Name Change in Adoption: Factors to Consider

Birth certificate legal name change document

A common question among prospective adoptive parents revolves around a name change. Should the adopted child’s name be changed? Modified? Or should it remain the same with the exception of the last name?

Factors to consider when making a name change in adoption:

Safety

There are many factors to consider when making a naming decision. One important condition includes safety. Is a name change a matter of protecting the child and the family’s privacy? This factor most often occurs in the case of foster care adoptions when the adoptive family does not want an unsafe birth family member to be able to find the child or contact the family.

The child’s age

Another factor to consider is the child’s age. An older child may not be comfortable with a name change. On the other hand, an older child may be able to clearly convey his or her feelings regarding a name change, and if a change is desired, the child may be interested in choosing the name. However, a younger child, such as an infant or toddler, cannot convey their desires, leaving adoptive parents to only guess how the child may feel about a name change (or lack of name change) in the future.

Pronunciation and spelling

Yet another element to consider is the name’s pronunciation and spelling. Names that are difficult to say and spell may cause issues for the child in school and with future employers, as well as in day-to-day interactions. However, the uniqueness of name can also be something special. If the child was named by his or her biological parents, that name might carry important meaning and signify a gift given to the child by the birth parents. Changing that name could be hurtful to both the child and the biological parents, though some birth parents extend an invitation to the adoptive family to re-name the child. If that offer isn’t available, such as in the case of a child who was placed in orphanage and has no contact with biological family members, the name may be traditional to the child’s race or ethnicity. Changing this name, or keeping it, has its own pros and cons.

Rite-of-passage for parents

Finally, naming a child is very important to some adoptive parents because it signifies a rite-of-passage into real, long-awaited parenthood, something the parents may have been dreaming of for years or even decades. Adoptive parents should know that it’s perfectly normal and healthy for them to have the desire to give their child a name they’ve chosen. Perhaps they desire to give the child a family name or a name that starts with the same letter of the alphabet as the child’s new siblings.

Compromises

There are certainly some compromises as opposed to an all-or-nothing approach. An adoptive family may choose to keep part of the child’s original name and add to it the name they have chosen. Many of my friends who have adopted children internationally choose to give their children an American first name and keep the child’s original first name as the child’s middle name.

Sometimes birth parents and adoptive parents co-name a child. If the child is old enough, he or she may co-name with the adoptive parents or ask that they select a new name.

Many times, with biological and adopted children, a child is given a special nickname or goes by his or her middle name rather than their first name. Or some, me included, have two middle names, offering even more flexibility in what the child will be called.

Some adoptive families give a child a name that has a special meaning. Names and their meanings can be found in many books and websites. I know adoptive families that have chosen names that symbolize the adoption and what adoption means to them. Such names they have chosen mean things like light or gift.

There are many things the adoptive family should consider when naming their newly adopted child, but ultimately, the naming process should involve joy.

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