Naming your baby is one of the most exciting parts of being a new parent. Coming up with a name for an adopted baby is equally exciting; however, the process is a bit different than a biological child. When asking, “How can I find a good baby name for my newly adopted child?” you will need to think about your family as well as the birth mother’s wishes. The adoption agency you work with should help adoptive and birth families to have these discussions about naming the child so that you aren’t navigating this alone.
Birth Mom and Adoptive Parents
Every adoption situation is different. In newborn infant adoption, you will be legally allowed to name the baby as adoptive parents, especially when the adoption is finalized. Some birth mothers will want to name their baby from birth. Some won’t and will leave it completely up to the adoptive parents. In many cases, however, the name is created from what both the birth mother and adoptive parents come up with together. If a birth mom is adamant about a certain name and will not budge and the adoptive parents truly can’t stand the name, that birth mom is free to pick another couple or keep her baby. I find it hard to believe anyone would not go through with adoption just because of a name disagreement. I think there is always a middle ground, a compromise that can be reached between adoptive couples and birth moms.
I don’t want to take away the importance of the birth mother’s role. She is always to be honored. But personally, if a woman told me I absolutely had to use a name she chose and I didn’t like it, I don’t think things would work out. It’s about practicality. Adoptive parents are the ones using and saying the name all day long every day from now on. If I had to use a name that was silly or strange to me, I would be really resentful of the birth mother. I don’t want resentment. I hope birth moms can understand this.
Recently, a friend of mine was matched with an expectant mom and the expectant mom wanted to use the name “Miracle.” My friend didn’t like it, but not only that, it just completely wouldn’t go with their last name. It would be a complete embarrassment to the child to have the name Miracle with their last name. For privacy reasons, I won’t say the last name, but it just absolutely could not work with that first name. My friend suggested another option of finding the word “miracle” in another language and using that as a name. The other option is to use the birth mom’s suggestion as the middle name. That is what is most commonly done. As it turned out, my friend’s adoption did not go through as the expectant mom chose to parent.
For my husband and I, the naming process was not too difficult in our first adoption. We knew it was a boy and so at the suggestion of the adoption agency, we made a list of names we were considering. They would then show the list to our son’s birth mother and have her give feedback on the names. I thought this was a perfect way of doing it because we had the third- party intermediary of the adoption caseworker to ease tension. Our son’s birth mom didn’t have a specific name chosen, so she just vetoed a couple of the names, maybe two out of five or something like that. We were left to choose between a few names and got to pick his middle name as well. I’m so grateful she did not try to force us to accept a name we didn’t love. It’s also important to remember that everyone has name associations in their life. You may love the name “Laura,” but to someone else, “Laura” is the girl who bullied her as a teenager. She will always associate the name with that person. It’s almost subconscious how names trigger feelings, memories, and reactions. People have name associations, good and bad, and that’s something you cannot control.
When we were matched for the second time (an adoption that was disrupted later) the mom did have a strong preference for one or two names. I received an email one day with some information about the expectant mom as well as her name choices. Neither of the names were appealing to me. One could be a middle name option if we removed the “a” off the end of the name, but the other name I just couldn’t wrap my mind around. It felt very tense at the next couple of meetings and I think we were both nervous as the agency had been passing along name preferences between our two parties. We never discussed it together in-depth out loud.
It was really nerve-racking for me as I didn’t want to offend her but I knew I could not go with the name she preferred. She also was calling the baby her preferred name. She’d rub her tummy and say the name. In those moments, I just felt I had no say and this wasn’t meant to be our baby. It felt like she had decided already and I didn’t want to step on her toes. I also wasn’t willing to lie to her and say I’d use it and then change it—that’s not who I am.
As weeks went on, she ended up changing her mind about placement anyway (we don’t think due entirely to the name situation but it could have been a factor, who knows). She told the agency that the birth father came back in the picture and decided to help raise the child, so that was the reason we heard for her keeping her baby—that and the fact that her family was against it. Now we are waiting for another match and I am dreading that a name disagreement happens again. It is so hard and awkward. This isn’t picking out a shirt—it’s someone’s name and identity for life. It’s a sound that will resonate in your own home every day.
