Changing Adoptee’s Name? Yay or Nay?

"Should I ask my child if he/she wants a name change? What if the birth mother has already specified a name? I already had a name picked out."

“Should I ask my child if he/she wants a name change? What if the birth mother has already specified a name? I already had a name picked out.”

Changing an adopted child’s name is of great concern to parents of internationally and domestically adopted children. One mother wrote, “When a child is adopted at age five or six, or later, do you feel it’s appropriate to change the child’s name? Should we ask our child? Doesn’t changing the name give the message that the birth family is bad, or something that that must be hidden?
There is core adoptee issue in this mother’s questions about names.
A Name Establishes a Sense of Connection
Adoptees have a deep need for a sense of connection. Adoption experts Drs. Brodzinsky and Schechter say in their best-selling book Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self that an adoptee’s need for connection can be compared to a starving man’s need for food.
Because the adoptee’s connection with the birth parents severs at birth, unless it is an open adoption, there is a deep need for a sense of connection to them. In fact, with international adoptions, knowing the original name may be impossible. However, there are other ways of establishing a sense of connection, such as visiting the country of origin or attending a heritage camp.
Another aspect of connection needs to happen with you! We need to know that even though “we aren’t bone of your bone or flesh of your flesh” that we grew in your hearts instead of under them. We need to hear our adoption stories, repeatedly. My dad delighted in saying, “You were so small, I could hold you in the palms of my hands,” until his dying day. In addition, I delighted in hearing it just as much as he did telling it.
Bottom Line about Changing Names
Should an adoptee’s name be changed? Personally, I believe it should be preserved and honored at all costs. It IS the link to the “past” portion of our dual identity. For parents to wipe it out would be one more severing and loss for the adoptee. It is something we can be proud of—something that proves we aren’t “aliens,” as many adoptees secretly believe. If it is changed, it likely will cast an unfavorable light on the birth family, instead of honoring them. Birth parents deserve much honor, even though their history may be negative or missing, for they gave you the gift of a beautiful child.
Our grand daughter who joined our family through adoption was named “Gracie” by her birth family. Our adult children have honored her birth mother and the heritage she gave by preserving the designated name as her middle name and adding their own first name—“Megan.” By the way, Megan means “pearl.” She’s our pearl of a girl!

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6 comments

  • I don’t think that birth names should be changed. Mine was not, and my last name became my middle name. I think it sends a wrong message, and adoptees appreciate it when they have something to connect with later on.

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  • We changed the middle names of our girls when they were adopted, but kept the first names. We wanted to have the chance to speak truth into their lives through their name. There are examples in the Bible of God changing the names of people, so we changed their middle names to Hope and Faith. There are days that they seem to connect to their past and days when they want to focus on their future, by giving them a piece of both we are letting past and future collide giving them a present. I asked my 14 year old to make sure that I was not “mis-reading” her feelings and she laughed and said, “No…I like that you changed my middle name. I like it better.” I am sure that there are cases for both sides, but having a piece of both works for us.

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  • What an interesting story, Nikki! Thanks for sharing. I had a similar experience as you. I didn’t like my name either–changed it from Sharon to Sherry to Sherrie:-) Before that I was Baby X. Did you ever find out you were called in foster care? Do you know any of the details of your stay there?

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  • Thank you Sherrie for bringing this topic to light. I agree that the birth name should not be changed. I was just 6 months old when mine was changed but I struggled with my adoptive name while I was growing up. I didn’t like it for some reason, which at that time I was not aware that I had a birth name. Then one day it hit me: what was I called for the first 6 months of my life while I was in foster care?

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