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changing first names

(72 Posts)
Lovesoftplay Tue 11-Sep-12 17:09:41

I am just wondering what everybody's opinion is about changing the first names of children who are adopted?

No particular reason other than it seems to come up all the time during discussions with other adoptive parents.

Our LA did not encourage it throughout training or during homestudy, however, they had no issue when we changed one of our children's names when he was placed with us. We changed it to a name that is less recognisable, as his birth first name was very awful unique.

What do you think?

junowiththegladrags Wed 12-Sep-12 16:45:43

We were fully prepared to take on what ever name our child came with as so much time was spent on our training day about the significance of birth names.
If it had been a worst nightmare such as Chardonnay Fricasee then we would of found a way to shorten it for day to day use.
I would of worried that using the full version when meeting family/friends extra judgments would be made about the background and birth parents which is not helpful or fair to the child.

As it turns out we were asked to change the name for security as birth mother had insisted on a totally unique/inappropriate name which s/s felt was her way of guaranteeing being able to trace him. We've chosen one which is common but lovely.
No one other than dh and I know his original name at the moment as we plan on telling him it "at an age appropriate" time and letting him tell people if/when he wants.
That's the plan anywaysmile

junowiththegladrags Wed 12-Sep-12 18:19:31

Just realised that my previous post sounds like I'm a hairy handed bridge dweller as my other thread is about waiting for intros's to start.
We were asked by the s/s to give a name already as the paed was worried about him being confused with the change.
The thought being that the earlier f/c could start calling him by the new one the easier it would be.

Offredalba Wed 12-Sep-12 19:50:46

I don't think any of us can be sure of every issue that may hurt our children, and I do take your point that adoptive parents may be more likely to evaluate the possible significance of naming children than most birth parents will find necessary. There can be no doubt that adoptive parents have the right to make this change, or we wouldn't be having this discussion.
Clearly some children have become available for adoption, who have the need to be protected from their families, and no one could question steps which preserve their safety. Why then do adoption professionals advise against name change?

Here are a few quotes from adoption UK:
And changing a name can have a long-lasting impact on some adoptees as Amy, whose name was changed at six weeks of age, recalls: “I did not discover my birth name until I was 24, and it had a huge impact on me. I almost felt schizophrenic, who was I, X or Y?

“I felt as if part of me had been rejected by my adoptive parents. I felt like a ‘thing’ rather than a person. I felt that my birth mum (who had wanted to keep me), had been dishonoured."

“Maybe other adoptees feel differently, but my name change gave me another issue to deal with that my adoptive parents could have spared me.”
If you look further at some of the adult adoptee blogs, you will see many such comments and many of them expressed more forcefully. It seems to be an issue for adopted adults.
While renaming an adopted child may prove helpful in assimilating them into families and communities when they are young, it may resonate quite differently as they move through adolescence and into adulthood.

Lilka Wed 12-Sep-12 20:31:22

I've seen adopted adults who did not feel entirely happy with name changes, I've seen adults who were entirely happy. I've seen adults who wish their names had been changed. Every adult feels differently, and there is little you can really generalise when it comes to adoption

And as the nature of adoption has changed somewhat since the 60's, some issues that will be faced by this generation of children are different from those faced by previous ones. Which is likely to generate a different range of feelings

Either way, none of us has a crystal ball, and none of us knows how our children will feel as adults. Maybe my DS will always feel the way he does now, or maybe as an teenager/adult he will feel more connected to his original first name or wish things could have been different

But however he feels, I will be able to look him in the eyes, and tell him that I made the decision I felt to be the best with what facts I had available to me at the time, and that I made a decision loving and thinking of him and his interests, not my own. And that's really as much as any of us can hope to be able to do, I think

Fishwife1949 Wed 12-Sep-12 20:35:01

I think also a name change mite be needed if its so out of step with your birth children it will mark them out

Eg ou have a janet a max and then adopted children valentnio usher jay i think people would always be a bit baffled

