On (Re)naming an Adopted Child

The boys have been talking about what their names would have been had they been girls. Gray would have been Ana (these were pre-Frozen times, people). Reed would have been Fern. And Miles would have been Brooke. Funny how, even though they are boys, those other names still seem to suit them. Or maybe mother dreams just have a way of sticking.

I’ve thought about names a lot lately. We submitted our last piece of adoption assessment paperwork last week. (By this point, I feel we should be cleared for jobs with the FBI or CIA — we have been fingerprinted NINE combined times and evaluated from angles I didn’t know we had. Wondering why I haven’t been writing much? My hand is still cramped up from recording my relationship history from the 90s to the present day on more than one form. But I digress.) 

Names carry some serious heft, don’t they? They link us to our families and our histories. They color first impressions. They take on our personalities when we scribble them or meticulously scroll them on the line beside the X.

One of the things Chad and I have discussed over paperwork and door alarms and locking medication vaults is how we will name our adopted child(ren). Will we keep the name that links them to their history? Move the first name to the middle name and give a new first name that hems them into their new community?

Does it depend on age? Does it depend on history? What if the child likes their name? What if they don’t? What if their name is linked with trauma? Is there some kind of expert I can consult or guide I can read up on (i.e. Renaming (or not) Your Adopted Child for Dummies)?

When we were pregnant with our children, we played around with names to see how they rolled from the tongue — how they sounded with our last name. We thought about what our children’s names would say about them to the world. We imagined ourselves addressing our children with the names we had given them (or shouting them into the abyss of the backyard), and then we imagined our children being addressed by those names as adult doctors, lawyers, pastors or painters. Should this experience be any different? Should giving a new name to an adopted child be not a claim-staking, but a welcoming and a well-wishing, just as it is for a birth child? Or does giving a new name dismiss the people and the path that brought the child into our present day?

Could there ever be a “right” answer to matters of the heart?

I wrestle. I waver. I am painfully aware that I have volumes to learn about all of this, yet experience seems to be the only teacher before me.

I pray I will be sensitive. I pray I will be corrected gently when correction is necessary. I pray that others who have walked similar roads will advise me even with the acknowledgment that every story is different and deserves to be handled with fresh gloves. 

In the meantime, I’m keeping a list of favorite names tucked lovingly into my wallet for, if nothing else, hope during this last (or in some ways, first) leg of our adoption journey.

❤ Stacy


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4 thoughts on “On (Re)naming an Adopted Child

  1. I am not an adoptive parent, but I am the biological child of adoptive parents. My parents adopted thirteen children throughout the years. Most of the kiddos were younger, but old enough to know what was going on (so, between 4-9).

    In many cases, my parents moved the child’s birth name to become the child’s middle name – and, whatever we called them in our home “stuck” as their nickname. So, one of my brother’s has only been called his first name in school; he still (20 years later) goes by the name his parents chose for him. Another sibling has the full names his parents chose. If they were old enough (there are a couple tween/teen adoptions thrown in the mix), they had a conversation with my parents, and were allowed to choose for themselves.

    My parents’ guiding principle was the name is an identity for their children – an identity they were given. When possible, my parents tried to maintain that small sense of identity through the adoption process.

    So, it really is a case-by-case basis. I suspect you will all know when you meet the child, because that is what seemed to really help drive the process for my parents.

    Just a thought to ponder as you go through the process!

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  2. Our thought is that we’ll take ideas from the birth mother and use that for the baby’s middle name. It’s a hard thing though, for sure. Speaking of your kids talking about their other possible names had they been the opposite sex, mine if I were a boy was supposed to be “Travis” and my 12 year old half-brother, just before I was born, drew a picture of my mother pregnant with a little character in her belly with a word bubble saying “hi I’m Travis!” – boy was he disappointed! 🙂

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  3. So beautifully written Kortnee from the perspective of an adoptee. I loved what you said about names being extra important in the adoption process….

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  4. Hi Stacy!
    What a complicated question with so many different outcomes! You and your husband have obviously put a lot of thought into this. The most important thing to remember is that whatever you decide, you have the child’s best interest in mind. You will be able to explain that clearly when your child takes an interest in your reasons, whatever you decide. There is no right answer because there are so many different situations. You can only make the best decision you can with the information at hand at that time.
    I am an adoptee myself. My birth mother named me and my parents adopted me and renamed me at two months old. I may not have remembered but it always meant something to me that my birth mother cared enough to name me. When I started to take an interest in my adoption story, my parents answered my questions honestly and to the best of their knowledge. When some information caused me pain or sadness, or even if I dealt with that information in a way that caused them pain, they put their own feelings aside and were there for me to work through those emotions together. I always felt respected as the adoptee. They were my allies when I felt like I didn’t have any control over my situation.
    There are so many layers to each adoption story. It might just seem like a name but it is so much more than that in adoption. If you ever want to talk I always love to share my adoption story!

    Liked by 1 person

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