Another thing to consider is that in every match, the timeline is different. Having a name conversation when you have three months to prepare for baby’s arrival is quite different from having it with two days until birth. I don’t know that the agencies have an exact date they like to bring up names, but I know it’s usually late in the process after the birth family and adoptive family get to know each other a bit first. This makes sense, but also waiting too long can be an addition to stress. I would like to think at least a month prior is a good cushion of time, but again each situation is so unique. I can only imagine what it must be like for families that don’t meet the birth mother prior to birth.
If you’re pursuing foster care and may or may not adopt the child, you will not have the ability to ask, “How can I find a good baby name for my newly adopted child?” This child will already have a name and especially given the average age of a foster care placement, the child will already have their identity entwined with their name. I have heard of people changing kids’ names, but that would be something that would require careful consideration and could cause emotional damage. It could seem like you’re trying to erase the child’s past or where they came from. It the child is truly ok with a name change then you can pursue it. You can always come up with nicknames if you don’t want to do all of the paperwork for changing a first name. Another thing to consider about a foster child is what name will they call you? This article dives into this topic.
International adoptive families also deal with this. People who adopt from a country like Russia via an orphanage may ask, “How can I find a good baby name for my newly adopted child?” if the child is young. Toddlers are used to hearing their name but I’ve heard many stories of name changes happening and the toddler adapting to the new name fairly quickly. Some will keep their first name as the Russian name and create another middle name. If you are adopting an older child, again, changing the first name would be less likely unless they really wanted to. In those cases, you may want to only change the middle name or not change anything at all. Some will argue that even in a toddler, changing their first name is too much for them emotionally. This all will depend on your child and your family.
Here you will find a resource to answer the question, “How can I find a good baby name for my newly adopted child?” You can browse for girls’ and boys’ names by each letter of the alphabet. It also gives you the name origin, i.e. Celtic or Greek, etc. I have never seen such a detailed list on any other website. There are also tons of other baby name websites you can find just by Googling “baby names” or “unique names” or “biblical names.” In the adoption world, I see tons of biblical names.
Many will choose family names for their children. Sit down with your spouse and write out your family trees. Look for names that resonate with you or could be middle names. This is such a great way to honor family. You could even have one of your family names and then have the birth mother’s favorite name be the middle name so that way both sides are honored.
Don’t forget to consider their initials. The birth mother may not know your last name so it’s up to you to make sure you don’t give your child odd initials like “PMS” or “KKK.” In open adoption these days, it’s likely you will eventually know each other’s full names, but at first and at the hospital, that may still be information held back.
My biggest advice would be to be honest. Do not promise a birth mother a name and then just change it after the adoption without her knowing or accepting it. Don’t agree to a name just so the adoption will go through and lie and then change it later. Please respect her; she’s trusting you with her child. By the same token, she should trust you to make a good choice on the baby’s name; however, sometimes birth mothers insist on a name for the first or middle name. Communication and compromise are so important for your relationship. In a closed adoption, it may be easier to hide things if you change a name, but most adoptions today are open and that is a wonderful thing. Going forward in your relationship with the birth mother, you will make it really hard for her to trust you if you lie and change a name legally without her consent.
It can be hard for adoptive parents to realize they need to include the birth mother in their naming decision. After waiting so long for a baby, they may have a seemingly perfect name picked out and when presented to the birth mother, she may not care for it. It’s important to remember though, you as adoptive parents will have to explain to your child one day how they got their name. In open adoption, the birth mother may express to the child how they wanted a different name and your child may ask you why you couldn’t compromise. Why not choose a name that both parties agree upon so both sides are honored? You will feel so much better telling your child that everyone’s feelings were taken into account when you asked yourself, “How can I find a good baby name for my newly adopted child?”
Are you and your partner ready to start the adoption process? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to begin your adoption journey. We have 130+ years of adoption experience and would love to help you.