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FAQ #17: Can you change their names?

December 22, 2010

The short answer is, “Yes. After a child is adopted, you can change their name.” Whether that is a good idea or not, in my opinion, needs to be determined by circumstances.

When M & T arrived in our home and we were told that we would most likely be adopting them, we started thinking of what we might name them. This is a pretty sensitive subject. After speaking with our social worker, we learned that M had never been called by her full-name. With both her mom and in other foster homes, she was given different nick-names. When she arrived in our home, she was not really speaking much. Since we were thinking in terms of adoption, we knew her given birth name was something that would have made her stand out in our family (which may or may not have been an issue). There is nothing wrong with her name but different cultures have different ways of naming children. We wanted a name that would be acceptable in African-American culture but also something that was very much a part of our family as well. Maybe that was bit selfish on our part. To be honest, I never really felt totally sure on what the right answer was to this situation. What we ended up doing, was giving her a short nick-name that had similar sounds & letters to her full name. Had we adopted her, we would have just made that her first name legally. For T, we just called him a shorter version of his full name and, if we had adopted him, we were going to legally change his name to something very similar to his given name at birth.

Well, we felt like huge jerks about all of this once we learned that the kids would be reunified. Did we scar M? Did we confuse her? We were worried that we had made a wrong decision and had been selfish to make ourselves more comfortable. We started calling her by her birth name and there really didn’t seem to be any confusion for her at all. She started talking and when asked what her name was she would say her given name. She knew herself by that name and the one we gave her and a few other nick-names she had. In this case, it all sort of worked out in the end. When we talk about M now, we call her by her given name and, to be honest, we have kind of fallen in love with it. It is so her. And I think it is another part of the story in that everything really worked out the way God intended.

With the ages of D2 & A, we did not really even consider changing their first names at all. They know those names and identify with them. We like their names and they work well for our family. D2, in particular, is very sensitive to his name being mispronounced and he is not too big a fan of nick-names even, at this point. If we are able to adopt them, we will likely give them middle names that have some sort of meaning to us and, of course, they will have our last name. They don’t know their middle names or their last name right now (not because it is a secret, just because at 3 and 4 and they just don’t care).

I think the whole situation of naming has to be handled with great sensitivity. We are still learning in this whole foster & adoption process, so if you have any thoughts on this, we would love to hear them.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Kim permalink
    December 22, 2010 1:50 pm

    Why on earth would you ever think it’s ok to change a child’s name? That is their name and is often the only thing they have from their mother. Thank you for not changing the names of the children, bless you for that.

    • December 23, 2010 8:51 am

      I’d love to know more about how you came to this perspective. It is such a sensitive issue that must be handled with a lot of care and thoughtfulness.

    • December 27, 2010 8:05 pm

      Kim, as Rebecca and Peter both articulated really well, this is a gray area for many reasons. It should be prayed over for each specific situation. I’d like to ask you, as D & K’s friend, to be sensitive how you comment. You may not have meant it this way, but your comment came off as accusatory. This couple has laid down their lives for these kids and are doing their absolute best.

  2. Rebecca permalink
    December 22, 2010 3:23 pm

    I am a foster parent myself, and I have definitely played around with the idea of what I would change my kids’ names to if I adopted them. However, none of my placements have moved to adoption, so it has kind of been a theoretical issue at this point, not one that I have had to really flesh out…yet.

    In considering this issue, I have heard some people that are adamant that children need to retain their birth name…that it is a part of their identity. For an older child, I see that. For a younger child, not so much. I am more in agreement with another perspective that I have heard which is that it is very Biblical to change a child’s name to indicate a new beginning & identity. There are several instances where this is done in the Bible (though not related to adoption). Some notable examples from the Bible are Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah, and Jacob became Israel. In the New Testament, Jesus named Simon, Cephas (Peter) and Saul of Tarsus became the Apostle Paul. I think especially if the name you choose for the child has some sort of connection to your family (their new family) or your faith (a name that would have spiritual meaning), it could be something that has great significance to the child as they get older.

    Just my two cents 🙂

  3. December 22, 2010 4:58 pm

    Great post. We adopted our middle child through foster care and, at 4 years old, it was important to keep his first name. We discussed giving him a new middle name, a family name like we have done with our bio kids. When my wife sat down with him to explain the name change, he was not happy with it at all – not happy to change his middle name or his last name. We explained that the last name came with the adoption but then gave him the choice for his middle name. After some time to think this through (as much as a 4 year old could) he chose both – he took our new middle name (a name he shares with my father and brother) and kept his last name as a second middle name. He did not keep his former middle name.

    The evening that our current foster care placement arrived at 3 months old, my wife and our kids and I all gathered around her to ogle and my daughter asked what her name was. We grabbed her paperwork and the name stopped us in our tracks. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t pronounceable. My daughter broke the silence and said, “It looks like Lizzie” and it stuck. I asked many people if they had seen the name to try to determine how to pronounce it but had no luck. I finally realized it was a combination of her birth parent’s names. We will probably adopt her so the name change will be easy. We do practice her birth name (now that we know how to pronounce it) in the event that she is reunited (which is very unlikely) and we are sure to call her by her birth name when compiling videos for her birth-grandmother (my youngest son has a knack for coming in the room in the middle of videoing something important like her first steps or eating on her own and announcing “Lizzie’s walking!” thus ruining footage we would have wanted to share with her birth family!!). We would have originally called her by her birth name had we known its pronunciation. We always want to be very sensitive to a birth family.

    We recently welcomed a 16 year old into our home and there is a chance we will adopt him. If so, I am not sure if we will force him to take our last name. We may give him the choice whether he wants to take our last name or keep his birth name. I’m not sure.

    Either way, the name (or even the legality) has never stopped us from making these precious children a part of our family. They will always have a family that loves them and supports them no matter their name.

    • December 23, 2010 8:53 am

      Thanks for sharing your experience. I really appreciate it and it goes to show how each circumstance needs to be considered differently.

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