July 13th, 2009
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How important is a name? I never really thought about names until I had to name my first child. Does a name define who you are or do you define your name? Was I going to screw up the first big decision as a mom? Finally, two weeks before delivery we decided on the name Meg for our first daughter. The second time around, it was much harder. I loved our eldest daughter’s name so much, how could we match it? Well, Daddy stepped in and chose Elle. A little two popular for me at first, but now I cannot imagine her with any other name.


Adopting two girls (ages 6 and 8) from Ethiopia in April of 2008 got my stress over names started up again. I think most people expected us to give them “American” names. The thought of changing their names was unimaginable for me. Their names, the first big decision of their parents, how could I take away the gift bestowed upon them? So people have to learn how to say Mita and Enu, and they are keeping their beautiful names. We translated their names into Hope and Rose and legally made those their middle names, so they have English names if they choose to use them. I feel we have honored their language, culture and their Ethiopian parents by keeping their names. These things are very important to us as a family.

In the adoption world naming is a big topic. Some people feel strongly that you should not change their names while others feel that chosing your child’s name makes them more “yours”. With older children this topic gets a little more trickier. Will changing your child’s name confuse them? Will they feel like they have to forget their past? Will they be offended or happy? How will they react as they get older? And these are only just a few questions out of all of the possibilities to think about.

As you may have figured out I’m not a big advocate for name changing. This is nothing new for me. When I lived in Peru people wanted to call me Maria because it is more of a Spanish version, they wanted to call my hubby by a Spanish name as well. We really bawlked at this because they were not our names. The names we had grown up with, the names our parents gave us.

Recently, I posted my opinion on a online adoption group. I (nicely) disagreed with another mom who believed that changing our older children’s names was a wonderful thing. She commented on the Biblical trend of name changing and of some Native American cultures who changed names when a child came of age. She also used the phrase,”Name it. Claim it.” when adopting a child. I have a hard time with all three of these arguments.

First of all in the Bible, there were name changes of course. Saul was a murderer and God changed his name to Paul. He was an adult and we are talking about God. He can change any name he wants to!

Second, in Native American name changes, the kids were raised in this culture. They knew it was coming and probably looked forward to it. Our kids are in a totally different situation. The changes they are experiencing are so immense and happening so fast, I cannot help but wonder if they are feeling a bit of whip-lash. Change of parents, home, enviroment, possibly country, language, culture…their whole lives.

Third, my children are not an “it”, they are amazing human beings with feelings, fears and memories. I am not their owner, master or ruler. I am their mother. Their second mother. The mother who gets to watch them grow to become adults. Their first mother died. She didn’t get to see them past the ages of three and five, but her love for them was so obvious in the pictures I treasure of their young lives. I cannot bear to change the beautiful names she gave them.

These are my thoughts. My humble, yet emotional thoughts. Perhaps I would feel differently if they had had an abusive past? I would love to hear your thoughts and what your family has chosen to do with older children and names.

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7 Responses to “Should You Change Your Child’s Name?”

  1. Robyn C says:

    When it comes to older children, I tend to agree with you. If the kids are old enough to choose, then I’d give them the option to do so. Some kids might want a more American name, or a more or less original name. For toddlers and pre-schoolers, I’d likely keep the given name, adding a middle one of our choice, unless the given name was truly awful (like the family who named their child Adolph Hitler). Of course, there are a couple of names that I just hate, so I’m not sure how that would add to the mix. Still, a child’s name is incredibly important. I can’t believe some one said “Name it. Claim it.” about a child! How awful!

  2. christinegomez says:

    I have to agree too that kids especially the older once should be given a choice to pick a name for themselves but having said that I am sure any parent would not name their child with a hilarious name, adoptive or not.

    You have done the right thing.

    I love your article and would love if you could share it with the bizymoms Mesa community. http://www.bizymoms.com/mesa/index.php

  3. kahoiam says:

    I would agree with you on older children, keeping the name is best so as not to confuse the child. When dealing with an infant, I feel it is very much up to the adoptive parent. While many times we have birth mothers working with adoptive moms and dads to choose a name, many times we don’t and it is left entirely up to the adoptive parents. Rarely it goes the other way.

  4. rdaldous@yahoo.com says:

    I was adopted when I was nearly five. My name was changed. I was later told that I was asked if I wanted to change my name and that I said I did. I don’t remember that, and I have resented the name change, although I was named after a much loved member of my adoptive family. I feel as though my identity has been stolen from me. The only reason my adoptive mom wanted to change my name was because she hated my original name and made sure I knew that in later years. I was very hurt by the name change in later years, especially when I heard my adoptive mom say she hated the original name. All my years of growing up with my adoptive family my adoptive mom tried to change me and let me know how much she hated the way I behaved. Before she died, she told me she kept trying to change me because she didn’t want me to grow up and be embarrassed by my behavior. That’s when I found out how much of an embarrassment I was to her. I never bonded with my adopted family. I think that if the parents bond with the chid and make sure the child knows how much it is loved then it is probably okay to change the name. Just make sure the child knows that the name change is based on a deep love for the child and not for a selfish reason on the part of the parents. And please don’t ever tell the child that anything is done in the best interest of the child because more than likely the child’s best interest probably has nothing to do with it!~Anne

  5. mommy717 says:

    I was adopted when I was 16, along with my twin sister. I couldn’t wait to change my last name…however I really wanted to change my first name, as did my sister. Mom and Dad said that we were too old to change them. So, we kept our first names much to our disappointment. I still rather wish we could have changed them, no matter how logical and practicul it was to keep them.

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