Friday, September 18, 2015

Adoption Talk Link-Up: What's in a Name?

Names are very personal, and at some point become part of our personal identity.  There are people who believe that a child's name, once given, should never be changed, and there are those who think that children under a certain age won't know, really, if their name is/was changed.  When my husband and I took classes to become foster/adoptive parents, this was discussed at length, and name changes were strongly discouraged.  It seemed that most of the people in the class were confidently opposed to name changes in any circumstance, except for a last-name change in the case of adoption.  Of course, for kids in foster care, name changes are forbidden (if/until adoption occurs), as the children in care are already confused enough without having their names changed.  Unfortunately, we accidentally ran into a name issue with W. We've been calling him by the name we were given for him...only to find out - six months later - that was NOT what anyone in his family was calling him. They were using a nickname, and never told us...and he lacked the language skills to tell us himself. However, since we have always called him by his legal first name, he has at least learned it, and can now tell someone what his name is.

Overall, I've always been (and probably will remain) undecided on the 'name-changing' issue. I  understand the need to not confusing our foster children - especially since they may very well return home - but adoption is different. It's important to recognize that changing a child's first name is very, very different than changing a child's last/middle name; and - at the very least - for any children our family adopts, their last names will be changed to match ours, which I think is true for the vast majority of adoptive parents. I do, however, think name changes certainly depend on the situation.  As often as I've been told about the negatives for name changes, there are definitely good reasons to change a name. A new name can mean a new beginning - which adoption certainly is - and there are other questions to consider.  What about a child who happens to be named after birthparent in prison?    What about an older child who wants a name change?  What about a child who has always gone by a nickname and would rather have that as a first name? From personal experience, the ability to change my maiden name and no longer be easily associated with my birthfather was an intense relief - and I wish my mother had done it for me years earlier. Some adoptive children may feel this way about their first names.  As a teacher, I can also attest that there are some truly unique issues that come with children's names.  My husband, last year, taught a little girl named "Female" (pronounced fe-MAH-lee)...though this is an extreme example, I don't think I could leave a child's name alone in this case.  If I had a child used to responding to"Female," I think I would at least change the spelling.

When Eli was adopted, my husband and I were open to the possibility of keeping or changing his name before receiving his referral. We tossed around some name possibilities, but waited until we knew what his Korean name was before deciding - ultimately - to change it.  His Korean name, though beautiful, was hard for English speakers to say correctly and was considered feminine to my Korean-American friends.  We nearly decided to make his Korean first name into his middle name, but eventually decided not to when we finalized his adoption. Eli knows his Korean name, and his full American name. We've explained to him that his name was changed when he became a permanent member of our family.  He has days when he only responds to his Korean name, days where he only responds to his nickname, and days where I have to holler his full name to get his attention.  Overall, at this age, he is very pleased with both of his names (American and Korean) and loves to hear the stories about how his names were given to him. Having a new name in a situation where EVERYTHING was new/different...including the language...didn't seem to faze him.

Though we've been told to expect W to return home, we actually did discuss renaming him in the event of adoption. This point is moot now, as I am actually waiting by the phone today to hear WHEN W will return home, rather than IF.  The hubs and I had already decided that since we took so many pains to teach his first name, and since his siblings all (now) know him by his first name, that we would not change it. With Itty Bitty, though, IF we ever got the chance to adopt him, we don't know if we would change his first name. We have been calling him by the first name he was given at birth - as well as a nickname derived from his birth name - and will continue to do so while he is in care. We have reasons both for and against a possible first name change. However, due to private circumstances that I cannot discuss online, we would absolutely change his middle/last names.

How about you?  Are names too personal to change or are there other circumstances in which names should be changed?

No Bohns About It


  1. Great thoughts! I think having the thoughts are the most important thing. REALLY weighing it out and considering what is best. Hasty decisions are often made, or a potential adoptive parent gets set on a name before the adoption, and the decision is made without any consideration. For us keeping a name was best. I know there are circumstances when it isn't. Really appreciated reading your thoughts on this :-)

  2. I enjoyed reading your perspective. My sons are from China and we've experienced some of the same conversations about names. So great that you joined the linkup!

  3. I enjoyed reading your perspective. My sons are from China and we've experienced some of the same conversations about names. So great that you joined the linkup!