29/08/2014 19:26 BST | Updated 20/05/2015 10:12 BST

Should Adoptive Parents Change Their Children's First Names?

Tim Hall

So many people have opinions about changing the names of adopted children. Social workers. Adoptive parents. Birth parents. And people with no connection to the subject at all. Many people think it's not a great idea.

They have lots of questions: 'Why would you do that?' 'Don't they mind?' 'Don't they get confused?' 'How do you do it?'

When I talk to prospective adopters as the guest adoptive parent on my local authority's adoption preparation course (for people in the assessment stage), I'm often asked in hushed tones about the almost taboo subject of changing names.

I happily say that we did it, and social workers usually hurriedly add '...but we don't usually recommend it', with an undertone of 'please stick to the party line on this topic and stop giving these people ideas about their parental authority'.

Some children's names are changed by adoptive parents for security reasons: they may live near to birth family members and/or have very unusual names.

If they are likely to be traced easily (eg. with a quick Google or Facebook search), then changing names is sometimes recommended. This wasn't the case for us, though.

Our daughters' birth parents named them after celebrities, which is not unusual for children who come into the care system. With one name it was obvious, the other not so much, but neither celeb was someone I'd pick as a role model. Let's say the names were Rihanna and Abbey.

'Abbey' (aged four) simply announced one day that she wanted 'a longer name with more letters', so we suggested that when she was adopted and her surname legally changed that she might also like us to arrange for her to officially become Abigail instead.

She loved that idea, and blurted it out to her social worker one day, before I had a chance to use my carefully rehearsed diplomatic speech.

Thankfully (partly because it came from her) the social worker was absolutely fine with it. And if Abigail chooses to go back to Abbey later, that's fine, but we have given her options.

And since Abbey was becoming Abigail, why not change 'Rihanna' (aged aged) to Hannah – a simple change, but one which would change others' perceptions of her as she grows up, and, yes, one which I am much more comfortable calling across a busy playground.


I'm no Katie Hopkins, but I have a middle-class accent (some have called it posh) and me calling 'Rihanna' just sounded a bit odd.


And this is the sticking point, isn't it? Because when it can be argued that it's even partly about the adoptive parents' comfort zones, then that muddies the waters for some people.

'You should keep the name the birth parents gave them,' they argue, 'because it's such an important part of their identity and the children will be angry with you later'. Well, yes and no.

Our daughters' genes are obviously a key part of their identity. Their shared history together is also huge for them. Those are aspects of their identity that forever link them to their birth family.

But important as it is for us to ensure they are able to have age-appropriate access to information about their birth family, it is at least as important that they feel 'claimed' by us as their 'forever family'.

For Abigail in particular the change of her name has been an important part of her feeling that she belongs with us and has put her past behind her.

Hannah, to be perfectly honest, resisted the change when we first suggested it to her. We called her Rihanna most of the time and just tested out Hannah once a week or so to gauge her response. Not keen.

We didn't push it, and then out of the blue one day she just announced 'I'm going to be Hannah Hitchcock'. Cue silent surprised-and-delighted glances between me and my husband.

And we didn't look back after that. Three months after they'd moved in, we were using the new names, and another four months on, it was all legal.


Yes, there were a few flies in the ointment – while the NHS bureaucracy chugged slowly into action, the old names were being called across waiting rooms for all to hear.


New adoptive parents are almost all a bit over-concerned about being found by birth families, so I was desperately shushing wherever possible.

We also had a bit of quiet explaining to do when Abigail started school and parents at the school gate who'd had children in the same preschool said 'I thought their names were Abbey and Rihanna?'

But a year on, the girls are very definitely 'Abigail' and 'Hannah', and so far, so good. The only time we use the old names is when we write the annual 'contact' letters to the girls' birth family, who don't know the names have changed.

The girls themselves haven't forgotten their old names and, like the rest of their story, we talk openly about it all whenever they want to. But they are confident in their new identities and it's just not an issue for us. Maybe the teenage years will change that, but hey, maybe it's all going to be fine.

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10 things adoptive parents wish their friends and family understood