I had an interesting conversation with an adopter recently. We were talking about names, and she was wondering if she should have changed her daughter’s name when she was placed as it’s so unusual.
If you’re not familiar with adoption, you might be under the impression that changing the name of a newly placed child is something that an adopter is easily able to do. And indeed, once that child officially becomes ‘yours’, you can, in theory, do whatever you want with their names.
However, Social Services drilled it into us at every opportunity before we applied to adopt, during our preparation course, throughout our home-study and before presenting any children’s profiles to us that we would be expected to keep the child’s given name, and even thinking about changing their first name was absolutely unacceptable.
Why? Well, names form part of our identity. For many of our children, their name is the only thing they have from their birth parents. It’s their name – it belongs to them. To take that away from a child could be catastrophic for them. Although, it seems that changing or dropping middle names is more acceptable.
We were only ever shown Mini’s profile – 2 weeks after we were approved (a short wait thankfully). He sounded perfect on paper, we were shown a photo and he was (and still is) gorgeous, his name was the only thing about him that our social worker thought would put us off. Yes – it was that unusual. His first name was hyphenated, and the first part wasn’t a name I’ve ever heard of. We actually quite liked it, and talked about how we could drop the second part of his name, or if we just used the initials of both parts we could make another name entirely. It certainly didn’t put us off, and we were happy to proceed knowing that we could work around it, without actually changing his name.
However, the further along we got in the process of being matched for this child, the more Social Services felt that this unusual name could cause us problems later on in placement, especially coupled with his middle names, one of which was completely made up. They felt it was too identifiable (given the proximity to birth family, and the risks they posed), and despite all the preparation to the contrary, we were advised to consider changing it. We knew they were serious because they’d spent so long telling us why we shouldn’t change it, to make such a turnaround meant it was incredibly important.
We then had to choose a name for a child who we’d never met. Yes, I know most birth parents have names picked out during their pregnancy, or at least a couple to choose from and they haven’t met their children when they do this. But our child, this gorgeous little boy already had a character, he was already someone, and we had a matter of days (not 9 months) to pick a name. We’d already decided that we would give him a new middle name – that of my father. Now we also had to decide on a first name, whether to keep any of his birth names, which ones and which order they’d be in. Put on the spot in a meeting of social workers, we settled on his new first name, my father’s name, and then his original hyphenated birth name. This was followed by our own surname. This meant dropping his two birth middle names, but we were all comfortable with this because we were keeping that all important first name.
So names chosen, we then had to think about how to actually change his name because of course at 13months old, he knew and responded to his name. It’s much easier than we originally thought…we spent the first 3 weeks of placement calling him by the first part of his birth name (i.e Austin), then he became Austin-Mini for 2 weeks, then finally we were able to call him Mini.
However, the reality of remembering which point of this process we were at, and remembering to call him the right name was difficult. Until Mini was ours, he was still officially Austin, so during meetings and at LAC reviews, he was still referred by his birth name. We had to register him at the doctors in his birth name, but had to ask them not to call out for him in the surgery. We worried throughout this process about whether it was right and whether it would work. Thankfully it did. And he’s most definitely Mini…though I can still see that Austin would suit him.
Some days I regret changing his name. His birth name really did suit him and his personality. But I know that we had to protect us and our family, and this was the only way.
I write all our contact letters in his old name because his birth family don’t know that we’ve changed it. I’ve always felt they should know, and because his name now is fairly common it wouldn’t matter so much if they know what it is, they’re still not likely to find us via it. But Social Services feel it wouldn’t be beneficial to anyone so I have to remember to refer to him as Austin, and then have to triple check each letter before I email it on to the letterbox co-ordinator. The few responses we have had therefore refer to him as Austin. When he’s a bit older and looks through those letters, he’ll see that we haven’t been honest with his birth parents and I wonder how he’ll feel about that. Thankfully I’ve got the correspondence from Social Services where they tell me not to divulge his name in contact letters.
Although his birth name is in part of his current name, we only use it on official documents. Mini knows what it is, but frequently forgets it. He knows why each part of his name is what it is. He’s quite protective over his first name…and gets upset if we call him by a shortened version or a nickname sometimes. I only hope that when he grows up, he really understands why we had to change it.