Tuesday's Answers: Let's Talk About Names

This was my first Tuesday Topic, and I have to say, you all were great! Thank you to everyone who took the time to submit your thoughts.

Here was the question:

I’d love to hear more about naming your kids?? We’re trying to decide that right now. We’re thinking about new American first names and their ET names for middle. Mostly because, thinking of the future, the boys name on a resume might be hard. Thought an easily pronounced american name would be better. SO, you don’t call your boys their American names? Is that their choice, or yours? We’re also thinking of doing the same for our daughter, so she won’t think, “why did he get a new name, and not me?” Oh the decisions!!

Thanks for any pointers & viewpoints!

There were lots of great answers, so this will be long, but here we go.

By email:
We had American names all picked out for our two from Ethiopia. Both of their Ethiopian names were quite hard to pronounce and would become their middle names. I felt uneasy about changing their names since they were older, but we had seen other families do this…and so we followed. However, when we got to Ethiopia and met them…something about it didn’t seem right. They were who they were already. That’s who they would always be. And to strip them of their name felt incredible wrong. Names are such important parts of our identity and self awareness, I think. Anyway, we wondered how it would be on the first day of school, etc etc. You know what? It’s been FINE. Both have chosen to shorten their names into something easier for others. But, now when I think about those American names (now their middle names), I realize that is NOT who they are…and I feel like in our situation it would have been a mistake to insist that they become that name. In this day and age there are so many unique and unfamiliar names. And kids learn each others names. It’s just how life is. They have not been teased at all. Does that make any sense? This has been our story. CR

And in the Comments:

Blogger Lory Howlett said…

Can’t wait to hear peoples’ answers on this one. We have 3 girls who joined our family as infants (1 by birth, 1 by domestic adoption and 1 from Ethiopia), we are now preparing to bring a 5 year old boy home from Ethiopia.

Our current thinking is that he will keep his Ethiopian name…until, if and when, he might want to have a more Americanized name. His Ethiopian name means “blessing,” and…it will be just about all he still has from his birth family.


Blogger Shannon- said…

First- I want to recognize how HIGHLY personal this decision is. And its’ “rightness” or “wrongness” will likely only be shown long in the future.

OK- I have 2 adult adoptee friends. One adopted through the foster care system at 11 months the other a few days old through Good Sam’s. Both original names were changed. They both have VERY different responses. (As a side note- all variables the same- the still have very different responses to all the adoption questions I put to them… but for the same reasons)(which only highlights that this is completely personal for each child) Kevin found out his original name in his thirty’s. He will tell you, to this day, it “fits better”, with a sad longing into his eyes. Sarah found out in her twenties and could care less.

My son is over 2 years old. he was named by his father. I will wait before making a definate decision, but I can not imagine taking away either his given name, nor his fathers name. In Ethiopia they are named with such purpose, Bilically. By it’s meaning followed by fathers name. (Benjamin, son of Jacob). that is a history that I can not portend to replicate.

On the other hand: I have ALWAYS loved it when people “go” by their middle names. It ends up only very few, close by’s know their true name. I love it. I friend and mentor was very well known around the country. He was known as “Shawn”. His name was actually William Shawn. It was his written name on most documents etc. Bet every once and a while you’d notice he’d signed a check WS Last name. Plus I agree with the wondering of the future of my child and giving him options with how to be known on paper. If perhaps giving him a George, Bob, Bill first name could keep him from getting searched everytime he flys anywhere.

Is it possible this comment is now longer than the post? ooops. Always wondered when that would happen…

9/13/2009 5:58 PM


Blogger James 1:27 Family said…

I’m of the rare breed of adoptive moms who doesn’t like changing a child’s name. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t judge others – I just don’t like it for me. Most of the research surrounding adoption will suggest that you not change an older child’s name. It can cause emotional distress. If a child chooses to change their name or requests to change their name, this seems different.

My next-door-neighbor was adopted from US foster care system about 35 years ago when she was 7 years old. She clearly remembers getting a new name. She’s says she feels like the person she was before died that day. The child that had the other name went away and was put in a box, never to be mentioned again. Her feelings were very powerful to me and cemented my thoughts on changing names of adopted children.

As far as “American names” goes, what really constitutes an American name? There are people in America from every nation and ethnic group. We shouldn’t worry about accommodating the needs of others when deciding our child’s name. It’s probably good for people to learn to pronounce an unfamiliar name.

We didn’t change our son’s given name. We received a lot of rude comments and remarks at first from family and friends, but now it just suits him. I can’t imagine him being named anything else. No one ever makes a comment anymore.

Many blessings to all of you adoptive parents wading through the sea of emotional decisions! I think this is great to share our thoughts and build each other up! Thanks, Lisa!

God Bless!

9/13/2009 6:02 PM


Blogger Marissa said…

Good question, and one that isn’t easily answered. As with many questions related to parenting and adoption, the answer is different for everyone.

