[Not Fun] Friday Question: How to approach naming in a foster-to-adopt situation?

Happy New Year to you all!!

This is the latest in my “Fun Friday Question” series, but it’s more sobering than fun, hence the title. A reader asked,

As foster parents, I often think about what we would do if we adopted from foster care (which we hope to do at some point). With the kids being older, changing names often doesn’t seem like a possibility or in the best interest of the child, but I worry about their names setting them apart from the rest of the family, since our kid’s names are more traditional and our girls names especially follow a pattern and we’ve very intentionally included saint and family names in our children’s names. I’m curious what other people do in similar situations. Maybe we should have given less matchy names so that adopted children would be able to blend in easier (too late for that now, but should that have been a consideration earlier on). Or since we have no idea if an adoption will ever happen, is it best that we used the names we really wanted. How should plans to adopt from foster care affect naming of biological children? What are some ways to help incorporate an adopted child’s name into the family without changing it? How should someone respond to comments of one child’s name not “fitting in” with the rest?

I know there are a bunch of you who have fostered and/or adopted — I hope you offer your thoughts/experiences!

My initial thoughts, for what they’re worth, are: I think it’s so loving that this family is grappling with this question! What a wonderful thing, to try to do everything possible to enfold a child into the family.

I would think that using the names they want for their biological children makes the most sense, especially since — at least for this reader — there’s no guarantee that “an adoption will ever happen.”

Some ways of incorporating an adopted child’s name into the family without changing it could include bestowing a nickname similar to those of the other children (e.g., if they all have Skip/Buddy/Princess-type nicknames, it would be fairly easy to come up with something similar; if all the biological children have Spanish names, maybe a Spanish nickname for the adopted child’s name or similar could work).

As for questions about one child’s name not “fitting in” with the rest, I’d try to come up with some go-to reply, like, “Yes, isn’t it lovely?” Or, “It has such a great meaning that totally fits his personality,” or … ? Something that doesn’t focus on its difference, but rather its strengths, and maybe avoids the fact that it doesn’t match the other siblings’ style? Or maybe embracing its difference is better? I know you all will have some great ideas!

Have a great weekend!

My book, Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys: Over 250 Ways to Honor Our Lady (Marian Press, 2018), is available to order from ShopMercy.org and Amazon — perfect for the expectant parents, name enthusiasts, and lovers of Our Lady in your life!


29 thoughts on “[Not Fun] Friday Question: How to approach naming in a foster-to-adopt situation?

  1. I remember a comment from someone on this blog years ago that noted – kids are not always going to be part of a sibling set, they will grow up and lead individual lives. Adulthood is about four times as long as childhood, so the amount of time they are grouped enough to notice the matching (or not) is fairly small. Yes, you want them to feel as though they officially belong, but I wouldn’t want to write off their past either, it’s part of who they are. I think the nickname is a great way to get there. Maybe add a middle name that matches and ask the child if they want to go by it? They could officially make the legal change as an adult if they want later. As for someone noticing the not matching (and being less nice about it) I would say just explain they were adopted. People seem to always have a positive reaction, think it’s wonderful, praiseworthy and thank you for it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have two adopted siblings, one with a name that fits well with the rest of us and one that doesn’t really at all. Now that we are adults it really doesn’t matter that much! Maybe it was odd for our parents when we were younger but I really don’t think it is a long-term issue. I think two things you could do are 1. Try to find a nickname from their current name and 2. Potentially change their middle name that way they have the option of using it later if they want. I think it depends on the age of the child though—a three year old probably won’t care about a middle name change or new nickname but a 10 year old might.

