“Gotcha Day”

Written by Chaelee Dalton (이채연), SPEAK’s Education Director, for our social media series on International Mother Language Day and adoption-related language. 

In my American family, summer marks the season of birthdays: my mom and I were born in July, and my brother and my dad in August. Birthdays, then, growing up, were sunny, lazy affairs- sleepovers and scavenger hunts, days that stretched and melted, ice cream against cake. 

As a kid, I saw my “Coming Home Day,” which came in December, and my brother’s, in February, as simply another opportunity to indulge both my ego and my appetite with freshly baked cake and a takeout meal of my choice. My “Coming Home Day,” commonly referred to in other adoptive families as “Gotcha Day,” “Forever Day,” “Adoption Day,” or “Homecoming Day,” denotes the day adoptive parents pick up the adoptee to live with them for the first time as part of their family. 

Unbeknownst to my childhood self, the terminology around “Gotcha Day” has already been subject to much debate within adoption communities. After adoptive parent Karen Moline wrote the article, “Getting Rid of ‘Gotcha Day,” for Adoptive Families Magazine in 2014, where she criticized the term “gotcha” for its adoptive parent-centered and possessive connotations, “dozens of readers,” responded with their own opinions on the term to the magazine and others, adoptees and adoptive parents alike, responded or reflected in independent blog and magazine posts. 

By the time I was in high school, my relationship to my “Coming Home Day,” had changed, and I found myself self-editing the terminology when I had conversations about it with my friends. I felt- and continue to feel- uncomfortable about this idea of a singular “home” decided by my adoptive parents, and I began to refer to that day publicly as my “Adoption Day.”

Much of Moline’s original article cites these instinctive feelings of (dis)comfort with how a word sounds, where even an eight-year old adoptee notes that the language of “Gotcha Day,” “sounds weird,” and another young adoptee indicates that the name “has a gloating, ha-ha, tone to it.” 

In the context of other adoption language, “Gotcha Day” distinguishes itself from “positive adoption language” because it attempts not to directly erase the complex power dynamics within adoption, but rather trivializes them by utilizing “gotcha’s” joking, game-like definition and informal nature. And ultimately, it is the adoptive parents who decide the joke, who have control over the game. 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “gotcha,” as a colloquial pronunciation of “(I have) got you’ (see especially “to get hold of, capture (a person),” “to understand (a person, the meaning of something),” usually with omission of ‘have’ and frequently also of ‘I,’ [and], especially used to express satisfaction or triumph, or to indicate understanding.” The OED goes on to cite examples which describe “gotcha” as “triumphant,” “righteous,” “proud,” and “tricky,” even something like a joke or a prank “pulled” or “played” on others. 

Under this definition of “gotcha,” where to “get” a person means more specifically, “to get hold of,” or “capture,” “gotcha” has not only the possessive connotations which Moline characterizes, but specifically references acts of abduction and capture. When considered within the context of transnational adoption, an institution which 11 “sending” countries (countries which “send” their children transnationally to be adopted) have ended-predominantly because of child trafficking and coercion-,  the term “Gotcha Day” becomes both ironic and sinister in its accuracy. 

The language of abduction works alongside connotations of triumph and satisfaction to amplify the lopsided power dynamic between adoptees and adopters. Adoptive parents’ attempts to make the language two-sided,  not just “the day we ‘got’ her, but as the day she ‘got’ us as well,” therefore, fail to acknowledge both the way “gotcha” has been historically used and the truth behind the adoption process. 

Simply put, adoption is a choice for adoptive parents, and not a choice for adoptees. 

Adoptees cannot be the “getters,” only the “gotten.” 

Screen Shot 2020-03-24 at 9.57.30 PM

from The Progressive, January 1988, “Babies for Sale.”

As I researched this term, I was struck by the discussion around it as much as the term itself. In many ways, this debate reflects the same clumsy mishandlings of the term “Gotcha Day,” the same ignorance of the ways adoptees are consistently dismissed and infantilized by adoptive parents. 

The discussion, predominantly made up of adoptive parents, altogether ignored the opinions expressed in the article by adoptees, adults and children alike. Instead, the debate centered on the experience of the adoptive parents, with language like “this is not the kind of support that adoptive parents need.” If they considered the opinions of adoptees, they focused on the specific experience of their child, often an infant or very young. 

We are now years removed from the origin of this debate, and I personally am almost a decade away from the high school self who revised the language surrounding the day for myself based on a feeling. The eight-year old adoptee Moline referenced is now at least fourteen, and the seventeen-year old is older than I am, twenty-three. It’s likely that their opinions about “Gotcha Day,” have changed and/or, like mine, deepened. Most adoptees today are adults, many of whom have gone on to research adoption and the language surrounding it, and even create the field of Critical Adoption Studies. 

There are no more excuses. 

As members of the adoption community, we now have the opportunity to deepen the conversation around adoption language to one that recognizes the imbalance of power between adoptive parents, adoptees, and natural families. Discussion about adoption language must work, as this series attempts to do, to center the expertise of adoptees, both on our feelings and on the facts, the histories, and the sociologies many of us have formally and informally educated ourselves on.

Critical Adoption Language

Written by Kris Pak / 이영숙, Policy Director of SPEAK

‘Positive’ terms is jargon formulated by the adoption industry. These terms were developed deliberately, created to sanitize the sordid adoption industry. Origins Canada has responded with Honest Adoption Language which seeks to correct them.

