Adopting Older Children? Let’s discuss name changes...

By Barry Farmer, Via Adoption.com

Name changes seem to be a hot topic in “adoption land.” To change or not to change? That is the question. Did you know that when adopting a child, changing his or her last name is optional? Of course, the majority of adoptive parents choose to change the child’s name, but what are the reasons? Why is it so important? Why is it necessary? Is it necessary? If you ask me, my answer would be yes and no, especially when it comes to adopting older children. Let me break it down for you. Adoptive parents have numerous reasons for changing their adopted children’s name.

Here are some of the following reasons:

  • We want our child to feel like he belongs.

  • We are changing the name for safety reasons.

  • With such a traumatic past, changing her name will help her heal.

  • It’s really important to ME that he has my last name. 

That’s just to name a few, but the list goes on and on. At times, the reasoning can appear extremely selfish on the adoptive parents part. What about older children in need of adoption? Sometimes, their names are very important to them. There have been instances where parents “pushed” their names on their older adoptive children for personal satisfaction or took it as a slap in the face when the child denied their request to a name change.

When I adopted my oldest son, I was 22 he was 8. At the time of adoption, he and I came to the conclusion that changing his last name wasn’t important. I was young and didn’t know half of what I know now. What I did know was that I cared about him and his well being, so my only concern at the time was his stability. Well, a while back, he came to me and said: “Is it possible to change my last name to yours?” I was kind of shocked because it came out of nowhere, literally. My two youngest have my last name, so I guess he was feeling “othered.” I asked him to think about it more, and we will talk about it more. In the end, he decided to change his name.

My son keeping his last name wasn’t a big deal to me at all, and he didn’t feel any less my son because of it. If your children are old enough to make this decision, I would definitely follow their lead. If not and you do not feel comfortable changing at this time, then you should wait until they are older to have a conversation about it. Before adopting my younger two sons, I also had a conversation with them about changing their names. During that process I made sure to have multiple conversations with them, just to be sure I was making the right decision. Their feelings come first, not my own. That’s how it should work when adopting older children.

Whether we as adoptive parents or even hopeful adoptive parents want to acknowledge it or not, changing our older children’s names is a big deal. Our children in care long to be accepted and loved, and what comes along with that need is a willingness to please us to avoid rejection. That need would definitely cause an adoptive child to agree to a name change; they can sense how much it means to YOU. Therefore, our children are willing to put your wants and needs before their own just to secure a permanent family. I don’t feel that’s fair to the child. We as adoptive parents could be doing this subconsciously as well, not seeing the signs that our children are uncomfortable with all the new changes in their life—including changing their names. One conversation with your child about this subject is not enough. There need to be multiple conversations in different settings to be sure he or she is comfortable with this decision before you submit your paperwork.

There are valid reasons for changing your child’s name. Safety concerns are a valid reason. Once we adopt our children, it is our responsibility to protect them. The majority of the children being adopted from foster care have had some hard times and come from even harder places, so a name change could be for protection. Another valid reason would be if the child specifically expressed that he wanted to change his last name. There are times where the traumatic past is so strong the child wants an opportunity to have a complete, fresh start, which includes a name change. Make sure you set your feelings aside and be more in tune with your child’s needs.

Your potential adopted child not wanting to share your name shouldn’t be a “deal breaker.” It doesn’t necessarily mean he doesn’t care for you. It shouldn’t mean that you can’t love her more or build a secure bond. You all can still grow together and share special moments. We as adoptive parents have these big ideas of how everything will work out as far as our adoptions, but as adults, we should remember that our children have already experienced enough changes in their lives. Let’s try to treat the name change subject with a little consideration and compassion.

barry farmer