We kept our 5-year-old adopted son’s name (both first and last) and gave him a 2nd middle name. We felt that this gives him the opion of going with what he feels comfortable with when he gets older. I don’t see him going with the American name. His name means “the great one” and it fits him perfectly.

With two more kids on the way, this has been a big discussion. The son we hope to hold has an easy name and we’ll do the same with him, keep his first and last name and give him an American middle name. For our hopeful daughter, it gets trickier. I can’t pronounce her name for anything. I’ve tried and tried and tried but I just can’t get it. My mouth doesn’t work that way. Sadly, I’ll probably be calling her the name we gave her (which is her Ethiopian name in English). I’m fairly certain that most Americans won’t be able to pronounce her name so she’ll have to go by the name we give. I’m saddened by that and I hope that instead of being upset by it, she learns to make fun of me for my inability to pronounce her name.

9/13/2009 6:50 PM


Blogger Lauren said…

We plan to change our boys’ (US born) middle names to meaningful family names, but retain their “first*” names. (I honestly think though, that if they were girls I would feel differently, and would also change their first names. I’ve always had trouble coming up boy names–so that might be why sticking with their first names was a quick decision for us.)
*I emphasize with the resume concerns though. Our boys were both renamed in their first foster home (we’re foster #2), and so when we got them we immediately changed the older boy’s name back to his birth name, and kept the younger brother’s name. In both instances it was because the other name was offensive and/or off-putting.

9/13/2009 6:58 PM


Blogger Paul and DeeDee said…

I like this question. For us, we chose to give our toddler daughter an American first name and keep her ET name as a middle name. But when we found that the first four letters of her ET name were not appropriate four letters in english we had some thinking to do. I thought about keeping it, or using her birth mothers name but then we just decided to alter the spelling since it is pronounced about the same. (Shataye pronounced sha – tie)

It was also important that her american name would be acceptable in the african american culture as well.

As far as what we call her, we use both names together and individually as she responds to them very well….but she also might respond to pumpkin head:)

I am eager to see what those with older kids say!

9/13/2009 7:28 PM


Blogger FriðrikssonS (and Parents) said…

We adopted 2 boys from Ghana. One was 16 mos and the other was 8 years. We had decided to keep the names they were given.

Our youngest was named with a name we had always wanted to name our son. So it didn’t seem necassary to change it. Our older son had a name that although not common in America or anywhere, was not that difficult to say. So we also decided to keep his name.

However, since arriving home, we have seen people struggle with his name. We didn’t say anything we just kept educating others how to say and spell it.

But one day he came to me and asked if he could change his name. We let it be his decision. We ran through the plus and minuses of changing his name. He wanted to change it but felt he would forget Ghana. We explained that we would help him remember with pictures and such; and that his name was not the determining factor of his memory loss – so to speak. We discussed how his birthparents (who had died) gave him that name. we discussed how it was difficult for people here to say his name. We let him take his time making the decision. We went through lists and lists of names. If he couldn’t say the name it was thrown out. If we couldn’t say the name it was put on a “maybe” list. He practiced writing names. Every day we eliminated names because he couldn’t sya them, he didn’t like the meaning, it was to hard to write it, etc etc. We discussed the meanings of names. We practiced using different names on him. He even prayed about names he should choose.

He finally chose a name he really loved and we kept his other name as a middle name. We even said if he really wanted to change it back we would. We found that by giving him the control over his name he found ownership and found a name he loved and wanted to live up to. He was so happy and still is. If he ever wants to go back to his Ghanaian name it is one of his middle names.

So although he has a long name it is HIS name through his choice. It took a long time and DH and I worried about giving him so much control on it – but we stepped back and let him work through it and it not only gave him a name – but it helped him to feel control in a strange world to him and it helped him learn how to make decisions and live with the results. He is VERY happy! And so are we!

9/13/2009 8:02 PM


Blogger Staci said…

I always thought we’d give the children new American names and keep their ET names as middle names. As we get further in the process I am more open to using their given names or at least keeping them as the first names, and giving American names as middle so they can be called by either as they wish. It is such a big deal, everyone does their best. At first I thought the “right” thing to do was to make it easier for their bio siblings and classmates to say. I could see it being frustratig for them to have one more thing that sets them apart from their family and peers. I think giving them the option is a great idea as they get older.

9/14/2009 8:41 AM


Blogger Lisa H. said…

I seem to be in the minority here, but we’ve chosen to give each of our adopted children a new first name and their birth name is their middle name. Naming a child is VERY important to me, and part of the bonding process for me. I respect that my children were previously known and named by other people, esp. in the case of my children who were named by birth parents….I’m happy to have those names as part of their identities, because they are part of their life stories. But becoming part of our family is ALSO part of their life story, and I wanted to bless my children with a name, as part of making them ours.