The italicized words are used in legal contexts . The one in yellow are ok in certain contexts. The red ones are offensive. The bold text indicates terms that are either condemned or in common use by consensus of the subject of the term. Although most of the HAL language is in line with critical adoption language (and owes much to that lexicon), there are some points of departure or expansions on the concepts. 

Screen Shot 2020-03-01 at 7.57.55 PMHere are some other words and phrases not addressed by Positive Adoption Language, but common in the discourse:

Screen Shot 2020-03-01 at 7.58.58 PM

This is a list in a context related to those adopted overseas from Korea, but who now have migrated back to live in their motherland. In some instances they could be applied to other country contexts. 

Screen Shot 2020-03-01 at 7.59.33 PM

Although it should be obvious why these words and phrases are problematic or preferred, I’ll offer one example explanation.

“Waiting child” means that the child will never be reunited with her family or his relatives; adoption is presented as inevitable. “Adoptable” or “Available” child labels the child (the product of a transaction) truthfully as a minor whose parents’ rights have been terminated or laundered away by calling the child “orphaned.” 

These lists are incomplete. For example, notice how “orphan” is not addressed by anyone. Almost no adoptions occur because a child has no living relatives, and very very few because a child has no living parents; “orphan” has been co-opted by the adoption industry to mean that a child has just one living parent. Adoptions do occur because adults do not have living heirs, sometimes even adults are legally adopted by other adults.

Explaining and defining each term and why it is preferred or a problem should be undertaken by the adoption community. This project is about carefully discussing, considering, debating, and thinking them through as the first step in compiling an honest and politically conscious lexicon that can be used in discourse and in other languages, especially our mother languages.

International Mother Language Day 2020

Written by Kris Pak/이영숙, Policy Director of SPEAK

This post kicks off a new social media series to celebrate International Mother Language Day and generate a critical discussion around adoption-related language. Please follow us here on WordPress as well as on social media (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) for upcoming posts aimed at developing a lexicon pertaining to adoption from a critical point of view. 


Language is a sensitive subject for many who were adopted from one nation to another. Usually they experience language loss, which often represents a culmination of language loss initiated by colonization or compelled migration in individuals. Unlike other first-generation migrants who acquire additional languages when they move with their families, individuals who are adopted by foreigners are forced to assimilate into the dominant culture of their adopters and consequently lose their mother languages. Later, language skills mark people who were adopted when they return to their native communities.

International Mother Language Day has its origins in the colonization of India by the British. When India achieved independence, the departing colonizers divided the country into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. Pakistan, however, consisted of Urdu-dominant West Pakistan (currently Pakistan) and Bangla-dominant East Pakistan (currently Bangladesh). When West Pakistan tried to impose Urdu onto their Bengali citizens, the Bengalis resisted, despite sharing the same Muslim faith as the West Pakistanis. Bengalis are stereotyped as romantic idealist intellectuals, but they defended their mother tongue fiercely, in some cases to the death. The name of the international commemoration, Mother Language Day, touches me, encompassing language and mother, which I immediately associate with adoption. Even the monuments honoring the language movement seem connected to adoption since they symbolize a mother surrounded by the children she lost during the struggle for their mother tongue.


The author at a Shahid Minar Monument in the US. The Mother Language produced language martyrs, honored by Shahid Minar monuments throughout Bangladesh and in diasporic communities like this one in Jackson Heights in Queens, New York City. The Shahid Minar always has the same motif of a mother surrounded by her children represented by rectangular structures. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaheed_Minar,_Dhaka


A placard with a drawing of a Shahid Minar monument and the phrase written in Bengali surrounded by flowers. “February 21 is the strong belief or determination to the Bengali people not to stoop the head before any injustice.”


Shahid Minar on the Shahjalal University of Science & Technology Campus. A modern take on the motif, the structure symbolizes a mother surrounded by the children she lost.

There are a lot of words and phrases that are pervasive when discussing adoption, but they are often accepted and used without much thought. In my next post, I will examine the origins and contexts of some of these terms.

Stay tuned for the next post!

Solidarity Day 2019 – Saturday, Nov. 9, 4:00pm-7:00pm


The annual Solidarity Day event is a celebration of the connections forged between adoptees and their allies. This year’s event is hosted by SPEAK and will take place at KoRoot.

Date & Time: Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019 from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m.
Event: North American Thanksgiving-style dinner + short program
Location: KoRoot, 125-10, Jahamun-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Admission: Free

Kindly note that the space for guests is extremely limited. To attend, you MUST RSVP via the Google Form linked below by FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 1. Those who show up at the door without RSVPing cannot be admitted. Guests will be registered on a first-come, first-serve basis.
*The RSVP form will go live on Tuesday, Oct. 22 at 12:00pm.*


We are also looking for volunteers to help with set-up, dinner, and clean-up. Each volunteer shift is 2 hours. If you are willing to volunteer, please indicate your availability on the RSVP form. Volunteers receive first priority for dinner registration.

Those who aren’t able to join us for the main event are invited to join us at California Kitchen in Gyeongnidan for the after-party, which will feature drink specials. Please meet us there after 8:00 p.m. We hope to see you at one or both places!

California Kitchen address:
212-24 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul (2F)
서울특별시 용산구 이태원동 212-24
라인빌 제2층 201호

Funding for this event was generously provided by the National Center for the Rights of the Child (formerly KAS) and Jamie Lee in honor of Heidi Park. KoRoot opened the guesthouse and provided the space.

Donations to SPEAK are welcomed and appreciated, and will be used to fund future events and projects.

If you have any questions, please email adoptees.speak@gmail.com.

*Photo credit to Jes Eriksen