A major topic for reform in adoption is in regard to the adoptee’s name. Today’s story is complicated and long and so I’ll try to summarize it. There was an oops when bi racial boy/girl twins were born to supposedly white biological parents. When they were born, their mom put her husband’s last name on their birth certificate. However, it was determined that he was not in fact their dad. So, the twins last name was changed to their mom’s maiden name. For rather obvious reasons, her husband did not wish to parent these children and so they were put up for adoption.
They are now 7-1/2 years old and their adoption will most likely be finalized in the next couple of months. The soon to be adoptive parents are in contact with these twins older half siblings. One of the twins is the only one of all the siblings without a double letter in their name but they did not want it changed. The issue of what their last name will be has been handled delicately. One twin wanted to keep their last name but add the adoptive parents’ last name, the other twin just wanted the adoptive parents’ last name. Recently, one twin asked, “since the adoption is coming up, can I change my name?”
This is the same child that didn’t want to change the spelling of their first name, now they want to change the name completely. When the kids (both the soon to be adoptive parent’s biological children and these twins) play dress up, they have alter egos. They go by their alter ego names while playing pretend. The twins will even go by their alter ego name when they change their hair style from natural to braids, twist, finger curls, etc. for a day or so. This child is asking to change their name to their alter ego name and they said, “you can spell it anyway you want.”
Almost every child, at some point in their childhood, will go through a phase of trying a different name. So the almost adoptive parents said it takes a judge to change your name, no matter the reason. There are situations where names are changed – when you get married and you can change your last name, if you correct your gender you can change all of your names, at adoption names are often changed and you can keep all of the names your first family gave you or change parts of your name, and at the age you are grown up if you just really dislike your name, you can change it then.
Another adoptive parents said – I wish no one brought up name change at adoption. It makes it seem like something that should happen, and I no longer think it should. I also think it’s a lot to ask a kid to make a decision about this, especially a kid with adoption related trauma.
A domestic infant adoptee said – I think giving a kid the opportunity to make a decision about their huge upcoming life shift that is completely out of their control, gives them a tiny bit of control back when things are so rocky. However I still believe the first name change can happen as a nickname, let her go by that but let her choose her last name for the adoption finalization. Then, when she is older, if she has kept that nickname for years, then as a teenager let her consider changing it legally.
Another adoptive parent shared – In our case, I screwed it up in the worst way. We changed all her names with her “choosing” from several names we were considering. But keeping it the same wasn’t presented as an equal choice. She was 4 years old at the time. She is 8 years old now and sometimes she wants to change back, sometimes she wants a friend’s name, sometimes she’s happy with what it is. We are now in reunion with her birth family, through a relative who adopted her younger siblings when they were born and we have discussed the name changes we made, our reasoning, and how we feel now. Both of us independently decided that we will support any changes the kids want, when they are adults but we will pay the court costs. I don’t think there are any right answers but my main regret is that keeping the name at birth was not presented as an option. I’ve heard adoptees say that with so much taken away from them, their name should remain the same.
Another adoptee said – I’m a non-binary trans person who has changed the name they go by as an adult. Let them go by the name they want to legally change it to – immediately. Start calling them by that name. Don’t give the legal name change a deadline (the legal adoption finalization date). These are two distinctly different things and while they are connected, each needs its own timeline. You can help them by discussing if they like the name. If they go by it for a long period of time, then you can discuss legally changing their name. I recommend this because of their young age and the already overwhelming situation of the adoption being finalized. Names are a GIFT, and if that gift no longer works for them, they can give it back and find one that meets their needs now. Changing the name during adoption seems to layer on trauma but for an older trans person I think it removes trauma.
Yet another adoptee shares – I was different because I’m neurodivergent. I wanted to change my name to fit in, rather than have a name no one connected to. When I grew up, I changed my name. Always Always go with what the kid wants. It just doesn’t have to be legally changed until they’re older and had a long time to think about it. Kids are still discovering themselves.