Adoption and Changing Names

[deleted account] ( 10 moms have responded )

I have a question for those who adopt. Why do you change the child's name? I'm confused by this practice, especially for older children who already have an identity in place with their name. When I get those enrollment changes at work, I often sit there and wonder why John suddenly must be called Michael when he's been John for 5 years. I wonder if it causes some identity crisis in kids who are already having emotional upheavals. I know we read that some (not all) kids adopted from other nations (Russia for example) come with major emotional trauma from their lives in orphanages but I wonder if immediately changing their name adds to the mix.

So I am mystified by this practice. I know if I was told at age 7 that my name was no longer Jennifer but oh Katherine, I'd be very confused and upset. What was wrong with Jennifer? What about Jennifer was so bad that it made me lose my first parents and now my second parents want to change it?

Can you offer some insight?

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Becky - posted on 07/14/2011

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I haven't adopted, but I worked in adoptions. We actually recommended that parents do not change the name of a child who was older than 12-18 months, because, as you said, their name is a big part of their identity. Also, sometimes when an older child's name is changed, they see their birth name as something bad - like being identified with their biological family is a bad thing or like they were a different person before. That said, there are times when the child actually wants to change their name, or when it is recommended for safety reasons. Usually though, with older children, our families would only change the last name and maybe change or add a middle name, to help them identify themselves as a part of their family. That can actually be really helpful, especially if it is a name that has some special meaning to the family, like a grandparent's name or something. It makes the child feel like they belong.
I think in the case of infants, most couples adopting them are infertile. They have had dreams of having children biologically and no doubt have discussed and maybe even chosen names in the past (we had our name for our first before we were even married!). So I think for them, it's kind of a way of making the child more "there own" and taking the sting out of missing out on some of that stuff, if you know what I mean. I hope the way I worded that wasn't offensive to anyone who has struggled with infertility, because I don't mean it to be! Plus, an infant under 8 months or so doesn't even recognize his or her own name, so it's not going to be traumatic for them in any way to change it.

[deleted account]

For the two people I know who've adopted people it's always been the child's choice.

My best friend's family adopted a little boy many years ago (he was 11 when the adoption was final). HE chose to change his name because he truly had a horrible life before being adopted (horrible - his grandmother, whi had custody because his mother ran off, was severely obese and confined to a wheelchair and made him her slave. Then she would burn him with lit cigarettes if he didn't "jump to" fast enough for her) and he felt like he wanted a fresh start with his new family.

My cousin just adopted her neice (her sister's daughter). They kept the little girl's first and middle names (she's 5 this year), but at the request of the child, they changed her last name to theirs. The child has been living with her aunt for 3 1/2 out of her 5 years and her cousins (my cousin's kids) are her brothers in her heart. She wanted to be a part of their family and I see nothing wrong with it.

Now, if my hubby and I were to adopt I think we'd change the name if it was an infant (before 12 months), but since we would adopt an older child we would most likely keep it the same (unless they wanted to change it, like my friend's brother). We would change the last nme no matter what though, because to us adoption is taking someone new into our family and that includes the family name.

Janessa - posted on 07/14/2011

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I was almost 9 when I was adopted from Haiti and my younger siblings were 5.5 and 2.5 years old. My adopted parents changed our name. I hated it its like there wanted us to forget our homeland and be Canadian which is nothing wrong with that but for me I didn't like it. That so back fired on my parents because when we were teenagers myself and my middle sister acted out. Like someone said identity is mporant and is a very bad idea the child should be under 4 when you change there names. I think what backfired is that my sister became a drug addict because battling her identity I think it had a huge part in shaping what she became.

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Lacye - posted on 07/16/2011

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I do want to adopt one day. If I adopted an infant, I would change the name to something that I wanted it to be. If the child was older, I would only change the last name. The child grew up with that name and it is part of who they are at that point. If the child asked me if I would change their name, then yeah, I would do it but other than that I wouldn't.

Christina - posted on 07/16/2011

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From what I understand, when older children are adopted, the adopted parents give the child the choice on keeping their name or changing it. Lots of times the child picks their new first name as a way to start fresh with their new life and family. It is a name they love personally and want to be called. Shedding the old first name, especially when the child is removed for abuse, helps shed the layers of the trauma. Kaitlynn was abused by daddy, but Rachel has never been abused! At that age, a parent can't just change the child's first name. The child is brought into court and the judge asks the child if he/she wants to change their name. My stepdad adopted me when I was 8yrs old and it was my choice on whether I wanted to keep my last name or change it. My parents could not make that choice for me :)

[deleted account]

Oh as one person pointed out with the last name i dont think that would be traumatic and confusing cuz they know ( if they are older) that they are getting adopted and are apart of a new family. I would think changing the last name would make them feel welcomed and feel like they were apart of a family unit and equal

[deleted account]

For me if it was an infant then i could understand why a couple would change the name cuz that is an experience that they never had before and i guess it make them even closer like that baby really is theirs if that makes sense?? They are just trying to do all the things the wouldve been able to do if they had them naturally.

If it was an older child then i dont understand that i agree with you i would think it would be traumatic and confusing. . .

Iridescent - posted on 07/14/2011

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I don't know. Some were in orphanages where who knows if they even knew their name? Hah! Others, like my mom who was 6 when she was adopted, had her name changed, but they simply flipped her first and middle names. They'd been calling her by the middle name all her life anyway. There could be any number of reasons.

Amber - posted on 07/14/2011

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We're looking into adopting older children. We have no intention of changing their first or middle names. That is who they are and it is who they know themselves as.

I also don't plan on immediately changing their last names. It will depend on their age. A toddler, I would. If they are 5yrs or older, I will let them help make that decision. I want them to know that they are a permanent member of my family and I'm willing to share my family name with them; however, I don't want to take their family name away from them if that's not what they want.

I want them to take our name and join our family, but I want them to do it of their own free will.

[deleted account]

Thanks Becky. I completely understand the changing of an infant. Their brains are still young enough to handle the change without causing a problem. I'm glad I'm not off base about the older kids though.

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