should I change my adopted child’s name?

should I change my adopted child's name
What’s in a name? If you really ponder it, there’s a heck of a lot, especially for someone who’s owned their name for a while.

I think this is what we have to realize as adoptive and foster parents, our child owns their name, it’s theirs, it’s the ONE THING they didn’t have to give up or lose when they were removed from their biological home or orphanage. It may also be the one thing they take away from their previous life that’s positive.

Changing a child’s name upon adoption is a big conundrum for many families, but there are a few things to consider before doing so. (Don’t worry, there’s an exception which I’ll discuss later.)

Your child’s name is all they own. They left any family (siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents) when they were removed from their family. If they left an orphanage to join your family, they left behind friends and caregivers they may have grown attached to. They may have left behind toys, stuffed animals, or blankets (even if they only had one), and in drug homes these items are confiscated and discarded. If a child is lucky, really lucky, they leave their previous life with a trash bag. Our daughter came to us with two sets of clothes, our son, one, and neither brought a toy, stuffed animals or blanket. Many children have nothing to take with them.

One thing, the only thing they do have, they do own, is their name. We have to recognize this. 

Changing a child’s name is not like changing a bald tire on your GMC, it’s not something to be taken lightly. Many parents think of it as giving their child a new name to go with their new life.

Your child’s name is all they know, and crazy thing is, they may like it. It’s part of who they are. It’s a large part of their identity. Think about that. Identity. And what would a child feel like if their name, an essential part of their identity (because they really don’t know who they are yet because they haven’t been given the opportunity with love and acceptance) was changed?

How do they think the parent changing their name feels about them?

Think about something you would like to change in your home. A majority of the time when we want to change something it isn’t because we like it. Let’s say you want a new couch, well unless you really hate that your credit card is only in the double digits, you’re probably doing so because your tired of the one you have, you don’t like it anymore, or it’s ripped, broke, or dirty. Basically, you aren’t happy with it.

This is how some children feel when their name is changed. They’re fully aware that you don’t like their name (unless you change it for the reason stated below) and you want something different. What they came with isn’t good enough and therefore it can easily transition to them feeling like you don’t think they are good enough. These feelings are already resounding in their head loud and clear.
changing the adopted child's name

Some parents change their child’s name because it’s different, maybe your child is from another country or has an odd name. Fact: Different is in. Today parents want their child to have a different name, they spell it phonetically or choose a name they’ve never heard before. I know a baby whose name is Prator. Different? Yes. So the concerns about your child standing out because of their name isn’t such a concern any more.

In my opinion, there is only one reason to change a child’s name, and that’s because of safety concerns.

I know many adoptive families who’ve fostered, fear the biological parents will show up at their door or school and take the child, and thus changing the child’s name makes them feel safer. In some isolated cases this is true, but for many it’s not necessary.

If the biological family lives in very close proximity, and I don’t mean that you simply live in smaller town, you may consider a change of name. And you may also want to consider the biological parents history. Most birth parents won’t come after their children (even when the parents are criminals), it’s very rare that this happens.

If you feel you have to change your child’s name, there are a few considerations you might want to make. You can use part of their name, a middle name as a first name, or you can change their name slightly, transforming Jacob into Jake or Michael into Mike, it allows the child to keep a part of their name and helps keep it familiar.

I also believe that if a name change needs to take place, there should be positive discussions about it.

1) Take your time, don’t whack a child with the news and not accept discussions.

2) Tell children, no matter the age, what you plan to do.

3) Involve your child in the conversation. Ask them what name they like, and listen to their advice. Get them involved in choosing a new name if you feel a change needs to be made.

We must weigh whether changing a child’s name is necessary or if we’re doing it because of our own desires. Maybe we’ve always dreamt that our child will be graced with our grandmother’s first name, maybe we’ve picked out a favorite name for our future child. But the child must be considered, this isn’t like choosing an addition of black beans for your burrito at Chipotle. This is connected to something far greater than many parents give thought to. It’s identity.