Sadly bening a foster carer turning adopter this is a issue wth the names often ill thought out by the birth parents popular drinks, labels and pop singers are common

It will depend how old the child is babys then fair enough but older children thats a tuff one

But also dont under estaimate people giving their bc odd names so they can tack them later but in all fairness i dont think the names are thought through and are very common with looked after children

Kewcumber Wed 12-Sep-12 20:53:30

Offredalba - I'm not sure you can compare standard adoption practice and preparation of adoptive parents currently with what would have been acceptable 20/30/40 or more years ago which is what you are referring to when you talk about adult adoptees having an issue with names changes. I would also suggest that much of the problem you refer to specifically "I did not discover my birth name until I was 24" is not about a name change but about secrecy and trust. Decades ago there was not the understanding of the issues around adoption, identity and belonging that there is now.

If you search and read any of my posts over the past 6/7 years you will find I am 100% against keeping any information secret from an adopted child. Any at all.

DS knows (and has always known from before he really understood what it meant) what his name was before he was adopted by me. He understands that he has a name given by me, a name given to him in the hospital and a family name which is now our family name. He also understands that he used to have a different family name which was the family name his birth mother gave (false) - in the same way you can change your family name when you marry so that everyone in the family has the same name.

I don't believe having this explanation will damage him any more than having a first name which is easily shortened to a swear word equivalent to "Shit". Of course I could be wrong, such is the lot of a parent. I still believe it was the right choice for him. I'm still not convinced that even in the long term he will feel any stronger attachment to a name given him by an anonymous doctor and a false surname given by his birth mother than a first name given to him by me, a second name given to him by an anonymous doctor and a family name the same as the majority of people he loves.

You really don't need to educate me about the feeling of adoptees (adult or child) albeit well-intentioned, I am quite well versed in the various issues and opinions and also live with it on a day to day basis.

Parenting as I'm sure you'd agree is a series of impossible decisions, adoptive parenting even more so because you are starting from a point of pain and loss. Maybe one day my DS will come on here and agree with you that I have got it completely wrong and maybe he (and you) will be right. But he won't be able to complain that I wasn't open and honest with him and that anything I did was after a great deal of thought and with his welfare in mind.

Kewcumber Wed 12-Sep-12 20:54:43

and I took so long to phrase that carefully that I cross posted with Lilka believe it or not (who kinda said what I did but MUCH shorter!)

Offredalba Wed 12-Sep-12 21:13:41


I believe that these are three separate quotes, and only one of them relates to secrecy, which I entirely agree with you about.

Since you are well versed in this topic, can you explain to me why the professional advice to not change names is wrong? Can you also explain to me, how the differences in adoption nowadays would impact on adoptees feelings about identity and name change?
You said that ...

Decades ago there was not the understanding of the issues around adoption, identity and belonging that there is now.

...... but is that not why different advice is given nowadays about identity issues such as names?

I would genuinely like to hear answers about this, and offer no criticism of any decision that anyone on this discussion has made.

Lilka Wed 12-Sep-12 21:45:04

It isn't about 'right' and 'wrong', whatever any professional says....when it comes to this type of issue, there is no right and wrong, no black or white, no blanket and magical answers. And you know, I'm sure most adoptive parents would love a big book of answers to every difficult, soul searching decision they ever have to make, a definitive guide to doing it right. But there is no such thing, and no advice from anybody applies to all situations

Adoption now is very different to then. There's the secrecy aspect, we are much more open now about everything. Attitudes have changed enormously. Contact has changed, and now we have to contend with facebook and social media and the potential fallout.

But the main difference is in why adoption in the first place. Years ago, children were adopted when they born to single mothers who felt the full force of society's condemnation. Nowadays, there are very very few relinquished babies. Nearly all children are adopted because they were taken away from their original parents...violence, neglect, sexual abuse, drugs exposure, mental illnesses, chaos, abandonnement....our new openness includes talking to our children about their frequently painful stories. I think their feelings about certain adoption issues, maybe names included, are likely to be impacted by that.

