Saturday, January 3, 2009

Naming and Name Changing

Yes, I’m going to start with a topic that’s controversial even amongst adoptive parents. There are valid reasons to let the birth parents name the adoptive child and equally valid reasons for the adoptive parents to rename the child.

When you think about raising a child, the child of your heart, do you envision that someone else named that child or do you have a name you always liked and want to give the child a special name? Of course a parent will love a child no matter what the name is. There’s a saying in the adoption community, “Naming is claiming.” Some adoptive parents change the name because it means they can, it’s a fully legal adoption and no one gets to make decisions but the parent. It feels good to have the power and ability even though it hurts to tell the child’s birth family the decision has been made. Naming is a powerful right that many non-adoptive parents take for granted.
If you are in the midst of a related child's name change you could face a wide range of emotions from anger to disappointment to gladness to acceptance. If you are grieving for the old name or grieving from the loss of renaming a child there are some things you can do to recognize the name and all it’s meant to you: Donate money to a charity in that name, by a new brick, plaque or tile with the name on it such as at a zoo when they are constructing new buildings. Start a Blog or web page under that name and write about your feelings possibly to share with others who may be experiencing the same thing; cute clip art and cool backgrounds could really let your creativity out. Make up a nickname for the child to address them by until you are comfortable with the name.
Adoptive parents should take some time before deciding either way. It's not unusual for a year to go by before feeling comfortable enough to make a change. Be open and accepting of your feelings. Have a list of names you like pre-adoption so changing it was just part of the plan and not directly hurtful to the birth parents.

I’ve heard all the arguments to keeping or changing the name. Here are some real quotes by real parents:

“I always knew my son would be named after my dad. Biological or adopted he is my son and my family. I love that he’s named after the Grandfather that helped me become the dad I am.”

“I liked the name she picked, but it wasn’t the one I would have picked. I felt bad at first changing it but soon my daughter was just plain my daughter and I didn’t care anymore.”

“She came from a country where the child is named after the city or street they were abandoned on, I couldn’t let that be her legacy when I had a beautiful name already chosen. I don’t mean to deny her nationality, but really she’ll be 18-years-old in the blink of an eye and can change it to anything she wants then.”

“It's not a name I ever would have thought of it but it fits her so well.”

“He was too old to rename so I just changed the last name.”

“I wouldn’t let someone else name my new dog and I’m not going to let someone else name my baby either.”

“I’d known her for a year with that name and it just fit so well, I kept it.”

“She needed a new start in life and I thought a fresh new name helped.”

“Naming is a privilege, one my horrible adoptive parents didn’t deserve.”

Unless the child’s original name is Super-Dude or Falangie it’s safe to assume the name change is to reflect something special for the parents to give their new child and not direct insult to the original name or person who picked it.

Unless specifically asked by the parent that tucks the child in every night the rule here is to use the child’s legal (at the time) name. This is just respectful to the child as much as it is the parents. Refusing to call the child by their legal name or the name the adoptive parents prefer is not going to help bring you or the parents or child closer. In turn some adoptive parents feel giving permission to use the previous name is okay too.

Here are some quotes by real adoptive parents:

“I felt that the birth mom should call her what she wants to so I told her so. I think if she keeps using the old name then I’ll just explain to the child that that’s a special nickname that Birth Mom gets to call her.”

“It was really annoying that the Birth Grandpa kept calling them by their old names. He just looked senile and misinformed to the girls refusing to address them by the names they helped me pick out.”

“When I sent my Adoption Announcements out I expected that people would start referring to the kids as those names, but they didn’t. I finally asked them to and they said that they got use to the names the kids used while they were still legally foster kids before I was able to name them myself. I was really hurt because I was excited to start thinking of my sons as mine now and the names were part of it.”

“When her (birth) Aunt sent her a birthday card with her new name on it I felt she fully accepted the adoption and I was able to trust her and include her more. I always send her pictures now.”

“As time went on the birth family all started to call her by the name we chose. It meant a lot to me and seemed to prove that they were healing from the loss and realized that Child is not completely gone from their family.”

“It must have been really hard for the Birth Mom to write that name on her letter. After years of being angry at her for her drug abuse that hurt my daughter so much I really felt respect for her.”

“The Birth Mom still uses the names she picked. I won’t confront her about it I know she’s hurt enough about losing her parental rights. I don’t like it but I like her enough to over look it. I’ll probably ignore it at our up coming visit, but I’ll be uncomfortable which makes me wonder if she’s not doing very well if she can’t even bring herself to use the new name. I feel sad for her going through this.”

True responses heard from name changing:


“You changed the spelling? How could you do that her ‘real’ mom is going to be really upset!”

“Did the agency say it was okay to do that?”

“Can I still call her her “real” name?”

“I love that name!”

"It'll confuse the child."

“That’s a cow’s name.”

“What was wrong with her real name?”

“Couldn’t you at least make her first name her middle name?”

“I named her __________ and I always expected her to be that (name). She’ll always be my daughter even if I can’t raise her and I’ll always think of her as _________.”

“I hate the new name. It’s just one more jab that _________ isn’t mine anymore. I’d rather not address him at all or just call him Baby then to use that stupid name.”

“Eww, I’ve always hated that name.”

“That’s not a very black name! You really think he wants to be named after some white guy?”

“That’s an unusual name!”

Most adoptive parents start the name change by saying the old name hypenated with the new. Then the parent can gage the child's reactions and ability to accept the new name. From there dropping the old name or even the new name in some cases will depend on the parents perception of how the child is handling the name change. It's often an exciting, loving occassion. Some parents choose to only rename the middle and last name or just the last name, move the first name to the middle or vise versa. Naming is a very personal event. Please don't make negative comments it doesn't help. For this Adoption Mannerism the rule is an oldie but goodie, "If you can't say something nice about the new name don't say anything at all."


  1. I think a new name to go with a new start is appropriate! And I DID rename my dogs so I SURE WOULD WANT TO rename my CHILDREN! Good blog Ali!

  2. You renamed your dog!? But won't that give your dog a complex like his old name was bad and so he must be bad?! Poor dog *winking* LOL!

  3. Love this post - super job of explaining why name changes are important. I think you quoted me on here, so you know how I feel! We didn't change any except the last name, but I would if I didn't care for a name. They are YOUR child, plain and simple, and naming is a fun part of becoming a parent. :)

  4. I have a neat story to tell about names and adoption.

    We adopted our son as a newborn in a private, domestic adoption. We met his birth parents before he was even born. We discussed names and we knew that they had every right to name him what they wanted the day he was born and if/when we were allowed to adopt him, we could change that name. We were okay with that.

    Our son's birth mom had told us a couple of names she liked and asked us what names we liked. I told her what we would name her son if/when we adopted him and explained the family history behind the name we'd chosen.

    The day he was born, our son's birth mom wrote our chosen name on his original birth certificate (using the first and middle name that we told her, as well as our last name)! We were so humbled by her kind gesture!

    As a result, the day we finalized his adoption (3 months after his birth) we didn't have to request a legal name change. :)

    Now, with our foster daughter, if/when we're allowed to adopt her, we will be changing her legal name. We don't like her legal name and would rather she has a family name instead.