    Bless you for taking on this important work!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I wanted to say there is no right or wrong answer. It will depend on the situation/child/children. We are the process of direct adoption from foster care and we have been trying to read/learn as much as possible. We have a set of traditionally named kids that together sound like a Catholic/religious set. I have heard of/read both sides. I am of the opinion that we are the parents, ultimately it is up to us. The older the child the more they should be involved in the decision. The child will be changing their last name, so if the first name should be changed this is the best time. Some of reasons I have heard in favor of a name change are: safety of the child, child was named after bio parent and this is a constant reminder of bio parent, name is contrary to Christian sentiment, and also the name is not great (people cringe when they hear it) and will inhibit the child.
    A child may WANT to change their name as so much is already changing, and this is a fresh start. Also, in Scripture God changes people’s names in the middle of their lives.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. When my sister and brother-in-law were working on their first adoption, they were strongly considering changing the name of their soon-to-be son. I argued quite strongly (on the basis of my onomastic credentials, not as a pushy sister!) that they shouldn’t. In this case, the situation was made more complex by it being an international adoption, but adopted kids lose so much, and the idea of yet one more thing — his name, the one concrete, immediate tie back to his birth country — being lost really made me hurt. It didn’t matter that this name wasn’t given to him by his birth mom; it didn’t matter that it was unclear to what extent he even knew the name was his (he was deprived of oxygen at birth and has significant developmental and physical delays). Names are such an important part of a person’s identity that I am really uncomfortable with anyone unilaterally changing someone else’s name for them, without their input or consent.

    I’m really grateful that my sister took my advice, though they gave him a new middle name because they wanted him to have a name that came from them, to mark his entrance into the family. Neither his birth name nor his nickname is anything like the names of my four kids my sister had already had (each of which followed a two-syllable pattern, with the boys’ names ending in “en” and the girls in “ah”).

    Since then, they’ve adopted twice more from the same country, and kept the children’s names, so now there are three in the family that are all clearly connected to each other. The elder of the two, who was 16 when she was adopted, was asked if she wanted to (a) keep her name, (b) get a new name, or (c) get a new middle name. She opted for (c), and even helped picked out her name “American” middle name. They’re up to 10 kids now, and the eclectic mix of names works.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I completely agree. We adopted our son from foster care when he was 8 (we had been his foster parents for a year and a half prior to adoption). Despite some safety concerns, we kept his name exactly the same (first, middle, and last). Name is such a strong part of a person’s identity and we didn’t want him to lose that. Particularly after listening to so many adoptee voices on the matter. In fact, we thought about asking my son if he wanted to change his middle or last name but I thought he was too young to really make that decision. I was worried he would say “yes” in an attempt to please us and regret it later. However, I do know of a situation where another young boy adopted from foster care wanted to completely change his name when he was adopted because he was named after his father – who had abused him. So I guess my answer is, it depends on the child, the age of the child, and the exact circumstances – but a new middle name sounds like a lovely way to welcome a child into the family!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Depends on the situation. I remember interviewing a family who had adopted a 6 year old from India. The girl had a very long Hindu name that started with Sal. The parents kept both her original first and last names as her legal names and added their own surname on the end but gave her the nickname Sally. I also have heard of parents giving an older child a choice about whether to change their name or giving them a choice from a selection of names that the parents like.

    This is certainly not the same thing but I kept the original name of a cat I adopted last year because he already knew his name and responded to it. Naming a pet is part of the fun but changing the name would have confused the cat. The original owner called him Guy Fox. I did change the spelling to Guy Fawkes after the Harry Potter character.The cat doesn’t know the difference. I imagine it wouldcalso be confusing forca child.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sally as a nickname seems perfect for the situation you described, Andrea! Also, I think it’s a good point about a new name being confusing for a cat or a baby, that’s definitely something to think about.


  6. We have adopted one sibling group from foster care (3 kids) and are in the process of adopting another group (4 kids). Our bio kids (four kids going on five) have biblical first names and saint middle names. With the first sibling group, the oldest already had a biblical name (he was 3 at the time). The middle child had a name that we felt was going to seriously limit him in life, and the youngest (a boy) had a gender-neutral name with an effeminate spelling. The middle boy we used his middle name as his first name (it was a biblical name), and with the youngest we just changed everything.

    In the new sibling group, we completely changed the oldest’s name (he’s seven). His first name was very feminine. As in, literally 100% of people who saw his name on paper without knowing him thought he was a girl. The younger two boys (ages 6 and 4) we kept middle names but changed first names, and the girl (4) we were able to modify her first name into a new name.

