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!