While the story about Angelina Jolie’s newest adoption of a 3-year old boy from Vietnam is practically old news already, and it was certainly less controversial than other recent adoptions (ahem, Madonna), there are some questions surrounding the new addition. Such as why change the boy’s name?
Especially since this boy, now Pax Thien Jolie, came with little else than a few toys and his given name, Pham Quang Sang. Pax Thien is a combination of Latin and Vietnamese, respectively, which translate to “peace” and “sky”. While certainly peace is the type of name you’d expect Angelina to give to one of her multicultural children, the boy’s given name also had meaning – it means brilliant or bright light and is a common name in his native country.
So what effect does changing it have? After all, Pax is already 3 and was answering to his own name. (Ironically, one of the English phrases they taught him in the orphanage to prepare him for his new life in America was “What’s your name?”) How much of your identity is based on your name?
In Pax’s case, perhaps a lot. After all, he is being transplanted from his modest Vietnamese existence to - not only an entirely different country - but an entirely different lifestyle as well – one that is even foreign to many Americans. Growing up in the shadow of celebrity parents could be hard on any child, and the adjustment Pax will have to make will be enormous. So cutting ties with the past, the only world he’s ever known, may not be beneficial.
Several studies have been done on people’s impressions of others based on their names. For example, those with attractive names are seen more favorably – as more competent, intelligent, successful, and so on. Of course, with parents like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, Pax doesn’t have too much to worry about, but changing his name from a Vietnamese one to a Latin one might raise some questions about what, exactly, the name change accomplishes. Is it all part of the process of assimilating him into the family unit Jolie has created? Why not allow him to take pride in the name he was given?
Names are important in Vietnam, although, in other countries, like China, name changes are more common, especially during adoption. Even in these cases, though, many parents choose to retain the child’s given name as a middle name, linking them forever to their original culture and heritage. Granted, Pax’s middle name Thien is still Vietnamese, but it’s hard to argue against the fact that something has been lost.
Then again, Jolie’s other children had their names changed as well. Maddox (which means “beneficent” in Celtic) was originally Rath Vibol, while Zahara (which means “to shine” in Hebrew and “flower” in Swahili) was born with the name Tena Adam. Shiloh, Jolie’s biological daughter, was also given a Hebrew name, which means “peaceful one.” Clearly, in both nationality and names, Jolie has created quite the culturally blended family.
And while many applaud Angelina’s efforts to promote cultural awareness and compassion on the global scale, and then mirror that in her own home, if a name is seen as a symbolic representation of life, Pax has now lost a very important link to his roots. While I don’t doubt Angelina will, as promised, introduce Pax to both his own culture, as well as those of his new brother and sisters and numerous others across the world, changing his name is still very clearly a step towards changing who he is.
Image: Las Tampa