There is just something magical about naming a child, isn’t there? I remember as a young girl, dreaming about names for my “someday babies.” Choosing a name for your child is such an important, beautiful gift and responsibility. It’s also a complex, weighty, and emotional decision when you’re talking about naming a child who enters your family through adoption. A large part of that complexity exists in the reality that through adoption, your child will be your child, but your child’s life did not begin in your family. A part of your child’s life and history will forever be connected to their birth family. (Or as one of our kids likes to say, “I have two families!”) That can feel uncomfortable for us to think about as adoptive parents, as well as somewhat confusing. Our child is ours alone, right? As Christians who deeply value our own spiritual adoption, I think we can sometimes unhelpfully conclude that earthly adoption perfectly mirrors spiritual adoption. When God adopted you into His family you became His alone and were given a completely new identity in Christ. But when a child is adopted into a family, their history, story, and connection to their birth family is not obliterated. If you listen to adult adoptees, the majority will say that the sense of somehow being linked to their birth family doesn’t disappear when they become a part of their adoptive family. So in light of that complex reality, let’s talk about two important things to consider in adoption as you choose a name for your child.
1) How can you honor his/her birth parents in the naming process?
Whether your child comes to you through international adoption, domestic adoption, or adoption through foster care, there isn’t a one size fits all approach to choosing a name. Take a deep breath for a moment and ask the Lord to guide you. He loves to give us wisdom as we ask Him for it! An attitude of love and humility acknowledges the importance and value of your child’s birth family as you pick a name; your child’s birth parents are people made in God’s image. If this is a domestic adoption and the child is not yet born, remind yourself-if this mom does decide to place this child for adoption, she is entrusting you with a part of herself and giving you the greatest of all gifts-her child. She will have carried this child, given them life, and made an impossibly difficult decision to place them for adoption. Here are just a few specific ways to honor your child’s birth parent(s) in the naming process:
- If it’s possible (and is not the rare occasion where there’s a safety issue for your child), start by talking with this birth mama about it. Are there names that she loves? Hates? Are there names that you both love?
- Would she like to choose the child’s middle name while you choose the first (or vice versa)?
- Would she prefer not to be involved in the naming?
- Can you include her name or another family name somehow?
- Does she already have a name picked out? (If so, is there a way to incorporate that into whatever name you like?)
- Has this child already been born and is already old enough to recognize their name? If so, consider how changing names may feel to a little person whose entire life is changing through adoption.
- If your child is older and able to share their own opinion about their name-ask them if they would like to have you name them or if they want to keep the name they’ve already been given.
2) Are you considering the long-term implications of this particular name?
As you think through names that you like, are you considering your child’s cultural heritage, the names of birth siblings and adoptive siblings (is there a pattern that would be helpful to keep?), and whether or not this name will be seen as ostracizing or inclusive? Have you considered the position it puts your child in if their birth family calls them by the name they’ve chosen and you call them by a completely different name? If you change the name your child was given by their birth family, it does communicate a message to your child; does that message communicate what you want it to? For some adoptees, the only thing they have from their birth parents is the name their birth parents gave them. If you choose to take that away, how will this potentially impact your child and affect your relationship with them? As your child grows, are you prepared to talk with them about how you did or did not include your child’s birth parents in the naming process and why you chose to do that? It’s impossible to predict exactly how your child will one day process what name they’ve been given, but consider the long-term implications of names as you?re making a decision.
My goal in this post is not to judge or condemn adoptive families who didn’t consider these two points when they named their child. (There are adoptive families close to my heart whose naming processes didn’t involve these considerations and I don’t think less of them for it!)?My goal with this post is to empower adoptive families with these ideas in hopes that they will be equipped to think deeply when it’s time for them to choose a name for their child.Sadly, I’ve heard from adoptive parents who deeply regret not including a part of the name their child’s birth mom gave them. I’ve also heard of a birth parent who was broken-hearted about the name the adoptive parents chose for her child (it was the name of an abusive past boyfriend). Names are a big deal! ?
One day in the future, your child will want to know the story about how their name was chosen. You want to be able to whole-heartedly say that you thought and prayed deeply about this decision and that you honored their birth parent(s) as best as you could in the naming process.