What’s in a name?

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How do you choose a name for your child? Most of us have strong opinions about certain names. We all have a kid from our past etched in our brain of whom we would NEVER name our child after, not to mention a few adults. And then there are the names that you really like. Why do you like them? How do you come to that final decision?

Here’s a twist on the usual baby naming game: adopt a five year old boy from China. Try to come up with a name for him.

Yeah. That’s where we were at.

Yes, he already has a name (Zhen), but it’s one that the orphanage gave him. And while we would never want to take away his past or his identity, we want to find a way to blend his past with his future with us.

But how exactly do we do this? We’re definitely in unchartered territory here. With our other boys we never even knew what we were having. We wanted it to be a surprise. So our usual method of naming our kids consisted of narrowing it down to two girl and two boy names and heading to the hospital to give birth. Once we met our boys it was always obvious to us what we should name them. We just knew.

This particular method was not going to work for us this time. We couldn’t wait until we met him to decide what he “looked” like. We already knew what he looked like. And it turns out that didn’t make the decision making process any easier.

So, what to do?

I went to the Internet for answers. Because the Internet is where all good answers are found (insert sarcasm here). Seriously, there are some very helpful adoption groups, specifically for Americans adopting children from China. This is just another in a series of unique decisions for adoptive parents that we have come across on this journey.


For most Americans who adopt a child from China, they keep their child’s Chinese name, or at least part of it. Some use it as a first name and some as a middle name. Age of the child is a factor as well as whether or not the name is easy to pronounce. Oftentimes the last name is a Chinese version of Jones, or may refer to which orphanage the child was from. Parents must decide if they will keep it or drop it.

Our child has what we believe to be a generic last name and only a first name with no middle name. So, ultimately, we decided to drop his last name, give him an American first name and shift his first (Chinese) name to be his new middle name. When we bring him home he may prefer to be called by his Chinese name and we’ll honor that. But, we wanted to give him the option to have an American first name to go with his American (Danish) last name.  Can’t get any more melting pot than this.

Coming to this small decision did not help with the larger quandary in choosing the perfect name. We have four boys. We’ve used eight boy (counting first and middle) names. At some point, you run out of favorites and even kind-of favorites. We were stumped. Everywhere I went I would pull out his picture and ask people: “what should we call him? What does he look like?” And no matter what name people came up with, we had reservations about using it. It was too common or too uncommon, too trendy, it didn’t flow with his Chinese name, or it just wasn’t one we liked very much.

We hemmed and hawed… for months. The pressure was beginning to build. Eventually we needed to make a decision. Eventually we would need to have an official name for his papers. If we didn’t come up with something soon, his official name could possibly be one we may not even like.

I brought home a baby book from the library and spent time obsessing over it. At night I’d ask my husband to PLEASE look over the baby name book with me. As usual when I get a little obsessed/crazy he responds by telling me that we’ll “figure it out.” And of course, he was right.

After I had all but given up, our fourteen year old said to me, “How about Maxwell? We can call him Max.” It was perfect. We don’t know anyone else with a kid named Max, it’s not a hard name to say or spell, and it flows well with his Chinese name: Maxwell Zhen Jensen. Even better, Maxwell means “the greatest” and Zhen means “true” so he’ll be The Greatest True Jensen.



Now, I need pick up some clothes for him. What size do you think I should buy? 4T or 5T?

Julie Jensen is a mom of five boys and one girl. She is a runner, biker, yoga instructor and socializer. That about sums it up. Believe it or not, she really does enjoy the soccer, cross country, swim team, track, dance classes, basketball, and theater her kids are involved in as long as she has another mom (or dad) to talk to during these events. Julie works part time at Fleet Feet Sports where she gets to talk to other (adult) runners and is also a yoga instructor and owner of Red Ox Yoga - https://redoxyoga.com/ You can follow her on Instagram at @out_numbered_mama6



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