On Naming Niko

Nikolai Dickson Young


Confession time.  When we first began considering adoption, one of my earliest and most persistent concerns was the name.

You know me and names.  Naming is huge for me.  It’s how I prepare for a new little one, how I bond with them after they arrive.  I have to love the name, and I adore the process of choosing it.  But I began to understand pretty quickly as we got into our adoption process that there is more to naming an adopted child than the usual poring over name books in search of the. perfect. name.

Many adoptive parents feel strongly that if the child is of a certain age (younger than you’d think), it is very important to let him keep his name.  It is one of the few parts of his identity that he can hang onto through the huge transtition of moving to a new country, learning a new language, and joining a new family.  Letting him keep his name is the family’s way of saying, “We love you exactly as your are, no need to change a thing in order to join our family.”

At the other end of the spectrum are those who feel that bestowing and receiving names are important rites of passage when joining a family.  They believe giving an adopted child a completely new name symbolizes the beginning of his new life.   I could see it both ways, and it was a lot to think about.

As it became clear that we would likely not be adopting an infant or even a young toddler, we found ourselves pulled strongly toward the that’s-his-name-and-we-can’t-take-it-away-from-him camp.  I began praying about it, and I very quickly felt certain that whatever our child’s name was, it would be perfect.

In place of my usual mental name games (using the letters on license plates as initials to inspire perfect name combos and the like… what, you don’t do that?), I began imagining different Slavic-sounding names and what we would do with them.  If we adopted a Dimitri – perfect!   This is the nickname Trevor’s brother always gives to our babies while they are in utero.  It would make a perfect middle name, but was a bit lacking in nickname options.  We came across a little Teodora… if she had been our daughter she could have become Theodora called Thea for short – love!  If we had adopted a Vladimir or a Sergey… well, I’m sure we’d have figured something out.

But instead, he was Nikolai.  From one of the first times I saw his sweet face and name, I began calling him Niko in my head.  Nico is a European nickname for all sorts of Nic- names (A nickname for a Nic- name – ha!) from Nicholas to Nicodemas.  I had come across it in my earlier years of baby name fascination and it had been steadily growing on me ever since.  Perfect.

With the first name and nickname locked in, we began the arduous quest for the perfect middle name. We first considered using our long-time favorite boy name, which of course I’m not going to tell you here.  We let that idea simmer for a while, but then Trevor’s mum pointed out (quite rightly) that that would make him our only child with no family name, so we went back to the drawing board, and the family tree, for something better.

We decided the name should come from my side of the family, since we were taking turns and we already knew that Coraline’s middle name would be coming from Trevor’s side.

One contender immediately rose to the top of the list.  It would have been Pippa’s middle name had she been a boy, and Ro’s if she had been.  One of my favorite family names based on sound alone, but in this case, it brought a little something extra to the table as well.

Niko’s middle name is Dickson.  It is my grandmother’s middle name, but was a family surname before that.  She has probably always hated it (her sister’s middle name is Jane!), but I have always loved it and hoped to use it for a son someday.

Niko’s surname before we adopted him was D***ev.  You can quickly spot (if you see and hear the name) a visual and sound resemblance to Dickson, but we also loved the fact that almost all middle names and surnames in Niko’s county are patronymic, that is, they mean “son of” someone.  So, Dickson is a (very) approximate translation of his former surname, yet it is plucked right out of his new family tree.

Isn’ that just like adoption?  He’s still who he was, but he’s every bit a part of our family now, too.  And I couldn’t love his name any more if we had come up with it from scratch.

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