Three of our children were adopted as young toddlers, so it really wasn’t an issue for them. For our son, adopted at age 8, we explained to him through an interpreter that we’d like to give him a name, as we had all of our children, and we asked him if that was ok. We told him he could choose which name he wanted to go by, and he chose the name we gave him. Since that time he has STRONGLY rejected his birth name…almost to a degree which concerns us. We are constantly affirming the value and beauty of his birth name and his birth country. I think in our son’s case, he had such a hard life prior to our family, that he is happy to put that behind him and to identify with his new identity as our son. In many ways I think that giving him a new first name has been helpful to him in transitioning to a new life.

I understand that parents feel differently about this, and have respect for other choices, but his is what has worked for our family and our children.

Lisa H.

9/14/2009 1:50 PM


Blogger Cat and Mark said…

Love the discussion!

For us, keeping birth names as first names was a priority if we “could.” I’m not sure how to explain that other than to say if the names had been extremely difficult to pronounce we would have more seriously considered an American name as their first (legal) name and moved their ET names to a middle name.

All three of our ET kids had (I think) very easy to pronounce first names, so it just was never an issue for us. We gave each of them family names for middle names. There are many other names I “like” but this was important to us – our way of bringing them into our fold with their names (they are all named after grandparents). This was also a way to promote bonding with the grandparents and worked well for us. Our 2 bio daughters have family names for middle names as well, so that was also a nice tie-in.

I respect other’s choices on this and I think it can vary depending on the child. Our children were 3, 5 and 12 at adoption – their names were very much a part of them. We considered changing our 12 year old’s name, if she had requested it. But she did not, so we did not bring it up. We never wanted her to feel like WE wanted her name to be different. Their birth families and their first culture are so much a part of who they are – and they carry some of that in their names. In fact, for my son, that is virtually all he has left.

Given the particular circumstances, we didn’t feel it was right to break that bond.

But again – every family, every child’s situation is different. The most important thing is for parents to think it through – to have a reason for doing what they do. Consider the impact on their child (both ways – if change or not) and decide what is best. Glad to see such an insightful and respectful “discussion”!

june said…

I’m pretty firmly in favour of a child keeping his or her name. Like an earlier commenter mentioned, I would have only have considered changing my child’s name if it was something that was going to cause a world of grief in English – there are names which are just inappropriate because of the connotations of very similar (or same) word. If that had happened, I would have chosen another Ethiopian name.

I gave my son (who was 4 when adopted) a family name as a middle name, and added his father’s name (ie his former surname) back in as a middle name as well. We have occasionally had the discussion about naming – eg when he first started school, and decided he didn’t like his name. That passed pretty quickly. If in the future he really wants to change his name, I would support that, but I would strongly encourage him to choose another Ethiopian name. If he refutes that and wants an English name, he could choose to go by his middle name. But I’d be really sad if he did.

There is a good discussion about naming in Steinberg & Hall’s “Inside Transracial Adoption”. I think it was one of the author’s adult children who asked why they were given a new name when they joined the family. The comparison was then made to a spouse – who joins the family but no one feels a need to change their first name – the last name is enough. And sometimes not even that!

9/15/2009 7:11 PM


Blogger Jan J. said…

My first daughter from China was a baby and I did not feel too badly to change her first name and use her Chinese name as her middle name. My second daughter was almost 7 and I could not imagine telling her I was taking away everything she knew, including her name, which to me equaled her identity. All I had to do was imagine how my first daughter, then 6, would feel to lose me, her home, her food, her language and then say you are not Lily anymore.

I am not judging anyone who changes the name – we all have a right to decide what our children are named – it just felt wrong to me unless she requested it. For Jing it was the right choice. After she had grasped enough English I took her pad of paper during homeschool time and wrote out her full name for the first time including the name I chose to give her along with her Chinese name. I wrote out her sister’s name. I pointed out that both she and her sister had a name from Mama and a name from China but that we would call her by her Chinese name unless she wanted to change later. She firmly took the pad, crossed out the names, rewrote her sister’s name to include her “American” name and rewrote her name as only her Chinese name. Tossed that nasty American name to her sister! Well! Tell me what you REALLY think LOL!

She only had a first and last name, not a middle name as most Chinese children, so I told her we could use her Chinese last name as her middle name if she wanted instead of the name I chose. She is now 12 and I have yet to readopt her and have her name changed, so she will be old enough to have one last say when Mom ever gets her act together to readopt. With China the adoption is final and no readoption is required so that was helpful in putting off a final name decision. Sometimes it pays to procrastinate!