Incidentally, I am aware that some LA'a are now much more amenable to name changing now, as they have become aware of the dangers of tracing, social media etc

Kewcumber Wed 12-Sep-12 21:51:59

I was not given any categorical advice not to name change. No-one batted an eyelid (social worker or court) when I said I was changing DS's first name when I explained the reasons.

We discussed in our prep courses issues around changing name including whether who named the child, security issues, name appropriateness for their new life etc. It was also a subject raised on the home study and discussed with my social worker. There was no intention (and I haven't come across it since either) on the part of adoptive parents on my prep course to name-change just because they fancied naming the child themselves which is what the norm was decades ago. These days far fewer people change their child's name because most people understand the trade off between the possibility that changing a childs first name will turn out to be a problem for the child in the long run and the real problems that living with their original name brings.

What it boils down to is the weighing up of the possibility of identity issues versus the problems that are already obvious with the existing name.

It is also in my, possibly limited, experience vanishingly rare in the UK for parents these days not to keep the first name but add another name which is used publically. So the child would have a name from each family, both birth and adoptive.

My point about there being changes to attitudes and training these days wasn't perhaps well explained. My experience of adoptions years ago (I do have personal experience to base my views on) is that the issues about name-changes are rarely about name changes alone. Adoption wasn't discussed, it wasn't encouraged that adoptive parents did this, birth parents weren't talked about, life story books weren't used as a tool for a child to make sense of the different parts of their life and how it adds up to the person they are.

Leaving a childs birth name isn't going to create them a sense of identity on its own and neither will changing their name "steal" their identity.

I originally said that I didn't see the value in making a general rule because every situation was so different and I stick by that. I suppose I would ask you to comment on my specific case.

In my position what would you do...

The child you adopt has been given the name Shitto Gryzinsyzk.
Shitto was given by a doctor at the maternity hospital where your DS was born but there is no record of who that was. Local staff express some surprise as the name is a masculine version of a slightly uncommon girls name and its rarely used for boys - say Hilary in the UK. The consensus of opinion locally is that the doctor had probably had a bad day at work.
Despite this you become quite fond of the name Shitto and seriously consider keeping it.
Gryzinsysk is the family name given by the birth mother at the hospital which has subsequently been shown to be false. You make efforts to trace her to no avail.
Your surname is Thomas.

What would you do?

Kewcumber Wed 12-Sep-12 22:04:28

"I would genuinely like to hear answers about this, and offer no criticism of any decision that anyone on this discussion has made."

I do think that is slightly disingenuous - you don't think adoptive parents should change their children's names and you have made that quite clear and clearly don't think we realise the potential problems it can bring. I don't have any real issues with this you are entitled to your own opinion.

Most of us either have in the past or continue to use Adoption UK forums and I don't know how many real life current adoptive parents you know but on the whole we are a fairly well considered bunch. We have had every possible lifetime problem our (potential) children may have thrust upon us at various stages of the adoption process and have had to face up to our own possible inadequacies in dealing with these problems in order to get as far as parenting the real children we now have. I guess what I'm trying to say is that we are fairly robust about dealing with criticism/judgment - you don't need to pretend that you agree with our choices.

Kewcumber Wed 12-Sep-12 22:08:59

Sorry that last post doesn't quite say what I intended it too. In my defence DS is back to having sleep issues since his return to school so I'm a bit sleep deprived and I'd forgotten what it feels like!

Italiangreyhound Wed 12-Sep-12 22:09:48

Kew I think you did the right thing and as you say, or Lilka said, you make decisions on the best knowledge you have at the time etc.

I also agree identity is about a lot more than a name.

Anyway, I just wanted to chip in. You know tons more than me, and your honesty is very informative so thank you for sharing and I am sure your little lad will be happy with his name because he will be happy with himself and you and wider family setting (just my opinion! wink

Devora Wed 12-Sep-12 22:22:05

Offredalba, IME social workers generally advise against name-changing for two reasons. First is that, generally speaking, it is good advice (and most children are adopted at an age when they know their name). Second, because inevitably on prep course you get given general advice, not advice tailored to your particular situation.