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24 responses to “should I change my adopted child’s name?

  1. We believe we will be adopting our two little ones in Jan or February. We have had them 15 months, and they are now 3 and 4. I want to change their names. This is because their names are so crazy and truly not even names. I don’t want them to have to live life with this names that is hard to pronounce and is so different like nutzz. We haven’t told them their new names, and I have talked in great deal with other adoptive parents. I will build it up as a gift parents give their babies, we are reading stories in our Bible where God changed people’s names, and we will be changing their whole names. I live in the same large city as the bio. mom, and I feel it will just make me feel more at ease that she won’t be able to find them so easily.

  2. Stephanie Barnes

    I am speaking on behalf of parents, like myself who have had their babies ripped from them by cps. Some children are better off being removed from their biological parents, but for parents like myself, who had their babies taken in a situation where it was completley unnecissary…well this conversation strikes horror and grief into my heart. If i need to explaine my situation i will, but for now lets stick to the conversation at hand. For me the thought of a foster or adoptive changing my childs whole identity is devestating. I have worked so hard every day of my life building something to leave my children when im gone. Even though there are not with me the only thing that keeps me hangging on are the hopes that one day my children will find me….or the things ive built for them to have when i pass away. And that maybe they will know their mom always loved them and never gave up on them. Hopefully i am still alive and they want to find me and i can reconnect with them. Its been 4 years and it hurts me so much everyday knowing their not in my life. I still keep pictures on the wall and old toys. I have life insurance policies with them as beneficiaries a home i own and they are named on everything as people who are allowed to know all my info. Medical and anything else that asks who i would like to know my info if they ask. The thought that someone would change their whole identity and make it harder for them to find me if thet choose to do so one day is unbearable. So please keep situations like mine in your mind before you consider changing your adoptive childs identity.

    • Thank you for your input Stephanie. In the case if a child’s name being changed, I would hope the parents would allow them access to their birth name when it’s appropriate to do so.
      And remembered, it’s in very specific circumstances that I personally recommend changing a child’s name.

  3. Good to read this, my dilema is that my 7 year old wants to change his name because it is the same name as his birth father. He has been pushing for this for about a year now and has chosen the name he wants. He has been with us since he was 4 but was adopted 1year ago and it all began about then. My husband and I have done nothing to encourage this since we always thought this was something that should never be done but I’m finding it hard to ignore my son’s pleas and explanations for wanting to change it. It’s always my son who initiates the discussions about his name. He says that whenever people call him by his name it reminds him of his birth dad. I thought that in time his feelings on this would pass but they in fact seem to have got stronger. I can’t seem to find any information online on others who have experienced this but I imagine other families have been through this. I’d be interested to know your thought on this. You mention that you feel that names should only be changed when there are safety concerns, but I wonder about this situation.

    • Thank you for your comment and for stopping by. I would definitely consider it in this situation, when the child has a negative association with their name and they are the one taking strides to get it changed. Personally, it would be something to consider.

  4. My now adult daughters were in kindergarten and second grade when placed with me for adoption . Their names were their identity . I changed the creative spellings to a standard one and gave them a new middle name . I used to say that I’d only change an older child’s name under certain circumstances: such as Waldo Eggbeet Jr. was abused by Waldo Eggbeet Sr. I would think the child might want to consider changing it. Even if the name was horrible , if that’s their name , I’d leave it alone. Twenty eight years ago , on my first job , I met a woman who was an adoptee and she told me , “I remember that my name used to be Nancy”. The look on her face spoke volumes and I remembered that when I began my adoption journey years later.

  5. Changing our daughter’s name is something I have questioned for a while without any good answers. This post is great and helped me to see some points of view I had not considered, such as the safety issue. Our little girl came to us when she was 2 and has a very different name from the rest of my children with a very difficult spelling. Since we will be the only family she ever remembers, I don’t want her to spend her life as the “obvious’ adopted child because of her name. But now at 3, she is pretty attached to her name and I’m not sure she would understand nor care for us calling her something different. Any suggestions?

