When it comes to changing a child’s name at adoption, there is no right or wrong. This is very much an individual decision. While some people choose to change the child’s name, others may not. It can spark quite a passionate debate. There are some people who feel very strongly that their name given at birth is a connection to their biological family, therefore, changing the name is not appropriate. There are others who think that changing the child’s name is simply their right as the parents to the child, and all parents love to think of names for their children. That should be the case in adoption as well.
It seems no matter what side you tend to lean to, there will be someone on the other’s side who opposes your decision. This is very much an example of why each adoption is unique and should be treated as such.
I have some experience when it comes to this topic. I have adopted two children, and my oldest biological child was adopted by my husband in a stepparent adoption. All of my children have had a name change.
When you are adopting an infant shortly after birth, you may be able to name the child from the start. If you have an open adoption situation, you may be able to choose a name and have it placed directly on the birth certificate if the expectant mom agrees to do so. However, the expectant mom may choose to name her baby something she prefers at birth, and you may choose to change that name.
What should you consider when changing the name of an infant at adoption?
Did you make an agreement with the child’s birth mother when the child was born to keep the name she chose? If so, you should honor your agreement in good faith.
Did you choose a name prior to the birth that all parents (birth and adoptive) agreed on? Are you thinking of going with something else now? If you all chose together as part of the birth plan, you ought to consider that before making a change. It would be appropriate if the topic was discussed prior to the legal adoption to discuss any changes you are thinking of making. This doesn’t mean you cannot make a change, but for the sake of the relationship and honesty in an open situation, it should not be done without a discussion.
When the adoption is that of an infant, it is most common that the adoptive parents choose the name of the child. While the birth parents may give them a name initially, many will expect that the name will change at adoption.
What if you actually love the name that the birth family chooses, and decide to keep it? This is certainly something you can do as an adoptive parent. In many ways, it is a nice gesture to the birth parents to keep the child’s given name.
However, what if you really do not like the child’s name from their birth parents? This is one of the times where you may, in fact, wish to change the full name.
Most of us understand that at the minimum, an infant will have a change in their last name or surname. Adoptive parents will want the child to carry their name and not that of their birth family.
Even though now it is common for families to have children with different last names than their parents (because of divorce, children born outside of marriage, etc.), most families who are adopting want to give their child the family name. There are of course, exceptions. As I said, there is no real rule when it comes to naming a child.
So, if you are naming an infant after adoption, you have many options. You can keep the name given at birth. You can keep the first and middle name while changing just the last name. You can keep the first name and change middle and last names. Or, you can change the full name.
As the parents of this child, the decision is yours to make. One of the first major decisions you will be responsible for in this child’s life.
Things can get a bit more complicated when adopting toddlers and older children.
What should you consider when changing the name of an older child at adoption?
I think the first concern would be safety. Is this child being adopted because they were in an unsafe situation and their parents’ rights were terminated? Would it be safer for the child to have a new name that is unknown to their biological family?
Next, I would also consider the child, and how they feel about their name. Some children are very connected to their name and would be uncomfortable changing it. Other children might love the idea of starting over with a fresh new name, maybe one they have a vote in choosing!
In older child adoption, you may choose to change an entire name, or you may choose not to change the name at all, including leaving their original last name. When adopting older children, they may wish to keep their names. If it isn’t a safety issue for them, and if you agree, this may be okay. If you strongly feel that the last name needs to be changed, there are many considerations, I feel the biggest being age. If the child is nearing adulthood and has a license, changing the name may be more difficult. At this stage, the child may want to keep their name, as they may feel connected to it. However, a younger child who is maybe still in elementary school may not mind changing their last name. This child will be your responsibility legally for many years to come, and so sharing a last name may make things easier. At some point, considering the feelings of the child, and considering how a name change will impact the child, and what feelings they may have toward it becomes more important.
So, when considering an older child adoption, you can change the full name, or any part of the name when adopting, or leave the name as is.
Again, there is no rule.
This is an area where I have some experience.