Sometimes, frankly, the social worker simply doesn't think through the situation carefully enough. In my case, we adopted a child intending to keep her name intact, except for regularising the spelling (we'll never know whether the bm was trying to be unique, or was simply illiterate, but it simply isn't fair for a small child to have to constantly insist that yes, their name IS spelt that way). As the months ticked past, information kept trickling out about the birth father. Not accepting of the adoption as we had been told, but deeply bitterly angry and distressed. Further, we discovered that this is a man with a big track record of extreme violence. The social worker kept saying ooh, I bet he's got criminal contacts EVERYWHERE, you'd better watch your back (stupid, stupid woman). This was AFTER he had been told who we are, that we have a birth child etc.

I didn't feel safe. I didn't feel I could keep my children safe. The social worker agreed we weren't safe (without any apology for not having assessed this risk right at the start, before she gave him essential information about us). The only solution she could offer was to change dd's name.

If I'd known all this when we were matched, when dd was a small baby, damn right I would have changed her name. She could have kept her birth name as a middle name, and the risk of her resenting this in later years seems to me a small price to pay for the safety of the entire family.

I do not believe this situation is very unusual. Remember that very few birth parents relinquish their children - most are angry and distressed (understandably) at having their children taken away from them. And remember that a high proportion of birth parents have problems with drugs, alcohol, mental illness, antisocial behaviour. Security risks are a big concern for many if not most adoptive parents.

Like most adoptive parents, I take very seriously my responsibility to keep my child connected with her past. She is only 2, but we talk about her story, I show her photos of her birth parents, she has a lockable box in her room where I keep the things she was given by her birth family. Her name is part of that, but it's not the only way to show respect for a child's birth identity, and sometimes there are more important considerations.

Devora Wed 12-Sep-12 22:23:16

Kew's son has one of my favourite names in the world smile

LocoParentis Wed 12-Sep-12 22:24:47

Kew in your circumstances I would have done exactly the same.

However I don't know how I feel about changing the name of a child. Especially one who already knows their name.

I think it's got to be different in each situation and sometimes its the right thing to do and sometimes its the wrong thing to do.

I don't really think it's fair for anyone to sit judgement on another parent for making a decision they felt was in the best interests of their child.

Interesting thread, very interesting to get other peoples views on this.

When discussing our potential DC's my DH and I have taken to giving them imaginary unusual chavvy names to prepare ourselves for shouting them across soft play in the future!

Offredalba Wed 12-Sep-12 22:50:59

I think I would take very similar action to you, and I think that your child would be unlikely to disagree with you on it.
However, I think that you are missing the point about identity and name change. In adoption, children have lost their parents, grandparents,uncles, aunts cousins, pets, schoolfriends and fairly often siblings. There must have been excellent reasons for the courts to take that action. They are left with one thing which connects them to their biological heritage and that is then removed from them too. Can you appreciate that it may indicate to a child, or even an adult in retrospect, that there was nothing of their original life that could be valued in their adoptive family? Since many children already mistakenly absorb blame for their own adoptions, I think that name change needs a very substantial justification.

I assume that is the rationale behind the prevalent advice from adoption agencies, but I don't know, and that is why I have asked.

I do think that we need to listen to what adoptees say about their experiences, if we are to do the best for our children. It is laudable. that secrecy is no longer acceptable in adoption, but there are still issues of guilt and shame, and telling a child that their biological parents couldn't even pick out an acceptable name for them could be seen as another way of saying to them that their genetically inherited traits are not good enough in this family either.

Devora Wed 12-Sep-12 23:10:06

Yes, Offredalba, I do understand that. Upthread I said, "I do think that it should not be done without really careful thought. I don't think it's acceptable to do it because their name is not to your taste; you need to be really careful about messing with a child's sense of their identity."

