Why I Changed My Adopted Daughter's Name

It's not particularly common these days for adoptive parents to change the given first name of the children they adopt. When I adopted OB, I had to sign a form declaring that I wouldn't change his name. The form was unnecessary. I wouldn't have changed it anyway. In fact I kept the middle name his birth mum gave him too, and added another middle name of my own. Poor kid will never be able to fit his full name on the dotted line of any form he has to complete in the future!

When it came to Birdy though, I knew early on that I would be seeking permission to change her name. I know this is controversial, and am aware of adult adoptees who regret their names being changed at the point of their adoption. It is not a decision I took lightly. When I filled her new name in on the adoption application form my heart was heavy with the weight of responsibility I would bear for the decision I was making on her behalf. But I still felt that, all things considered, it was the right thing for her and for us as a family.

While I have been looking into the opinions around changing an adopted child's given name, and some of the consequences others have experienced, I have noticed a few assumptions coming up about why an adoptive parent might change a child's name. Let me deal with them one by one:

I want to give my adopted child the name I would have given my birth child...

Maybe 20 years ago, when having birth children was still a possibility for me, I did have names for my future imaginary children. These have long since faded, gone out of fashion, been taken already by close friends and family members or whatever. Actually when I first entertained the possibility of changing Birdy's name, I did not have a single alternative name in my head. This is not about somehow pretending that Birdy is not adopted, or superimposing the identity of some non-existent birth child onto her.

I want to erase my adopted child's birth family...

Perhaps there's a sense that if we completely replace a child's name when they are adopted, it also erases their past. Except, as adoptive parents, we know that the facts of our children's pasts can never ever be erased. They are carried around with them for the rest of their lives. I have taken pains to ensure that my son knows his story, as far as is appropriate for a child his age. He knows he is adopted. He knows something of why that happened. He knows his birth parents' names and has seen photos. It will be the same for my daughter. I took both of my children to many, many contacts with their birth mums and, in the case of my son, also spent time with extended family. There is no question of erasing them. One day I may be supporting my daughter in re-connecting with her birth mum. On that day, I will have to explain, face to face, why I did what I did. I have already rehearsed that conversation many times in my head.

I am embarrassed by my child's original name...

A few years ago, a controversial article in the Daily Mail bemoaned the fate of children waiting for adoption who were apparently not being chosen because of their unusual names. I tend to think that by the time a prospective adopter has walked the long journey towards considering adoption, and then completed the rather gruelling approvals process, they are unlikely to be put off by a strange name. Yes, Birdy's birth name is unusual. Yes, it draws a lot of comments. Would I have changed it for that reason? No. However unusual her name might be and however many times someone tells me they have/had a dog/cat with that name, after 20 months of using it every day, any awkwardness has long since faded away.

The reason I changed my daughter's name is very simple: it's for her security. 

I adopted Birdy from foster care. This means that her birth mum knows what I look like and she knows my name. She likely knows my last name too, and therefore would have known Birdy's entire new name if I had kept her first name. She knows what town we live in and she and her family members don't live that far away. Birdy's original name was extremely unusual. I'm not talking about an unusual spelling of a relatively common name. I have never heard of anyone with this name. Imagine me calling her at the park or somewhere and someone who knows someone overhearing and putting two and two together. If and when Birdy chooses to seek out her birth family, it needs to be in her time and on her terms, not a chance meeting brought about because somebody noticed an unusual name.

And even that wouldn't have been enough of a reason if Birdy's name had been one of special significance. I kept my son's original middle name, which I would never have chosen myself, because it was the name of a birth family member who his birth mum was close to. I was glad to honour that. I asked Birdy's mum where her birth names came from. Her first name came from a TV programme and her (even more unusual) middle name was chosen because she "just liked the sound of it".