    The kids have all liked having names that fit our family. For some, we felt like the names their bio parents gave them would limit their options in life. And overall, considering the unspeakable things their parents did to them, I don’t feel like they need any daily reminders or “ties” to their past. But they like that they have Bible names just like all the other kids in our family.

    I will add that we didn’t begin calling them by new names until after their parents’ rights were terminated. Also, for what it’s worth, I have roughly a dozen relatives adopted from foster care, and most (though not all) were given new names when they were adopted. I feel like it gives them a fresh start in life.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi! Best of luck-it’s so beautiful and pro life to be open to another soul through fostering! You truly suffer with these innocent “poorest of the poor” as Mother Teresa says. We foster and hope to add to our young biological crew through both adoption and having more biological children. Right now our biological baby and foster baby are four months apart lol.

    We always have the same question!! If it’s an older child, seems nice to give the choice to keep the given name or have a new nickname or name. At least add a saint or biblical name if there is none. If a baby or very young, give a nickname that could become part of a full given name? If the name is different from the foster family’s style I think it could honor the child’s background, as long as it was still beautiful.

    We kept part of our foster baby’s given name but have a full saint name we would use if adoption comes about. We think it’s important to give the child special saint or biblical names just as we did with our other children…right now they’re just nicknames but would become the full name if the child could be adopted and baptized:) If the child goes back then he at least has special “name” saints looking out for him:)

    I guess it also depends on the bioparents and what motivated them to choose a name…ie “Grace” is beautiful but names of drugs or demons given to children are disturbing to us. Every child deserves a beautiful name!

    Kate, in case a baby had a very distasteful given name, do you have ideas for nicknames that stand alone that could become full names? Like Rose, Bella, Junior, etc…names that would be acceptable as nicknames in front of social workers.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I tried submitting a response but it didn’t post, so this might end up being a duplicate. My husband and I have eleven children, with one on the way – four bios, three adopted as one sibling group, four we’re in the process of adopting. We had two bio children when we added the first sibling group, and both had biblical first names with saint middle names.

    Of the first sibling group, the oldest’s first name was already a biblical name and it “fit” him, so we kept that and changed his middle name to a saint name. The middle child’s first name was something we felt would limit his opportunities in life, but his middle name was a biblical name so we moved that to his first name and gave him a saint middle name. The youngest’s first name was gender-neutral with a feminine spelling (he’s a boy), so we went ahead and changed his whole name. The children were 3, 2, and 1 when they joined our family and 4, 3, and almost 2 when we finalized the adoption. (They are currently 8, 7, and 6.)

    Of the second sibling group, the oldest (age 7) had a name that made literally everyone who saw his name on paper assume he was a girl. We are changing his first and middle names. The next oldest (age 6) we are keeping his middle name since it was already a saint name and changing his first name. The 4-year-old boy we’re doing the same thing. The 4-year-old girl (they’re twins) we were able to modify her first name to make a new name that fits in with our family’s pattern.

    At least for our adopted/pre-adoptive kids, they like having names that have a meaning within our family. The oldest in the new sibling group is desperate to belong to a family, and having a new name gives him a little bit of a fresh start. We don’t feel any need to use their original names as a way to maintain ties to their past – the emotional, psychological, and spiritual baggage they’ll carry for the rest of their lives because of what their biological parents did to them is enough of a tie. I might feel differently about an international adoption where it may have been mainly poverty, and not abuse, that led to adoption. I have roughly a dozen relatives who were adopted from foster care, and most (though not all) got a new name when they were adopted.

