In adoption, naming your child is not always a given. We were very blessed that at our first meeting, E's first mom asked us what names we preferred. We were totally open to collaborating together, but when we said we liked "Eli," she was in agreement that it was unique but not too crazy. We had a lot of meaning behind his name, from Hannah's prayer for a son in the first chapters of I Samuel in the Old Testament. He has had, in his life, no other first name than Eli.
In this second adoption, we have had information about quite a large number of children cross our path. Whether through our agency, other agencies we are connected with, or state and national photolistings, we have seen, heard about, or been specifically asked about our ability to parent quite a few children so far. And over half of those children have already been named.
This brings us to an interesting impasse. When you bring a child into your home, you can call them whatever you want. We call Eli "nugget" quite often. You can call an adopted child your preferred name, and change it at finalization. You can call them your preferred name, and use it as a middle name at finalization. You can keep the name they were given by their first parents. There's a myriad of options and choices. Some of the children we have been exposed to, their birth parents are no longer involved and would have no clue if we changed their name. Some birth parents are specifying that they want the name kept. Some children are too little to even know what their name is, and some are old enough to respond to or even say their own name.
A name is a birthright. My name and the story behind it are part of my birth story. My parents have told me about their path to arrive at the name Megan, and other names they considered. My name, now, is a part of me. But at what age was that true? 1? 3? 10? 29?
I don't have answers to this, and I think that its different for every adoptive family. We do not feel that we would change the name of a child old enough to recognize their own name- nine months or so, if developmentally on target. We would not change a name if requested by the birth parents to keep it. We would respect their wishes. But with a named newborn with no input from their birthparents? We aren't sure. My heart leans towards "No, we would not change it." My heart leans towards a picture of a birthmother lovingly and thoughtfully choosing a name for her child, then making a tough choice to place that child for adoption. That name is one of the pieces of emotional luggage that child brings into the adoption. What of a child removed from their birth parents? Well, despite the sadness and loss of a child removed involuntarily, their birth parents will still always be a part of them. Even with no visits, even with no contact, even with changing their name, that child will always have some connection to their first parents. It's not a threat, and it's not a bad thing. That name, same as in a voluntary adoption, is a part of their birthright. We see biblical examples of the importance of the naming of a child when they are born. It's a big deal.
In my seven years experience in social services, I have met a lot of different parents. I have met good parents, parents struggling, parents who have had their children removed from them. I have come to know families broken by addiction, mental illness, and poverty. Bad things have happened, sometimes horrendous things, to their children. But I don't believe that most of those parents had the intention at birth that things would go that way. For the most part, I think when they were looking at that newborn they felt like most of us do- scared, in awe, hopeful for the future. When they bestowed that name on the child, they weren't looking into the future a year or two later when the county comes and takes them. They loved them, and named them. It's hard for me to think of just erasing that with a few strokes on an adoption form.
I would love to hear some different thoughts. Because, I don't know how we will feel if or when confronted with the choice to change a child's name. Will we change it and use their original first name as their middle name? Will we scrap it all together? Will we keep it? These are just my thoughts, right now. I have heard of adult adoptees being furious that their name was changed, as they saw it as one of the vestiges of their family of origin. I have heard of others who it did not bother, or some that have used their original name as the name for their own children someday. I think many people see adoption as a fresh beginning for a child. I used to see it this way, too. But now I see entering into the adoptive family as just part of the life story of a child. A new person is not created that day. They are joining a new family, but are the same person they have been since God breathed life into them.
Have you changed a child's name, or have you decided against it? Did you and the birth family decide on the name together?