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Changing an Adopted Child's Name
What the real issue is for your child
July 11, 2007/ Sherrie Eldridge

Changing an adopted child’s name is of great concern to parents of international and domestic adoptions. 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 consult with the child’s wishes? Doesn’t changing the name give the message that the birth family is bad, or something that should 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 was severed at birth, or later, there is a deep need to feel a sense of connection to them. This may not always be possible, in fact, with the increasing number of international adoptions, it may be next to impossible. However, there are other ways of establishing a sense of connection, such as visiting the country of origin, attending a heritage camp (www.heritagecamps.org), or fixing an ethnic meal.

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!

© Copyright, Sherrie Eldridge 2007. All rights reserved.

Speaker and author, Sherrie Eldridge, an adoptee herself, is passionate about assuring those touched by adoption that they can grow because of the unique challenges adoptive family living presents. She is the author of the highly-acclaimed books Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew and Twenty Life-Transforming Choices Adoptees Need to Make and FOREVER FINGERPRINTS...An Amazing Discovery for Adopted Children (EMK Press). As President of Jewel Among Jewels Adoption Network, Inc., a non-profit adoption educational organization, she offers extensive online resources, including inspiration, encouragement, projects for parents and kids, newsletters, and free workbooks (www.adoptionjewels.org). For speaking, www.SherrieEldridge.com.

Author of 20 Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Parents Knew and other fine books
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Readers Comments  (5 Comments)  View All Comments
At age 67 I'm just discovering that adoption affected me. fear of dark, dislike of cold temps. 50 pair of socks same for underwear, 35 fishing poles, hate being alone I hoard everything I care about. Keep 25 pound bags of rice and beans. a longing for a farm. I can't believe I'm just now discovering the effects of adoption. Started reading one of yuour articles and suddenly I'm bawling my head off.- Gary Trimble
Children, even very young who can't speak, know their names. Why would anyone want to change them to suit their own tastes. It is so selfish.- mommy to five
I disagree with this article, because it assumes that all adopted children were given their names by their birth families. This is often not the case in international adoption. Most Chinese children are assigned a name by the orphanage staff. My personal belief is that giving your adopted child a new name is part of the process of claiming them as your own. I have kept my children's Chinese names as their middle names, but they have American first names which they all love.- Marie
I do agree, name plays important role.- Kim
I agree. I knew before the adoption that I would keep my daughter's Chinese name as a middle name. She was almost three when adopted, and I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to call her by her Chinese name, to help ease the trauma of the transition. She still, four years later, prefers it to her Western first name and is very tolerant of people who mispronounce or misspell it.- Barbara Pines
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