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.
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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