I went on to say: "There's a natural tendency for adoptive parents to want to name a child, to claim them, perhaps to give them a family name with huge meaning... I DON'T think this need trumps the child's need to retain their own identity - quite the opposite."

And then later, I said, "social workers generally advise against name-changing for two reasons... generally speaking, it is good advice".

So I don't know why you think I am missing the point, or that I don't understand the issues. I am simply pointing out some of the exceptions to the rule, and suggesting that this issue is not as clear-cut as it may seem at first.

Can I just ask: are you an adoptive parent? If so, didn't you go through all this stuff in prep course? Or are you a non-adopter who thinks that this is new information for us?

Offredalba Wed 12-Sep-12 23:20:03


Sorry, I did not make it clear that I was responding to kewcumber. I did see your previous commnents and thought that they were spot on.

Devora Wed 12-Sep-12 23:24:38

Ok I'll stop being arsey then grin

bran Wed 12-Sep-12 23:32:08

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Lilka Wed 12-Sep-12 23:45:00

A name is not the only thing they bring with them. Looks, personality, talents etc. I have an open adoption with my younger two's first mother, and through our contact DD2 knows where her eyes, her smile, her love for knitting/sewing, some of her personality traits come from. Our children get much more than names from their original parents, and I hope that DS will never feel that by giving him a new first name I was choosing not to value all of his heritage. I do value his original first name, it's still part of his name. I also value many other things he has which I did not give him. The name is far from the sum of their birth parents contribution to their self.

Italiangreyhound Thu 13-Sep-12 00:45:19

Yes Lilka agree with your comments. Birth parents contribute/give a lot to their children, not just a name.

Lovesoftplay Thu 13-Sep-12 08:16:35

I have certainly achieved my aim of finding out what everyone's views on name changing are!

I totally agree with Lilka about our children being more than a name. I look at my youngest especially and he looks so much like his birth mother that it's scary really. I haven't met a child look so like a parent before.

Names are a contentious issue, and I see why people become very adamant about their views, however, in principle I do agree with name changes. This is for a variety of reasons, however, security was the reason we changed our son's name.

I find it hard to be lectured on about how I should feel as an adoptive parent, and I certainly do not grieve because I am an adoptive parent. The opposite really, I feel that I am extremely lucky to have my sons and fully accept their past (names included) as being a part of what makes them so fantastic. Their resilience is to be commended and they have come through trauma that most adults would not cope with. That, our input now, and their personalities are what make them who they are. Not something so simple as just their names.

Kewcumber Thu 13-Sep-12 14:59:01

Offredalba - you really don't need to teach me about what my child has lost out on by being adopted - it is something he lives with and by extension so do I, it is a part of the fabric of our life.

I'm slightly confused by your approach to this discussion which appears to be to try to teach me what I don't understand about adoption and the losses my child has suffered and implying I that I really haven't understood this and how I need to listen to adult adoptees.

I have read adult adoptees views extensively - more to the point I have close personal contact with adult adoptees both as friends and family and every one of their opinions is totally different on almost every matter related to their adoption. It helps inform me on the choices and discussions I have with DS but can't substitute for my own judgement in what is right for him (particularly as none of them agree!).

I can't really go over everything I've said again because it was too verbose in the first place and everyone else might lose the will to live so I shall just repeat a couple of points.

"I don't think its possible to generalise as each case is so different"
"What it boils down to is the weighing up of the possibility of identity issues versus the problems that are already obvious with the existing name."
"I've never come across a single adoptive parent who has changed their child's name without a great deal of soul searching."

I am not suggesting that parents should change their childrens names, but sometimes there isn't an ideal solution, just a least bad solution.

Its a difficult decision to make and not one that birth parents have to face and not one that should be taken lightly and I'm happy to expect adopters to justify their decision to their social worker (even though that is a moral obligation not a legal one). I also expect to justify my decision to DS. But not to anyone else.

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