May 1, 2009

Naming Your Adopted Child

Adoption is one of the most beautiful ways to make a family. For adults who want to give love to a child in need, or those who are longing to fulfill their wish of becoming a parent, it’s a perfect option.

A name is the first gift that a child receives, and adoptive parents often want to participate in that. Since they can face a variety of circumstances that are a little different from naming a biological child, here are some factors that come into play.

International Adoption

If you are adopting a baby from another country, the naming process should include cultural considerations. In these cases, the child will most likely already have a name by the time you meet. Sometimes the given name the baby has may be difficult for Americans to pronounce, or there may be unintended connotations that lead the parents to rename. But even if you are able to choose the name right away you may want to consider:

Age and Naming Your Adopted Child

Newborns–6 Months
If you are adopting a child from birth or soon thereafter, you will have input on what the baby is to be named. Often the birth parents and adoptive parents come to an agreement about how the name will be chosen. Sometimes the birth mother picks the first or middle name. Other times the adoptive parents choose the name on their own, which may or may not include naming the baby after the birth mother in some way.

6–24 Months
Around this age, a child learns to respond to his or her name. In fact, it may be one of the few words they know how to say. If you do want to rename the baby, it’s feasible to use a similar name (check out the list of options later in this post) if the name is phased in. A new name becomes a problem when the child doesn’t respond, so you may want to try out similar names with your baby before you make a decision.

Two Years and Older
Often at this age most adoptive parents choose not to rename the child. That’s because the child’s name is very much a part of his identity, and it’s a must for parents to keep that in mind. The child experiences a big transition in adjusting to a new lifestyle and becoming part of a new family. Since you’ll already be passing on your surname, it might be best to avoid a change that could cause identity problems.

If you do want to rename after this point, the decision must be in the best interest of the child. On one hand, the child may be old enough to express a desire to have a new name; or it may be done for safety reasons. On the other hand, it may feel negative for the child to remove the association with his identity and past, even if it was a difficult one. If the child wants to keep his name, don’t force it. Consider the child’s thoughts and feelings, and discuss it with him before making a legal change.

Renaming Options and Examples

Most experts feel that making a radical change should only be considered if there are special circumstances. So below are some ways to keep the child’s name similar enough that their identity is not lost, but different enough to embrace their new family.
  • Changing the spelling of the name (while keeping the pronunciation the same.)
    Kayla becomes Kaila, Jason becomes Jayson
  • Changing the middle name only
  • Choosing a name that rhymes or is very similar in sound.
    Veronica becomes Victoria, Taylor becomes Tyler
  • Choosing a name that begins with the same few letters and sounds. Emily becomes Emma, Michael becomes Micah
  • Changing the child’s name to a variation of the same name (Andrew becomes Drew, Alexandra becomes Alexis), or vice-versa if the child’s full name is already a variation or short name that could be lengthened (Beth becomes Elizabeth, Pax becomes Paxton).
  • Using the child’s previous surname as a middle name.
    This might be done to honor the biological family. Aubrey Rose Smith becomes Aubrey Smith Jones or Aubrey Rose Smith Jones

Sources and More Information

Raising Adopted Children by Lois Ruskai Melina
An excellent book for adoptive parents that discusses the journey of adoption and special issues. Includes a section on naming.

Naming an Adopted Child
Choosing a name that connects with the child’s past

Getting Ready for Your Adopted Child
An article that leads with information on naming your child.

Considerations for Naming Your Trans-racially or Inter-Culturally Adopted Child
Discusses naming issues that are specific to international adoption.

Re-naming Adopted Children: A Guide for Workers (PDF)
While this is speaking to social workers, it contains valuable insights for parents as well.

One more note: If you are having trouble choosing a name that sounds similar to another name, or finding an international name that works well for Americans to pronounce, feel free to contact me for name suggestions.

Featured names in this post:
Andrew ~ Elizabeth ~ Micah ~ Nathaniel ~ Tyler ~ Victoria

The Honest Company


  1. What a well researched and sensitively written article. Thanks for adding the extra links too. I'll be sure to recommend this post to others!

  2. This was really interesting; thanks. We got our son as an infant, so we named him family names and didn't have to worry about him being used to something else. I know, though, that his birth mother still thinks of him by the name she gave him.


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