Renaming an older adopted child?

I received an email from a mama about renaming a two-and-a-half-year-old that she and her husband are adopting, and she specifically asked for feedback from all of you. She writes,

We are a family built by adoption and we have named all of our children with different levels of biological family involvement … [Friends of friends have custody of their two-and-a-half-year-old grandson and] have asked us to adopt him … we initially intended to keep his name and perhaps consider a different middle name, but his grandparents had intended to change his name if they were to adopt him and have encouraged us to change his name … I am not sure how I feel about a 2 year old getting a name change, or how to transition to a new name … I would love it if you would crowd source opinions about changing names at this age.”

She also said that if they decide to change his name, it would only be because the grandparents asked them to, and they would ask the grandparents to help them choose the new name.

Please weigh in with your thoughts and experiences! I’ve posted about adoption and names several times, and I thought this post in particular might be helpful (great comments on it!), but any advice or thoughts you have for this specific family would be great. Thank you!!

My book, Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys: Over 250 Ways to Honor Our Lady (Marian Press, 2018), is available to order from and Amazon (not affiliate links) — perfect for the expectant parents, name enthusiasts, and lovers of Our Lady in your life! (And check out my buy-the-book-get-a-consultation deal!)


12 thoughts on “Renaming an older adopted child?

  1. oh my gosh, please don’t rename a 2 and a half year old! he has already gone through so much upheaval and change in his short life, but for the entirety of that life one constant for him has been his name. he will be SO confused if you suddenly tell him he’s not [his name] any more.

    i really do think you need to put your new son’s need for stability and constancy first, ahead of his grandparents’s wishes in this instance unfortunately. perhaps you could keep his name but also (**also** not instead!!) have a special nickname you use for him?

    wishing you and your family all the best.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have no experience with adoption so please defer to others who do, but my immediate reaction was such that I felt I had to comment. Assuming the existing name is perfectly usable (which I’m sure it is given the original intention to keep it) and wouldn’t cause any other problems, it seems cruel to me to “take” one of the only things that may have been a constant in this child’s short life. My son has just turned 3 and absolutely by 2 1/2 he knew his name belonged to him, and was very connected to it, enthusiastically correcting anyone who called him anything else. It would be interesting to know the grandparents’ motivation behind changing it. If it’s just a question of preferences I’d say definitely not. If it’s for fresh start I understand, but I think an attempt to dilute the child’s identity or story so far would be misguided. Maybe there is room for compromise if the adopters decide they do want to change; transitioning to using a different nickname or something similar. A new or additional middle sounds like a nice marker of this new phase, without removing any of his past.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I can’t speak to adoption specifically or to what circumstances might make keeping his birth name/receiving a new name better, but I wanted to say that kids are resilient. I have always called my kids by their first names, as well as a plethora of nicknames and pet names, and they quickly learn each new one and respond to it. My 2 and 3 year olds even enthusiastically nickname themselves at times. I still think it’d be ideal to retain some piece of the child’s birth name, but if you decide to change it entirely, I think it’d be easier by slowly introducing the new name more and more often with him, until you use the new name entirely rather than secondarily.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My best friend was adopted at 2 and her name was changed because her older sister had the same name and so her parents re-named her. She adjusted fine as a child by all accounts, but as she was older it was more of an issue. She wished that they had just called her by her middle name and left it as is or kept the same names and switched first and middle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I think this is an important perspective. Perhaps many potential issues that result from changing the name wouldn’t be apparent during childhood, but it’s likely that some of these problems (alongside other deep issues that may result from the circumstances surrounding the adoption) would surface somehow during adolescence and adulthood. There’s probably no perfect solution, but whatever the family decides, it’s likely important to keep in mind that there may well be consequences down the road that will need to be worked through and resolved!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Have they asked the child? At two-and-a-half, one of my children could very easily tell us exactly what she thought of that, and the other could understand the question and say yes or no. Both knew their names, announced their preferred nicknames, occasionally asked to go by Normaleah or Rosabella or SpeedyGirl for a day.

    Not that two-year-olds are consistent! Nor that they are always the judge of what is best for them. But I would hate to change the kid’s name based on the grandparents’ request, unless the name were somehow Bad For The Child. I know an adoptive family with two Jordans, and they go by Big Jordan and Little Jordan when together, and Jordan when alone.

    A name is such a special gift. I would add to the name, or maybe even tweak it to a more expected spelling/variant if that seemed likely to help the kid in the long run. (Bryhanna to Brianna, etc.) But remember that they can always just hold off on this decision. Changing a kid’s name is not that much paperwork, and it’s not that big of a hassle. They can keep the toddler’s name until the kid is 8 or 12 and old enough to decide what they want. They can change what they call the kid and what the kid goes by socially, but wait on the paperwork until the child is ready to decide.

    There’s no rush!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I have a friend who adopted 3 brothers together, aged 2 and twins aged 4 (at the time). They changed the spellings of 2 of the names to be more traditionally spelt, [like Phred to Fred] (the other name was fine) and added middle names of their choice. The boys obviously did not notice the changes. So much upheaval – give a kid some consistency. I vote to not change the name substantially.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. No, I would strongly advise against renaming him. If you would like to add a second middle name, or introduce a new sparky nickname, that could be an alternative to share with the grandparents. But please keep his name the same.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Please do not change the name of a two and a half year old. I don’t think people have bad intentions when they do this. I hear justifications like, “the old name was associated with trauma.” However, whatever occurred during this child’s life is part of their life and that does not disappear.

    My relative who was adopted has a lot of hurt from being “transformed” into a different person. In his opinion now as a 60 year old, the change was done to suit his parents’ desire for him to be someone new – the child they would have had if they could have their own, a name that sounds like their own. I can’t describe the pain he has disclosed. And this is from someone who is also very grateful and feels very blessed to have been adopted.

    Kids are resilient but more adversity does not create more resilience. We should not use the capacity for resilience as justification for doing something that is not in a child’s best interest.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m going to weigh in as another voice for not changing the name.

    I come at this more as a child of divorce than any other life experience. Others have pointed out important issues, like stability. I also think a child’s biological parents – for better or worse – are the only biological ones they get and even with something as beautiful as adoption, there is a primal connection to your origins… a connection that needs to be mourned when it can’t continue, but also celebrated for any good that existed. And the name might be the only loving connection this child ever has with his biological parent/s.

    Liked by 1 person

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