Changing an Adopted Child's Name: Is It the Right Thing to Do?

Choosing a child’s name is one of the first major decisions a parent makes. But what if you’re an adoptive parent opening your heart and home to a child who already has a name?

That makes a difficult decision even harder.

"There’s no rule of thumb," says Jennifer Traficanti, director of child services of the Massachusetts Adoption Resource Exchange (MARE). "It’s truly a personal decision for families. It’s their right as parents to make that choice. For the majority of families, changing the child’s last name is a given, but the first name requires careful consideration. The child’s feelings should come first."

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In trying to put the child's feelings first, parents should ask themselves the following: Am I considering a name change because it makes me feel more comfortable?

If the answer is yes, Traficanti recommends you look at it from your child's perspective. While for the parent, adoption is adding someone to your family, for the child, there is always a component of loss. Your child has "lost" their biological parents and sometimes even their homeland. "Adoption is about love and acceptance," she says. "The point of adoption is not to erase what happened in the past. You build on their foundation together."

Many parents consider changing the child's first name when the child is an infant or under the age of 2. This may be a good idea if it's difficult to pronounce, said Traficanti. 

More from The Stir: Adoption: Name Change for an Older Child?

But when children are 2 and up, it can be more complicated. Older kids are generally thrilled to change their last name as it makes them feel like part of the family, but they're resistant to changing their first names, and it's completely understandable. A name is so intertwined with our identity, culture, and traditions; it's hard to lose. "It’s important for parents to embrace their child’s background, and part of it is their name ... especially if the child is older," explains Traficanti.

Some families of older children keep their first name but change their middle name as a compromise. Others may keep the first name but try to make it more mainstream with a nickname. For younger kids, the reverse is true. Parents may legally change their first name (some even have parties marking the occasion) and keep their birth name as the middle name. The key is to weigh the options thoroughly and do the right thing for your child, said Traficanti. You're the parent now, and it comes with the job.

Adoptive moms: Did you change your child’s name? Why or why not?


Image © Brooke Fasani Auchincloss/Corbis

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