    With our children, we have begun calling them by new names after their parents’ rights were terminated, which actually works out to be 4-6 months or so before finalizing their adoption.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I adopted from foster care and changed my daughter’s name. She had been with us since she was a baby and was about 20 months when we changed her name, which we did as soon as we found out we could adopt her. The decision was not received well from our community, unfortunately. Many people seemed to think it was an annoyance to have to learn a new name or that it was a blow to her first foster family that named her. Some people hinted and others were downright rude, which was rough since the adoption process has plenty of hardships on its own. For us it was the best decision. We got to name our daughter. We knew her and her personality and chose a name that fit her (we never thought the other name fit her) and fit our family. It also gave us some safety and distance from strangers who knew her under other circumstances. We chose a first/middle combo that was ethnically and culturally appropriate, that fit the style and meaning that we want to carry through with all kids, and that included a middle name that both honors her first foster family (even though she won’t remember them) and honors a legacy name from my husband’s family. She couldn’t pronounce her foster name at the time, so although she knew it, it hadn’t become an identity for her. She was able to, however, pronounce her adopted name right away so she took it on as her identity in just 2 weeks and forgot her foster name within a month.

    With all that being said, those circumstances were specific to our family, and we probably would not change an older adopted kid’s name because of the history and identity that come with that name (unless that child wanted to for a good reason). I have read that a good option is to discuss with the child if they want to change anything, like take on the adoptive surname, a family middle name, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing this story, including the negative feedback you received. I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all solution, and it’s great to hear the decisions each family makes!


  10. Generally, I’d avoid changing names and remind yourself that as foster/hopeful adoptive parents you don’t mind a mixmatched family that looks or sounds a little different. And definitely don’t beat yourself up for chosing names you loved for your bio children! Also you can always choose a patron for them now, and they can choose one at confirmation.

    That said, many kids adopted after foster care are old enough to have an opinion on the issue. Certainly adopted children often deal with issues of feeling ‘other’ and may appreciate the opportunity to add a more name that matches/reflects their favorite saint or NN. Just make sure they have your full support with whatever they chose and lace the conversation with reminders about how much you love/accept them AND their name.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I have no personal experience on the subject, but my instinct would be to always ask the child.

    It is tricky to balance preserving the child’s background and integrating him/her in the new family, and it may depend on the situation. For some children, changing the name can be a way to move away from a traumatic past, for others it might seem that you don’t want to acknowledge their identity.

    I think I’d always offer the option of adding or changing the name to another one that fits the existing name pattern, so that the child would feel welcomed in the new family, while making it clear that keeping the given name is fine, too.

    The only similar situation I know of was a 10-year-old girl who wanted to change her name when she was adopted (for no particular reason besides there was another name she really loved and preferred to the birth name). The adoptive parents decided, however, to keep her birth name because it was one of their favorite names (it was a name they realistically would choose for a biological child).

    I’ve heard of other situations, with younger children (3/4 years old), and in those cases it really depended on how aware of the birth name the child was. In one situation where they kept the birth name, it was a different style from the biological child’s name, but still not far enough to look like they’re from 2 different families (think Beatrice and Lola). It just looked like the parents’ style evolved over the years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like this bit: “It just looked like the parents’ style evolved over the years” — that could be helpful wording for parents to keep in mind for people who ask about their children’s names.


  12. We have adopted from foster care. We are newer converts to the Catholic Faith, so our first bio son is Jonathan Edward after a well-known Protestant preacher and after my husband. Our second bio son is James Elliot after famous Protestant missionary Jim Elliot and after James and John from the Bible. Our foster son came to us when he was 3 and our oldest bio son was 6 months old and we adopted him when he was 5 (40 hours before the birth of our 2nd bio son; we got 2 sons in a weekend). We wanted to keep his name, Robert, and his middle name, Henry, was after his biological grandfather, Robert Henry, who had passed and he was named after. We thought this was an important part of his past to keep with him, but we also wanted to keep the theme of naming the kids after pastors or missionaries. Google helped me out and I found Robert Clark, a Protestant medical missionary to India who was unable to have children with his wife and they adopted their only son, Henry, from India. I thought it was perfect! Of course now we are Catholic and our sons have taken up Sts. John the Apostle, James, and Robert Bellarmine as their patrons. We still foster, but have not had the opportunity to adopt any of the other kids, thankfully they’ve all been safely reunited with biological family.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing your story! I love that you found names that worked for you when you were Protestant, and that still work with great patron saints now!


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