  6. I understand what is going on about changing the last name of child that had been adopted. I was a child that someone adopted me and they changed my last name. I didn’t like my adopted last name. So adoptive parents should reconsider changing the child(rens) last name.

    • I would only agree if the child is older. Changing the last name is the joining of a new family, it is significant in my mind. This is the family who will raise this child and thus it seems appropriate the adopted child have their last name.

  7. Hello all !!! My husband and I are in the process of privately adopting with a close friend of ours . Unfortunately for her and her fiancé , cps has taken her away from them due to their living situation . Rather than handing the child over to cps for state adoption , they came to us because they knew that we have been wanting a child for a while now . They have stated that we would the best fit in raising their child rather than having a strange family that they don’t know raising the baby instead . My point being , the baby is female and 8 months old . The question came up to me and my husband from other family members asking if we wanted to change the name . We honestly didn’t know , we were mostly wanting to at least get the blessing of the bio parents to change her first and middle name. We discussed this with the parents , they understood where we were coming from in regards to the name change , but they insisted that we keep the first name because she is is 8 months old and already responds to that name . We kind of feel at a loss because we want to respect the wishes of the bio parents , but at the same time we feel that the new name would fit her personality more . Should we accept this And move on ? Are my husband and I being selfish ? Please help for any advice would be greatly appreciated .

    • Hi, thanks for stopping by! Here are my thoughts, you will receive opinions from everyone on what you should or shouldn’t do with your kids, I say follow your heart. I would definitely consider that this child is aware of their name, and it’s familiar, however if it’s something you feel strongly about you should go with what you want. After all, she will have this name forever.

  8. LadyHawke9973

    When we first had to consider the name question, there we’re some legitimate safety questions in the mix. One of the options I broached with her was to still use her name at home, but her legal paper show a different name so she couldn’t be found easily.

    By the time we actually submitted finalization a year after the topic came up, the issue was gone & it was not a necessity any longer. But she had “played” with her new name for a year (whenever my daughters played role-olay games at home, my adopted daughter ALWAYS chose to use this name), so she decided it was what she wanted to do & was fully settled/committed to it.

    Partially because she hated her first name. It was the name for the horror/ghost character in one of the Japanese styled movies from the early 2000s character…where the ghost is white faced & bends oddly when they crawl.

    Buy also, when she was done choosing….
    1- her new first name was (phonetically & spelling wise) still very similar to her original, but now was based on a book series I’ve adored since the 80s (as well as echoing the double N in my Bio daughter’s first name which is also a tribute to a lead character from the book series, and series also being a name my mom found and mentioned…just like she found my Bio daughter’s full first name);
    2- her new middle name was reminiscent of my Bio daughter’s middle name, as well as the middle name of both my great-aunt and my grandmother) mentioned;
    3- and her new nickname was name found by my mom’s sister…just like Bio daughter’s nickname.

    So basically…she felt more “belonging” to us because of the connections & similarities, and was ready to make the change on her own terms. We were lucky in that everyone shifted with us mostly seamlessly.

  9. We are in the process of adopting 2 boys (7 and 8) after fostering them for a year and a half. I’m white, my husband is Chinese, and the boys have traditional Cambodian names. Everyone told me I should change their names to something more “Americanized”, but I firmly believed it should be their choice. Personally, I loved their given names. When the time came, however, the boys decided they wanted to change their names. I think after being in 5 different homes, they wanted a fresh start. Since they didn’t have middle names, we compromised. They picked their new first names and kept part of their birth names as their middle names (one kept his first name; the other kept his last name) because I felt it was important for them to keep something of their Cambodian heritage, and they are taking our last name. Now we are all happy with the outcome 🙂

