The days on the long road of one families Ethiopian Adoption

This blog started out as a way to record the twists, turns, highs and lows in my families journey to adopt siblings from Ethiopia. Now our children are home and we have just finished celebrating our first year as a family.

I'm Kimberly (or Fendesha), an adventurous person who aspires to be a vagabond- but for now- I spend all of my free time travelling and my down time thinking of travelling. I'm a mom of 3 (the oldest being my gorgeous canine companion), a IT project manager, and on occasion I find myself the primary writer of this blog.

Happy Reading and thank you for stopping by.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Why do we change an Ethiopian's name when they visit ?

I read some posts/news articles today that got me thinking about the Ethiopian Naming system and how it interacts with the West (and my experience while I was out there).

Some background Naming information-
The north and the south are very different in their thoughts and traditions and customs (note that the government that is in power currently is from a tribe in the north and this has it's impacts with-in the country). And understand that tribal segregation with-in the country is active, alive and well. Families often do not want their children marrying outside of their tribal back grounds and it seems that this tribal segregation keep the naming traditions for each tribe clearly delineated from another's.

Since a majority of Ethiopians often do not migrate far from where their family originated from- many tribes live in certain areas of the country. This creates divides or lines between each tribal region. You can often tell when you are driving with in the country when you have crossed a "tribal" line- the population (rural) will be dressed differently and the houses/landscape will often be different as well.

For those that are not familiar with Ethiopian naming it is widely practiced (although not entirely the case) that Children are given a name (usually given by their parents and significant in meaning to them)- then the first name of their father and then the first of their Grandfather. If you ask an Ethiopian their name (in Addis) they will generally say their given name and their father's first name in response along with it's meaning. Their grandfather's name is not recognized locally- it's mostly just for documentation purposes and unless you are very close to the individual and specifically ask it is unlikely you will learn the grandfathers name.

Now if you travel to the south and small sections of the north (to be fair in this discussion) - certain tribes use their father's given name and then their given name in response- you can learn more about this in this discussion on the following blog url:

So to my point-
When you look at an Ethiopian's passport it "in general" contains- Their given name as their first name- their fathers first name as their middle name and their grandfathers first name as their last name. This is very confusing for a person coming to the west because they are then called by their Grandfathers first name. Now if you look at all of their documentation - Diploma's from HS or College, Doctor's information-etc.. it will only contain (again in general) their fathers first name and their given name

For example I'll utilize a couple of my friends names:
Eldana ........... Berhene . Eldana has never utilized Berhene but when she filled out her Visa paperwork- I laughed and said to her in a joking way- in America you would be known as Miss Berhene (she's a teacher). She laughed and said she'd have to teach herself to respond to that-because she never really knew her grandfather and that if she did respond she would think they were looking for her father. Although in Ethiopia she is Ms. Eldana- because they utilize first names.

Another example- Aron ......... Hagos. Aron's father passed away when he was young and he is known locally as Aron ......... He has a strong attachment to his "sur name" because of this-but when he comes to America he will be known as Mr. Hagos. Having not known his grandfather and his father dying at a young age- he does not associate with the name Hagos at all-but has a strong identity with ..........- so- as he fills out his visa paperwork and considers what his name would be in America he feels uncomfortable in some ways with going by Mr. Hagos- as it feels like he is disconnecting with his life (and perhaps his father) on this journey.

It's interesting when you take in different cultures- look at the migratory patterns of the world and it's people and how names change when you move or visit from one culture to another. Aron and Eldana are perfect cases of in the culture they will be visiting in the future- they will be recognized by a name that they have never heard themselves called by.

Often times I was asked what my fathers first name was- and would giggle at the idea of being called Kimberly Robert. Or better yet- Kimberly Robert Robert. Thank goodness that they go by first names and called me Wassero Kimberly. I think Being Kimberly Robert (being that I didn't know my father)- is not something I could have easily gotten use to.

But in my Ethiopian visa It still read - Kimberly Calderone. So, Why is it-that the Western Visa's change their name to conform to our naming standards but their Visa's do not make me "conform" to theirs? They also use western naming conventions. I also find it interesting that each countries own Passport system follows the standards developed by the Western system. Obviously there's a global passport standard out there and we know who produced it (laugh).

When we adopt our children- their new Ethiopian passport names will become (from what I understand) - Given Name- Biological Father's name- then Denis (Adoptive father's first name). I am entertained by the idea that our children will have Den's first name as their last name until we legally change them here.

In the process of Adoption - We often want to do all we can to keep the given family name intact thus allowing them to maintain some of their identity/connection to their culture. But it's interesting to consider that if an Ethiopian simply choses to visit America as an adult- that we "respectfully" call them by something they've never been referred to as.

Here are some additional links if you want to learn more about Ethiopian naming (although they do not directly and completely relate to the discussion above):

Ethiopian Jews and their names:

Let me know your thoughts-


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

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Oh the places I've Been (and might go again)