My daughter was not grateful to be adopted. She loved her orphange home and her friends and grieved deeply for a long time. If I had also told her she would be called by a new name, I think in her case it would have caused further damage to our LOOOOOOOONG bonding process, which is still in progress. However, I do know of kids who were very anxious to get their new American name, so I do think every situation should be carefully thought out and weighed AFTER you meet your child, just my opinion! But I do think it is exceedingly important to let your child know you treasure their given name and their heritage as part of who they are.

Sorry to be so longwinded! Feel free to edit!

Jan J., mama to Lily and Jing

9/15/2009 8:27 PM


D lorismusings said…

We decided to change our two girls (adopted at age 6 and 10) names for several reasons. I agree with Lisa H. in that it was a way for us to bond with them and say, “You belong to us. We love you and claim you and you are a special part of our family.”

Another reason was that the youngest girl had a name that we were afraid would lead to teasing. We decided that we would give them a new first name, but chose names that were used in their culture. We tried to choose names that we hoped would be fairly easy to pronounce. Some people are hopeless with names no matter how easy.:-)

We did ask them about a name change through an interpreter when we were still in India. I am not sure their answer at that time was what they felt then, but they like their new names and did go through a time where they “hated” their given name. I kept telling them how much I loved their given names and that they were important because their mom gave them those names. They now embrace their new and old names.

So, we gave them a new first name and used their given names as a middle name, but we also gave them a middle name with a biblical meaning. They can choose whatever name they want to go by at ANYTIME and we have told them that.

We aren’t too sure about the wisdom of the two middle name thing, but it seemed like the right decision at the time!

Now, we are in the process of adopting another child, a boy who will be five when we get him. We are trying to decide how to handle his name.

It really is a personal decision. Everyone makes the best choice they can for their child.

Given the length of this post, I will refrain from taking up more space with my thoughts on naming children, but you can read my post from April 2008 to see how we came to our decisions. I feel strongly that each family has to choose for themselves what is best for their particular child. There are names from other countries that are closely related to unpleasant words in our language. I didn’t face that, so I can’t know for certain how I would have handled it. Changing the spelling, as CR mentioned, is a great idea if you want to preserve the name.

I do wonder if Little Man may choose to use his American name one day. His Ethiopian name is difficult for people to pronounce and remember, but once they have it, it is easy. I think we’ll leave that for him to decide. I love both his American and Ethiopian names, and no matter what he chooses, I believe I will always call him by his Ethiopian name.

If you have a question you would like me to present as a Tuesday Topic, please email it to me at:

thankulmom [at] gmail [dot] com

Thank you everyone!


This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Laurel
    September 17, 2009

    I didn't have a chance to comment earlier this week, but wanted to throw in our story.

    We adopted 3 children from Ghana last year, ages 6, 9, 11. The orphanage that they had lived in gives each child a new name (usually Biblical) when they come to the orphanage, unless for some reason they have already been given a "Western" name.

    Our 6 year old came to the orphanage with a Ghanaian name, and they named her Rachel (which, by the way, was the name we had chosen if either of our last 2 bio. children would have been girls). Her older sister came to the orphanage several weeks after the other 2 … and the orphanage asked the older brother if he would like to name his sister. He named her Sarah. Older brother came to the orphanage with the name Victor having been given to him at some point (in addition to his Ghanaian name), so the orphanage kept that name. However, just a month into our adoption process (while he was still in Ghana), Victor asked us if we would give him a Biblical name like his sisters. We named him Jacob. (Frustratingly, all of the orphanage ladies had their own opinions on this … told him other names they thought we should name him, and told him they didn't like the name we had chosen. Not good.)

    The orphanage decided to use the children's Ghanaian last name as each of their middle names (when they finalized the adoption). When they arrived home in America, they each told us that none of them wanted to keep that as their middle name. (I believe they just wanted a fresh start in a new family, as life before America was a VERY sad and difficult life.)

    We waited quite awhile to re-adopt in our home state (and, thus, officially give them new middle names). By that time, the children had developed close relationships with some of our family friends. We chose some of those names for the children's middle names, which gives them a fun connection to each of those friends.


  2. Chris
    September 17, 2009

    Wowwy Lisa!! This turned out to be a great thought inspiring question for me to ask!! NOW? I'm even more confused! hahahahah! I guess there's really no right or wrong answer (well, some may think so) And either way they will still have their Ethiopian names as part of their name (either first or middle), and they can choose either one to go by. I do know lots of people in America that go by their middle name.

    Thanks so much for your blog and all the help it is!

    Chris in Auburn, WA

  3. Donna
    September 17, 2009

    I did not get a chance to chime in either, but for us it was much easier.

    Our children's Liberian names were twinsy type names after the former dictator of their country. We were concerned for the teasing a later date about matching names, so we kept those and gave them new first names.

    When they were home a week we asked if they would like new American names to go with their new American family and they both enthusiastically said 'yes' at ages 5 and 3. We had already changed the names, but we could have stayed the other way if they choose also.

    Delighting in Him


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I accept the Privacy Policy