Change An Adoptee’s Name?

Changing an adopted child’s name is of great concern to parents of internationally and domestically adopted children. One mother wrote, “When a child is adopted at age five or six, or later, do you feel it’s appropriate to change the child’s name? Should we ask our child? Doesn’t changing the name give the message that the birth family is bad, or something that that must be hidden?
There is core adoptee issue in this mother’s questions about names.
A Name Establishes a Sense of Connection
Adoptees have a deep need for a sense of connection. Adoption experts Drs. Brodzinsky and Schechter say in their best-selling book Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self that an adoptee’s need for connection can be compared to a starving man’s need for food.
Because the adoptee’s connection with the birth parents severs at birth, unless it is an open adoption, there is a deep need for a sense of connection to them. In fact, with international adoptions, knowing the original name may be impossible. However, there are other ways of establishing a sense of connection, such as visiting the country of origin or attending a heritage camp.
Another aspect of connection needs to happen with you! We need to know that even though “we aren’t bone of your bone or flesh of your flesh” that we grew in your hearts instead of under them. We need to hear our adoption stories, repeatedly. My dad delighted in saying, “You were so small, I could hold you in the palms of my hands,” until his dying day. In addition, I delighted in hearing it just as much as he did telling it.
Bottom Line about Changing Names
Should an adoptee’s name be changed? Personally, I believe it should be preserved and honored at all costs. It IS the link to the “past” portion of our dual identity. For parents to wipe it out would be one more severing and loss for the adoptee. It is something we can be proud of—something that proves we aren’t “aliens,” as many adoptees secretly believe. If it is changed, it likely will cast an unfavorable light on the birth family, instead of honoring them. Birth parents deserve much honor, even though their history may be negative or missing, for they gave you the gift of a beautiful child.
Our grand daughter who joined our family through adoption was named “Gracie” by her birth family. Our adult children have honored her birth mother and the heritage she gave by preserving the designated name as her middle name and adding their own first name—“Megan.” By the way, Megan means “pearl.” She’s our pearl of a girl!

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How Adoptees Think About Their Birth Mothers

All children, adopted or not, have secret places within where they can fantasize about perfect parents. They travel to these places when disillusioned with their own parents. Freud called this the family romance theory. When the non-adopted child learns around age seven or eight that his parents have both negative and positive characteristics, their fantasies dissipate.

"I think about my birth mother every day, do you?"
“I think about my birth mother every day, do you?”

It’s not that simple for the adopted child. The adoptee really does have another set of parents out there somewhere. Fantasies can continue throughout adulthood, unless recognized and dealt with. The birth mother can either be envisioned as a queen or a bag lady. The birth father, a king or a beggar.
You may not be aware that your child fantasizes like this, and perhaps not all adopted children do, but listen to the words of adoption specialists Drs. Brodzinsky and Schechter in Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self: “In our experience, all adoptees engage in a search process. It may not be a literal search, but it is a meaningful search, nonetheless. It begins when the child first asks, ‘Why did it happen? Who are they? Where are they now?’”
I learned this concept quite surprisingly one day while caring for my two-year-old twin grandsons. Whenever I have the privilege of spending a day with them, they often bring up the names of all the people in their extended family. Their minds turn often to those people who love them. “Papau, Sheia? Koa? Mimi? Gompa?” they ask, as if to say “Where are they now? What are they doing?” My grandsons have no trouble blending the two sides of their extended family. To them, there are no walls of preference, only people who love them and whom they love.
So it is with the adopted child. Somewhere, deep within her heart are the questions “Where is my birth mother right now? Where is my birth father? I wonder what they are doing.”
It is vital to keep in mind that there is no “we and they” mentality in the adopted child’s world. Birth parents have always been and will always be a part of her world, whether acknowledged or not. It is we, the adults, who sometimes erect walls of competitveness and possessiveness in relating to our child.
I realize this is difficult information for some parents of closed and semi-closed adoptions. You may find it threatening to open conversations about the birth family. However, it is essential if you are to be in tune with your child’s secret world. For specific help on adoptee fantasy, purchase a copy of Dr. Ronald J. Nydam’s book Adoptees Come of Age (Westminster John Knox Press).
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Dr. Greg Keck to Help You with Hard Questions

Let me introduce you to the best of the best, as far as I am concerned. So many of you are overwhelmed with challenged in parenting and Greg Keck, Ph.D. is our guest blogger for the week. Ask him whatever you want–right here.

Gregory C. Keck, Ph.D. Founder of Attachment and Bonding Center of Ohio, Author, Speaker, International Trainer
Gregory C. Keck, Ph.D.
Founder of Attachment and Bonding Center of Ohio, Author, Speaker, International Trainer

Here is his bio:
Gregory Keck, Ph.D., is the founder and director of the Attachment & Bonding Center of Ohio. Dr. Keck specializes in working with children who experienced trauma and have developmental trauma disorder, reactive attachment disorder, and numerous other mental health difficulties. He was on the board of ATTACh for nine years, two of which he was president. In Spring of 2012, NASW, Region Two, gave him the Lifetime Achievement Award and in November, 2012, he was given the Statewide Lifetime Achievement Award by the Ohio Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers and has been nominated for the national Lifetime Achievement Award. He is the co-author of Adopting the Hurt Child, Parenting the Hurt Child, and is the author of Parenting Adopted Adolescents. Most importantly, he is an adoptive parent of two sons who were adopted in adolescence.