I have kept part of Birdy's original middle name - it is now her second middle name. I have kept all the cards, documents and mementos that mention her original names. She will know what her name was and why I changed it. I imagine this will not appease her birth mum. It might not be enough for Birdy, either, in the long run. I cannot see into the future. Like any other parent, I just have to make the best decisions I can with what I know right now, and hope that we can all deal with the consequences when they happen.


  1. If I thought for a second my son's birth parents represented a threat for him, I would have changed his name without a second thought. It would have been easy too.

    We have no way to know how our children will judge us for the choices we made for them, but they will have to appreciate any attempt on our part to keep them safe.

    They'll have the benefit of hindsight, we don't. They might not agree with our decisions, but as long as we don't try to hide the past, they'll have a chance to change what we did wrong.

  2. We also changed our daughters name. We had to to keep her safe. However we kept all her original names too. When she's throwing a wobbler she does shour age hates her new name. She's 11 now & we got her at 18 months. She has a temper. I do wonder if one she will revert back to her original name just to spite us! I do hope that when she's older & hopefully not so angry she understands why we had to.

  3. We also changed our daughters name. We had to to keep her safe. However we kept all her original names too. When she's throwing a wobbler she does shour age hates her new name. She's 11 now & we got her at 18 months. She has a temper. I do wonder if one she will revert back to her original name just to spite us! I do hope that when she's older & hopefully not so angry she understands why we had to.

  4. Any adult can go to court and change their name to whatever they want, no reason required. With a name change you can get a new drivers license, passport, social security card and credit cards, but you do not get a new birth certificate. Your birth certificate is whose child you are, it's your identity and it legally connects you to all people related to your parents as you can get copies of their vital records and vice versa. A changed birth certificate, even without a changed name, makes it impossible for relatives to legally prove they are related to one another and therefore they can't get copies of one another's vital records from the registrar. They also can't prove they are related for the purposes of sponsoring a relative for immigration or for claiming a relative as a dependent on their taxes. Changing the name of an adopted person also makes it impossible for their family to find them.

    I help families find one another for free and once in reunion I help adopted people take back their identities by working around the laws that reduce their legal rights. Once in reunion they can obtain a copy of their birth certificate from their family if they retained it or their family can go to the department of public health and request a non certified copy of the birth certificate of their relative or a certified copy if they are the parent. The birth certificate that they have access to is not altered as it is still a vital record of relevance to the family it won't show that the person named on the certificate was adopted. The parents can also go to the hospital and get a copy of the certificate issued by the hospital.

    Next the adopted person goes to court, not mentioning that they are adopted and requests to change their name to their original name. Any adult can request a name change and they don't need to give a reason. The judge will have no idea that they are adopted as those records are sealed and the birth certificate issued at adoption will not indicate that there was an adoption. It appears like a real birth certificate even though its falsified. With a name change as any married woman knows, there is no change to the birth certificate. You can apply for a new drivers license, credit cards, pass port but the birth certificate will remain unchanged. That means the adopted version of their certificate is unaltered and can just sit in a drawer somewhere gathering dust. The adopting parties need never know that the person they adopted changed their name. This does not undo the adoption.

    Once they have a name that matches their birth certificate with their parents names on it they can go back to being their original self, able to prove they are legally related to their own family for purposes of bereavement leave at work, taxes, etc.

    The ironic beauty of the system is that nobody could ever prove they were adopted, all records of the adoption are sealed and nobody not even the judge granting the name change will have any idea that the person in front of them was adopted.

    Again this does not undo the adoption. The people who adopted still have an adoption decree proving they adopted someone and they have a birth certificate of a person they tried to create or at least had for a while during childhood. It is up to the adopted person whether they want to allow the people who adopted them to go on believing that person still exists or if they want to have a relationship with them as their authentic selves, son or daughter of his or her parents and adopted son or adopted daughter of the people who adopted them.

    This does take back their rights they just have to stop allowing themselves to live with the reduced rights and forced identity of adoption.

    I reunite separated families and help them work around the law to reclaim their identities and I do it for free.


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