My nearly 6 year old (in my care since she was 6 months of age, came to us from foster care) emotionally shared the other day that she’s embarrassed being seen with my husband and I at school drop off/pick up because she’s aware it’s making her different from the other children who have their birth parents pick them up and how she wishes her Mum could come to pick up sometimes (her Mum passed away tragically two years ago so it’s literally impossible).
There is no real clear physical difference between us – so it’s really just that she knows we aren’t her birth parents and she grieves what could have been. I told her I understood why she feels sad about that, that it makes sense she’d love her Mum to come and that I’m really sorry I can’t make that happen. I also pointed out other children wouldn’t know (for the most part) that we aren’t her birth parents because we’ve been private about her story (however, she recently shared with her class that she had scattered her Mums ashes). There are other kids who could be in the same situation as her and she wouldn’t know.
She’s really dislikes having a different surname than us because “you’re my parents and you’re my family, so why can’t I have the same name?”, even though we’ve never made an issue of it and we tell her how much we love her name and that families don’t require the same last names as each other. She has been asking for the last few weeks, can she please change her surname to our surname at school/extra curricular activities. She’s started calling herself and her little sister (who is her biological sister but also has a different surname, not the same as hers) *their names* with our surname.
One of my big hesitancies is the future her, looking back on her work/awards and seeing a name she might not identify with anymore and being upset we allowed her to use a different name. We are foster parents who became guardians but we specifically didn’t pursue adoption because of what we learned about the feelings of adult adoptees.
One suggestion was to hyphenate her surname with the guardian’s surname, not legally but just on paper, so she can see you are listening to her feelings, without changing anything legally. The guardian liked the suggestion – that way she doesn’t have to feel like it has to be one way or the other, either this part of my family or that part of my family. The guardian said “I definitely have no intention of changing her name legally, that’s something she can navigate once she’s an adult. But just socially, maybe hyphenating could be the solution.
Another suggested – could you explain to her that the surname was one of her first gifts from her mother ? Explain to her that there are some kids whose moms have gotten remarried and her kids don’t share her new last name. And even though it isn’t the same situation as she is in because her mom is no longer here like the other kids, it is similar with the last name situation. The reply was – I did try telling her how kids have different last names to their Mum’s sometimes because of marriage and such but she was like “but you and Dad have the same last name so that’s not the same thing.”
One answers from experience – This is tricky. I was given the choice to keep my last name or change it, and I kept it. There were so many times in school when I wished I just had the same last name as my adoptive family. It would have erased so many questions I didn’t want to answer. I’m 42 now and I’m 100% glad I kept it. I didn’t even fully let it go when I got married. On the other hand, my biological sister was all too happy to shed that last name when she got married (at 8 years older than me, she was 18 when we went to our adoptive family. So I don’t think changing to her last name was ever brought up). Our last name came from the guy who abused us. All that to say, I don’t think there is a concrete right or wrong answer here. *I* would say keep her last name but see if the school will just call her by yours, sort of like a nick-name? My sister on the other hand would say let her change it. Hugs to you as you try to navigate this.
Another shares – I have two last names and I say them proudly. Would she be willing to make a final decision after a bit more contemplation? Have her practice saying and writing the new name combo – you can call her anything for now. She might find just being able to say her new name and know that maybe one day she will legally be both names. The guardian answers – I’ve responded to her saying “let’s keep chatting and thinking about it, so we make the best decision for you” and she seems okay with it thus far.
Another opinion was – I would honor her desire and let her change her name. I think you can do that and let her know if she ever changes her mind and wants to change it back, you’ll support her no questions asked. Or if it’s possible to change it with school and such without doing the full legal piece, maybe that could be a good compromise. I was under guardianship as well until adulthood, and I always struggled as a child with feeling like I didn’t truly belong and the uncertainty about where I’d spend the entirety of my childhood was deeply unsettling. I was under familial guardianship, so I was with family, but I just always felt like I was an add on, not a core part of the family. To this day, it’s something I still feel in my core when I’m with my family and I’m 37. I can understand why having a different name could exacerbate that feeling for her. Part of it is just inescapably that our childhood was different and more traumatic than those around us and even the best support systems simply cannot undo that. And that’s hard to understand as a kid and it leaves lasting changes to one’s brain. And for me at least, the uncertainty about whether I’d be able to finish out a school year, let alone all of K-12 in the home I was in, was always hanging over me. It just didn’t feel permanent (though it did turn out to be). There are SO few things that are in our control when we are kids, and the lack of control over any aspect of our lives can be overwhelming.
A school staff member noted that – our school has “legal” name and “preferred” name. “Preferred ” name can be changed at any time without any documentation, it shows up on attendance and display but all legal documents show their legal names. She even adds that – I did this as a child until I was legally able to make the decision to formally change my name.