  10. My husband and I adopted an almost 13-year-old boy through the child protective agency in our state. Prior to the finalization of the adoption, he started talking about changing his entire name. Since he was a junior to his biological father who had been so abusive to him and his siblings, we thought it was a good idea. Still, we didn’t push him. However, he was stressing himself out trying to make a final decision about what he wanted his name to be. We told him that it did not have to be done at the time of the adoption and could always be done later. On the day of the adoption, we simply added our last name, changing nothing else except dropping the Jr. After the adoption, he still said he wanted a name change but was not so stressed about it. We told him to take his time so that he was sure about it. After almost a year passed, he felt he had made a final decision. We still didn’t rush because we wanted him to be sure. After another month or two with no changes in what he said he wanted, we went through the process to have his name legally changed. It didn’t go well afterward. The innocent and immature responses of his cousin and brother made him second guess the decision he had made. They weren’t ugly about it – just curious and blunt. He would not tell anybody at school or church his new name. So now he has a legal name he never uses except for legal purposes – and that gets confusing. We plan to go through a legal name change again, but he still isn’t sure what he wants. His biological father is about to go to trial for the abuse he inflicted on the children. Who knows what he will want to do after that? It’s a crazy situation. His siblings won’t call him by his name because that’s what his birth father was called. However, they call him “Junior,” which I feel is just as bad since the nickname comes straight from the fact that he is named after his abusive birth father. Changing a child’s name can get really complicated. It is hard for everybody. If anyone on this site has any ideas you think might help us, I would love to hear them.

    • I think it’s admirable that you’re listening to what your son wants as his name. I would suggest waiting until he makes a decision, I don’t think there’s a rush until he makes a firm decision on what he wants his forever name to be.

  11. Foster Children feel helpless and that they have ZERO input into their lives. Giving them an opportunity to create an identity that they have a say is HUGH for them, it empowers them!

  12. Very interesting. When we adopted my son, we kept three out of his five names, only changing the last name to our family name. We felt that it was an important distinction for him and the world to know he belongs to our “tribe.”

    As a foster mom, I have an interesting situation, where our foster son doesn’t want to use his name any more and wants to be called by a nickname he made up. For the moment, we’re going with it (using both real and newly minted nickname), but I feel rather odd about it. What do you think?

    • I don’t think it’s a problem to change last names, middle names or dropping some names if they have several. I think going with what your foster son desires is just fine. Go with your heart though.

  13. Nicole Brannon

    As a Foster Mother of a sibling group of three we’ve approached the name changing very carefully. Several weeks after we had to explain to the children that reunification, one of the children asked to know more about adoption. We explained what it meant and explained it would mean that their last name would change in the process. They were devastated at the idea of losing their last name! It took several weeks before they brought up the topic again, one of our children asked, “If we are changing my last name can we change other parts of our name, because I really hate my middle name?” From there we explained to them that they could change any part of their name they wanted, but our one request is that they kept part of their name, either the first or middle name. The question that melted my heart was when our youngest asked, “What would you have named me if I was born to you?” From there the door was wide open to discuss name changes, but at no time did we ever push it on them. We simply waited for them to process their new reality. Personally, I feel like encouraging them to keep part of their Birth Name gave them the opportunity to embrace the passed and their new future.

  14. This is very interesting.

    Our daughter’s name was changed, but it was something she requested. We talked about how her last name was already changing, she didn’t need to change it all– but she didn’t like her old name and she already had a name picked out that she wanted. As time has gone by and she’s grown older, we’ve talked about it a lot. For her it really was leaving behind an old life and stepping into a new one. She went by her new name for about a year before we were able to finalize and we gave her up until the day-of to decide what name she really wanted. She picked her new name.

    I do think your points are absolutely valid though. We’re looking at adopting another older child soon and one of the first things we had to think through was his name, as it’s not a preference of either my husband nor I. We felt we had to get that settled before we went any further, because of these very reasons. If he doesn’t desire a name change, he certainly won’t have one.

    • Thank you for responding! I think it’s absolutely fine to change their name when it’s something they want to do, and that she understood it coincided with a new start is wonderful.

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