Your new son or daughter is finally joining your family. All that’s left to do is fill out the birth certificate. Sounds simple enough, right? You take the pen, your heart swelling with excitement. Unexpectedly, you pause where it says: child’s name.
Your soon-to-be son or daughter already has a name from their birth mother. But…that secures their identity to another family. A history and origin that isn’t yours. Joining your family means a new future. Should you rename them to reflect that?
The first thing to determine when considering a name change is “why?” What is the motivation and reason behind it? While names aren’t necessarily permanent, it’s still a big decision and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Names equal identity and can either help or hurt your child in the future. With adoptees, names can also be links to their past. So, you want to be sure before making anything official at the end of the adoption process.
A good reason to change your adoptee’s name is, of course, if it’s a matter of security and protection. If your child came from a sensitive or unsafe background, it’s smart to sever that link — especially if their birth family could have access to their name or social security number. This can happen sometimes with foster adoptions.
Renaming a child from an international adoption is another common reason. Uniqueness in a name is indeed special, but if culturally it’s going to be difficult to pronounce or spell, choosing a name that eliminates this struggle is good. The same goes for names that are truly odd or ones that could cause your child to be teased or bullied later on.
Arguably, the most prevalent reason to change an adoptee’s name, is the desire to have a fresh start. To give them a name that signifies their new life with you and helps them best fit into the culture of your family. Perhaps the name was one that was specially picked out for them, or one that holds symbolic meaning. This reasoning is seen across all types of adoption, with adoptees from birth to childhood.
This perfectly segways into another factor to consider when changing an adoptee’s name — their age. Understandably, if the child in question is between the ages of birth to two years, they won’t be able to express their desires or thoughts on the issue. So, it’s solely up to the adoptive parents to either pick the perfect name or keep the child’s birth name.
However, if the child is old enough to understand, it would be good to involve them. They may want to have a say on their new name, and even suggest one or two that they like. If they aren’t sure, consider orchestrating a trial period where they “try on” their new name. See how it fits. How it affects them. Watch their reaction. Leave the lines of communication open at all times, so they can state their opinion. If for whatever reason the name change doesn’t end up sticking, the trial period allows an easy transition back to their original name or another selected name without the legal hassle.
At the end of the day, deciding whether or not to change an adoptee’s name is a personal choice. There are pros and cons to consider, and some risk, depending on your adoptee. For instance, an older adoptee may construe a name change as you wanting to hide their past and may then feel like there’s something about them that you’re ashamed of. That’s why it’s very important to communicate with them and explain your reasons.
If the concept of a complete rename doesn’t sit right with you, consider a happy medium. Instead of changing their whole name, what if you only altered either their first or middle name? That way, your child keeps part of their original birth name. This usually happens in adoptions where the adoptive parent and birth parent get to co-name the child.
Another option is to keep their original name and only alter their last name.
Something that is often overlooked is that adoptees have two names anyway, because there are two birth certificates generated for them.
At birth, the hospital will create an “Original Birth Certificate” that contains the child’s birth information. This will include: the birth mother’s name, the birth father’s name ( if known), the date, the place and time of birth and the child’s original birth name. Post adoption, you will receive an “Amended Birth Certificate” that will have similar information. However, instead of the birth mother and birth father’s names, it will state the name of the adoptive parents.
An adoptee will only have access to one of these birth certificates — the amended one. Depending on the adoption, of course. With closed adoptions in particular, an adoptee will not have access to their Original Birth Certificate until they are 18 years old. After this, they can request to see it from the courts, and learn their original birth name.
For tips on when and how to share your child’s adoption journey, be sure to check out this article.
With changing an adoptee’s name, there is no right or wrong decision. It truly is a personal choice. Wanting to give your child a new name post adoption is a natural and healthy thing. So, whatever the ultimate decision — have fun! It should be a process that enhances the joy and excitement of your adoption journey.
Brandy. “The Pro’s and Con’s of Changing A Foster Childs Name After Adoption.” The Pro’s and Con’s of Changing A Foster Childs Name After Adoption –, 24 Feb. 2018, thefosterparentassistant.com/2018/02/24/pros-cons-changing-foster-childs-name-adoption/.
“Changing an Adopted Child’s Name: Is It the Right Thing to Do?” CafeMom, thestir.cafemom.com/pregnancy/176105/changing_an_adopted_childs_name.
“Name Change in Adoption: Factors to Consider.” Adoption.NET, 13 Feb. 2017, www.adoption.net/a/adopting/blogs-adopting/name-change-in-adoption/31786/.
National Adoption Center1500 Walnut St, Suite 701 Philadelphia, PA 19102p: (215) 735-9988p: (800) TO-ADOPT e: firstname.lastname@example.org. “Adoption Laws.” Adoption Laws | National Adoption Center, www.adopt.org/adoption-laws.