Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Name Game

I've posted before about our adventures in Foster Care concerning our children's names and the spelling of said names. This is currently an issue with Baby 4 right now.

Rather try to explain the name situation, I'm going to give you an example. Baby 4's name is not Micheal, but the idea is the same:

His parents always intended to pronounce his name Micheal, but decided to spell it Michelle. Then when Mom filled out his birth certificate she spelled it Michlle by accident. When his parents write his name now they always spell it Michelle, but pronounce it Micheal, although on every legal document- including school rosters and medical information it has to be spelled Michlle

He has always been called Mikey* and that is what we have taught him to spell/write since he came to us. We would have liked if his adoption became final so we could legally change the spelling of his name to Micheal before teaching him how to spell his name.

Everyone who reads his name reads it as the female version. Doctors offices call and remind me to bring 'her' insurance card to the appointment, well-intentioned pre-K teachers tried say it with an accent to make it sound less feminine and more exotic. Very bluntly, This is a black boy growing up with white parents and significant physical scars. He doesn't need a girl's name too.

Yesterday was Kindergarten orientation. Baby 4 went right up to his new teacher, who seems like a pleasant but set in her ways older teacher, and said, "Hi! I'm Mikey." She looked through her roster and asked me if we had just registered for school. I told her the name is Micheal spelled Michlle and she looked at me cross eyed like so you wanted him to sit alone at lunch. 

After we played in the room a little bit, the teacher approached us and said, "I hear you calling him Mikey. We'll be calling him Micheal here in school because he needs to know his whole name so he can be confident and certain who he is. Also so he'll learn to spell his full name." I smiled very politely and explained our name situation. She smiled politely and said that the legal spelling of his name is what every child should learn in Kindergarten.

Oh, kind of vital to the story- BioDad was right there this whole time.

I couldn't outright say, "Hey lady! I'm trying to adopt this kid and change his name in the coming year, so back off!" so I said, "Let me write down the various spellings of his name for you and we can talk about our plan before school starts."

I wrote on a slip of paper:

Michlle- legal spelling
Michelle- intended spelling
Micheal- post-adoption spelling

I handed her the paper and she said "OH! Well, maybe in this case it would be OK to let him be Mikey for Kindergarten.". I told her I would talk to the caseworker and see if there is a strong preference on that side.

Since Dad had heard the conversation, but had not chimed in, I asked him what his thoughts were on Baby 4 spelling his name. He seemed very shocked that Michelle would be pronounced as anything but Micheal. Then he said that he never wanted Baby 4 named Micheal, he wanted him named Jonathan Jr.*. I empathized on how that must be so frustrating to not have the name he wanted, but it's really too late to change 4's name now. He got it. We talked a little about making Johnathan 4's middle name "after he gets out of foster care" and that seems agreeable on all sides although I was really vague as to how he would be getting out of foster care and who would be changing his name. I asked again about the spelling of Micheal and he said he didn't know. I told him I would ask the caseworker and I emailed her last night to see what she thinks.

The caseworker is absolutely not going to tell me to just go ahead and teach him "Micheal" because we're not there in the case yet, but she might give the teacher a nudge to keep his name "Mikey" on his papers.

I just think if we can avoid name confusion for Baby 4, we should. It's amazing that our kids do so well adapting to a new last name when they are adopted. I can't ask him to learn a different spelling for his first name too. Likewise, I can't let him get picked on or forever have to correct people on the pronunciation/spelling of his name for the rest of his life either.

I want to know what you would do. Leave a comment!!

*Disclaimer: Michlle, Michelle, Micheal, Mikey, and Johnathan are names I made up to use as examples. Although they are not the actual names in our story, they prove the point quite accurately.


  1. I ran into a similar (in concept anyway) situation at preK yesterday. Granted - we are nowhere near being able to adopt our little one. TPR has never been mentioned.

    But, she has lived with us for over a year now and she NEVER goes by her given name. It's a unique name. Not a cultural name. Not a family name. It is literally like a word someone made up. No one - and I mean no one - knows how to pronounce it.

    Soooooooo....the preK teacher botches the name totally. I smile and tell her the correct pronunciation. Then I tell her the nickname that she goes by. The name that every single family member (bio and foster) calls her.

    The teacher pretty much did the same thing to me and told me that she will need to learn her given name. In fact, the teacher all but put me down verbally for writing the nickname on my girl's backpack.

    My hands are tied. There's nothing I can do. And since I doubt this case is ever going to go to TPR, I'm not going to worry about it. But it did make me sad. In the deep dark recesses of my mind, I had already decided that we would change her legal first name to something different. Saddling a child with a strange name that no one can pronounce hardly seems fair. But if she begins to identify with her given name, changing it would hardly seem fair either.

    I would hope and pray that the school can work with you to let your little boy be "Mikey". Children are perfectly capable of learning how to spell both a nickname and a given name. They don't have to master that skill immediately in kindergarten!!

  2. Oh man, what a headache! And what a fun extra level of complication to have his bio-dad right there, to make it extra strained. I think it was great to start the conversation with his dad about his name "after he gets out of foster care", and I really hope his teacher is okay with him staying "Mikey" for now. Good luck!

  3. Honestly, I am not sure how the teacher calling him by his first name and not his nickname will give him any more confidence in himself. It's the name he is familiar with - it IS his identity. My son goes by his middle name and if, when he starts school, they started calling him by his first name - I can only imagine the confusion it would cause. And really, if a kid can learn to write "Mikey" - and other new words - I think he will be able to handle "Michael" in the future.

    It must have been so awkward with the dad there - I could not imagine it! You did an awesome job in the situation!

  4. We have a little bit of a name situation ourselves with identical twins that have almost the exact same name. Thankfully everyone so far goes along with (and is thankful for) our modifications because no one could keep it straight! I think you did a great job-and especially with the added pressure of having bd there!

  5. I think you handled it perfectly, and I would definitely put the middle name as what the bio dad wanted. In middle school we had to do a project on what our name meant and why our parents picked it. What a story to be able to say my first name's spelling was fixed by my adoptive parents, and my middle name was picked by my bio dad. You are doing what is best, and I certainly hope the teacher listens to you and uses Mikey instead of the misspelled first name.

  6. I had a hard enough time just signing him into kids church one day, I can only imagine the aggravation! As with all things, sounds like you handled with things ease, eloquence and compassion for all parties.

  7. I see where you posted that the caseworker doesn't get why it's a big deal... Is it going to cause problems for you if you continue to push it with the teacher anyway? I know some families in our area have gotten into trouble for giving kids nicknames for very similar reasons. It's just unfortunate that these kids have to deal with name issues on top of everything else in their lives.

    Anyway, if it's not going to get you in trouble I would just be very insistent on writing "Mikey" on everything and having him continue to learn that. The teacher will catch on eventually; it sounds like she was willing to work with you after getting a better grasp on the full situation. We have friends whose kindergartner only goes by his middle name, and the teacher adapted to that. Why wouldn't this be the same?

    1. The caseworker didn't seem to have a strong opinion one way or the other, she literally couldn't grasp why I would even be asking about it. I think since the nickname is what he was known by before coming into care, and it's what his parents still call him, the county shouldn't put up too much of a stink- but you never know.I think I'll work it out with the teacher and not bring it up to the caseworker anymore.