What’s In A Name?

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When choosing a name for your child there are many things to think about. All parents want the perfect name for their child and adoption brings special consideration to this task. There are no strict guidelines, but there are some helpful things to keep in mind when looking for that perfect name.

In domestic adoption there can be several possible situations. Sometimes birth parents do not choose a name at all and leave this task completely up to the adoptive family. There are also times, especially in open adoption, when birth parents and adoptive parents together choose the name for the baby. Some families have even asked the birth mother to be completely responsible to choose the middle name. If you have the opportunity to discuss names, you can ask her about names that she is thinking about or names that might be important to her or what is important about those names to her. You don’t have to be afraid or secretive about sharing the names you like and why these names are important to you.

Some birth parents may choose to name the baby themselves and sometimes you do not have the opportunity to be a part of the discussion of giving the child their birth name. If the baby you are adopting has already been given a name by his/her birth parents, keeping the name or incorporating it as a middle name can be a special way to honor the birth parents. If she has a certain name picked out already, you can ask if there is any special meaning behind the name or special reason why she chose it. Finding out why the birth parents chose the name can be enlightening and provide much information for educating your child about their adoption story and maintain a link to their birth family history.

Even when you don’t have the opportunity to discuss names with the birth parents, some families have elected to use the birth mother’s chosen name as a first or middle name, or have even used a birth parent name as a middle name. Combining a given name with a new name can foster a feeling of shared responsibility for the baby’s future. Keeping some piece of a chosen birth name, perhaps even as a middle name, sends the message that a child’s birth parents and past have been honored and accepted by the adoptive family. Even if you choose not to use a given name, knowing the story behind the selection of the name is important, and you can always share it with a child later in life as part of their adoption story.

In both traditional and open adoptions where the birth parents named the child, many adoptive parents are thoughtfully choosing to keep a version of the child’s birth name to honor the birth parent and have a connection with the child’s past.

In international adoption your child will often be older and will be used to his given name. Many adoption professionals recommend keeping the child’s original name as a first name for children older than one year. This name is already part of the child’s identity and they have learned to respond to this name. Some international adoptive parents have also chosen a new first name and used part of their ethnic name as a middle name, then using both names initially as a way of helping the child transition to the new name. Another option might be to keep the child’s birth name but give it an American twist, such as changing Andrei to Andrew. Approaching naming your child with sensitivity is important. Sometimes the child’s ethnic name may be too cumbersome or unusual in the American culture and may lead to confusion or difficulty for the child with peers in school. For school aged children, parents can talk to them about the name and may find a version of their birth name that they would prefer. Another idea some families choose is to use the child’s ethnic name as a pet name or nickname, even if the child’s legal name has been changed to an American name. Combining the child’s existing name with a new name often provides a positive solution in international adoption as it does in domestic adoption.

In some foreign countries, the name given can have symbolic meaning such as a personality characteristic or symbol connected to the birth date. This is more often true in Asian cultures. Adoptive parents may want to find a way to use this name, or the meaning of the name, as part of the child’s full name. Keeping the name given at birth, or even part of the name, can provide a strong connection to honoring their birth family, and especially one’s culture and country. If you are choosing a completely new name, researching a child’s heritage may help generate ideas for names that are still a connection to their birth family, culture and country.

In conclusion, remember that thoughtfully considering the use of the child’s given birth name, researching why a name was chosen and/or the meaning of names as well as culture and heritage, and choosing a name with a special meaning can be very helpful. A carefully thought out selection of a name chosen in love is a most wonderful gift parents can give their children.

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