for practical reasons and write Xiaojian"

And so she shall be Tessa Xiaojian Cornell McKim.

Many have commented that Tessa McKim sounds like a great name for a wee Irish lass. What an amazing story she will have to tell. A Chinese girl with a US upbringing and an Irish/Chinese name.


  1. I'm really enjoying your blog Amy! Tessa's full name is gorgeous. Keep your writing flowing about this wonderful adventure and joyful family experience!

    Just an FYI, occasionally the Asian Culture Center on campus has topics related to adoption in their various series (Over a Cup of Tea and other neat programs.)

    If you're not on their mailing list, you might enjoy writing to them and being added to their list for announcements of events, children's activities, etc. It's a fun and valuable resource.