My youngest son was placed with me at birth. However, he was a foster care placement until he was legally adoptable just before his 2nd birthday. So for his first 21 months of life, he had the name his biological mother gave him. It was a name that we, as his parents, would not have chosen. However, we could not call him by another name while he was a foster care placement. There is a loophole there though. We could not call him by our chosen name, but we could give him a nonsense nickname. For his first 21 months, he was known by a silly nickname. On occasion, birth family or social workers would call him by his given name, but it was not a name he learned to respond to. Therefore, just prior to the age of 2, when we were able to finalize his adoption, we chose to change his name. We did keep his given first name as his middle name. However, we gave him a name we chose as his first name and our last name.
We have an open relationship with his biological family. His birth mom was actually very supportive of the change, saying that parents should pick their child’s name, and we were his parents now. She was pleased that we did keep a part of her choice with his middle name, and we did it to honor her. I do realize we were lucky that the decision was not met with hurt feelings.
We have also adopted another child from foster care that was older. He came to us at the age of 2, and his adoption didn’t occur until three years later. Because he was now a school-aged child and identified very much by his given first name, we felt we should not change it. We did change his middle and last name. He was mostly unaware of what his middle and last name were, so it was not traumatic for him to have it changed. We felt it important to change as much of his name as we could because his case was one that included safety concerns. We also arranged to change his social security number as well. We wanted to be sure that his biological family would not be able to use any of his identifying information after adoption.
My biological child chose to be adopted as an adult by my husband, her stepfather. She felt very strongly that he was her father and had done all the parental work of raising her. She wanted to legalize their relationship and honor his place in her life. When she was an infant, I had given her the last name of her biological father. As she grew, she did not feel a strong connection to that side of her family. Though there was a relationship there, it was not a relationship she viewed as “parental” in nature. She began using her middle name as her last name when she could (as long as documents weren’t legal). All of her teachers used this name on a regular basis. So while she hadn’t used our last name, she had still chosen to change her name. She changed her name legally prior to being adopted. Because she had chosen to do that, she decided she did not want to change her name again at adoption. When she gets married she intends to make her last name her middle name again, and take her husband’s name. In her case, I felt she could make the decision of what to do with her name at adoption and did not try to influence her choice.
At one time, we fostered a young teen for several years, and we believed we were going to be able to adopt him. He came to us as a middle school child and was with us through part of high school.
Because adoption was a discussion, we had spoken with him about his name. Like my daughter, he felt no real connection to his last name. He had no relationship with the man whose last name he shared. He didn’t refer to us as “mom and dad” because he came to us quite late in his childhood. Even if we had been able to adopt that likely wouldn’t have changed. Therefore, he didn’t want to keep his given name, but he also didn’t feel comfortable with taking our name. What he wanted to do was to create his own last name. He did prefer to keep his first name. Had the adoption been allowed, we would have petitioned for him to be able to choose his own name as he wished. Unfortunately, his case was very complicated, and in the end, we were not able to pursue adoption.
I hope in sharing my personal stories you may feel better about the decisions you make regarding your child’s name.
As a parent, please keep in mind that people will judge often and harshly. This is simply human nature. People tend to see parenting as a competition for some reason, and they think their way is always best. However, the parent of each child is the only one who really knows what is best for them and their family. As parents, we are living this life with this child and know them better than anybody. We are the ones who are legally responsible for the child, and therefore, we legally decide things for them. No matter what you choose, someone will likely play the part of devil’s advocate and try to make you question if you did the right thing. Please remember that this is a family decision, and any other opinions should not carry any weight when deciding what to do.
Hopefully, parenting can move from competitive to more supportive. We all deserve to have others in our corner, cheering for us and our families rather than trying to make comparisons. No two families are the same, and comparisons are pointless. Do what you need to do to keep your family happy and safe.
Jennifer is a mother to 3 children (one biological, two adopted). She is also a mom to numerous pets. She enjoys volunteering in her children’s classroom, reading, and crafting in her spare time. She has been married for almost 15 years.