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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ask an Adoptee: What Should our Daughters' Names be?

By Amanda

An Adoptive Parent asks....

"We are an American family who recently came back from living in Africa for 4 1/2 years. During our time there we adopted twin girls. We are very fortunate to know some of their family.. When we met the girls at the orphanage they hadn't been given names. We had the opportunity to ask their family about names they would like us to give them, or ways we could try to incorporate family names from their family with names from our family. They actually didn't want to help name the girls because they said they are ours now, and we should name them. We took a long time to explain that they are not just ours that they will always be a part of their family too and we want to honor them and connect them to their family. Finally they told us names of various family members and we chose their paternal grandmother's name for one of their middle names and their mother's name (who died at birth) for the other's middle name. We then chose names that were french (as we lived in a french speaking African country) and that were also names of well known African women who fought for independence in various ways. So, both girls have first names that we chose but that are significant African women which are easily pronounced and familiar in their country and also middle names of their family (of origin/birth). And then they have our last name. I have been reading more and more adult adoptee literature I have read a few posts about adoptees trying to incorporate their family name (of origin/birth) into their current names or change their name altogether. We have a chance to change their names before they get readopted in the U.S. My question is this, should we consider adding to their middle names by adding the last name of their father as a second middle name? So they would have their current first names, the next name would be a family (birth) members names, and then the next name would be the same for both of them and would be their father's (birth) last name, and then our family last name. I will be honest in saying that there is some painful hard past with their father, but I still think I want to consider it. (My father failed me in many personal ways growing up, to the point of abandonment, but I still kept his last name as a middle name when a I got married, I still wanted the connection.)"

First of all, I think the amount of thoughtfulness you put into naming your daughters is wonderful.  There's a small part of me that believes that names are meaningful and powerful to the individuals they are bestowed upon.  I purposely named my sons after family members that I admire; my adoptive father, my adoptive grandfather, my husband, and my father in law.  As I am one of the adoptees who will be changing my legal name to incorporate my maternal and paternal original surnames into my middle name, I thought I would respond to this question.

It sounds to me like this is something you want to consider and if you think it is the right thing to do, perhaps it is something to consider.  I can't answer as to what you should do.  But I can speak from my own thoughts about my own pending name change in hopes that it might help you.

The connectedness is important to me too.  This is why I am choosing to incorporate my original surnames into my middle name.  My biological father was not a particularly nice person and I did worry that me adding his name to mine would make it look like I wanted to honor him in some way.  I have to remind myself that is not why I am doing it.  I am taking it back because it is mine.  The heritage is mine.  His ancestors are my ancestors.  My paternal family members are also wonderful people who can't be labeled by the things that he did.  I won't deny my rich heritage because of the bad things he has done.  And believe me, the man was despicable.  My name change is about me, not him.

Are they old enough to express what they would like their names to be?  Is this something they would be able to change later if they decide they do not want the name included any longer?

If it is of any solace to you, I will tell you that I am not changing my name because I think my adoptive parents did a bad job.  It is a cultural norm in U.S. society to change a child's name upon decree of adoption.  My parents had a name already picked out and were excited to give me this name that was packed with meaning.  They did not know my original name; they were not permitted to.  And perhaps, even if they did know my original name, they would have chosen not to keep it.  Not out of disrespect to my original mother who named me so carefully and thoughtfully, but because that's something that goes along with adoption, I guess.  I had three different first and last names before my first birthday.  It sort of symbolizes the blank slate everyone in the 1980's still thought I must have been.  My parents had no way of foreseeing what names I would want.  My name change isn't about correcting something they did wrong because they didn't do anything wrong; it's about me.

So I guess what I am simply trying to say is that whatever you choose will be meaningful and special because it was chosen by you, a person who loves and cares for your daughters.  If they choose to change something about their names later on as adults, it won't be the end of the world, and it won't be because you didn't name them with thoughtfulness, love, and care.  And that's what really matters.


  1. I admire these adoptive parents for being so thoughtful and caring in naming their twin daughters. My father was the reason I was given up fo adoption and yet at one time I looked into changing my surname to his. Many people were surprised by this because during my mother's pregnancy he was adamant about not giving me his name. However, in this culture children take their father's names and his name IS mine. It links me to my family line whether he wanted that or not. It makes me feel connected to the people I come from and as in your case there is nothing wrong with the other members of my paternal family. As adults I think we adoptees should be able to use whatever name we are comfortable with.

    Kudos to adoptive parents who understand that the child is still connected to his/her biological roots.

  2. "I am taking it back because it is mine. The heritage is mine. His ancestors are my ancestors. My paternal family members are also wonderful people who can't be labeled by the things that he did. I won't deny my rich heritage because of the bad things he has done." This line in your post speaks volumnes to me. by changing your name back you are re-claiming something that should never have been taken from you. Why is it up to the adoptee to re-claim their identity? why is it not up to the adoptive parent to honour that identity. I realize it is common in adoption to change the child's name but I don't feel that it makes it right to do so. Perhaps this is yet another thing that needs to be reformed about adoption, along with the other undesirable adoption practices like sealing the OBC that adoptees are fighting to change.

  3. Amanda, I am in the process of doing the same thing as you -- legally changing my middle to my original maternal/paternal surnames. And like you, it has nothing to do with my adoptive parents. I'm doing it for ME, and for my own reasons.


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