Should adoptive parents change their children’s names?

by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Dawn Friedman

I was stuck on what to write this week but Carmen shared a list of some of the keywords people use to find their way here and there was one that stuck out to me: “naming adopted children”

I wrote an essay for Adoptive Families about (not) naming Madison that came out, oh, about a year ago. Madison is our daughter’s birth name – it’s the name her first mom gave her. Her original birth certificate reads the same as her state-sanctioned fake one: First, middle and last names are all the same. (The last name just turned out that way; we didn’t expect her first mom to put my husband’s last name on the original birth certificate but she did.) So it turns out that Madison has always been Madison has always been Madison.

Our daughter’s first mom, Jessica, was told that we’d likely change the name and originally we decided the three of us would come up with a name together but we knew that Jessica was going to name her Madison first. And suddenly it seemed ludicrous to change it.

I wanted our daughter to know that we welcomed her, the child she was before she met us. Changing her name seemed like a symbol of wanting to change her.

There’s a lot to say about naming and adoption but I’m going to try very hard to keep my wandering mind on task and remember I’m writing this for the Anti-Racist parenting blog so I’ll just talk about this piece of it.

I realize that naming a child is an intimate act. Most of us spend our lives talking about what we’ll name our someday children so to have the decision taken from us by the arrival of a child with a name can really challenge us. However, at the very least, I think it’s worth looking at the issue from the point of view of the child.

For a child who is adopted transracially or transculturally, I think this is even more important although I know – given American’s difficulties wrapping their minds, let alone their tongues, around “foreign” names – that many parents think they’re doing their children a favor by giving them “American” names. In such a case, I think it’s important to retain by rearranging it. Having both a more typical American name and one’s original name gives options without taking away the child’s birth right. In fact, I’d say having one’s “real” name is even more important for the child adopted transracially or transculturally since it’s such an important tie to his or her birth community.

(As an aside, we heard this a lot when people found out we were keeping Madison’s birth name: “Aren’t you glad that her birth mom didn’t give her some, you know, black name?”

This never failed to amaze (and insult) me. What did these people think? That we would welcome a black child as long as he or she didn’t have a black name?)

But I want to give this up to the commenters. What do you think about birth names? Particularly those names (unlike our daughter’s name, which is never far from the top ten these days) with strong ethnic ties?

Dawn Friedman is a writer and mother to two children. Her articles have appeared in Salon.com, Yoga Journal, Brain Child and the Greater Good and she is the op-ed editor at Literary Mama. She is also the founder of OpenAdoptionSupport.com and since the adoption of her daughter in 2004 has become passionate about the need for adoption reform. She blogs at this woman’s work.

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