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