Name That Tune was an American television game show pitting contestants against each other to guess the name of the song being played. Correct answers were worth cash prizes. Adoptive parents are not playing a game, and the stakes are much higher when it comes to naming their child who was adopted. Many things must be considered in their decision-making process. Let’s look at 13 of them.

The Chosen Name May Not Be the Child’s First Name  

Adoptive parents only become the legal parents of a child through court proceedings. Until they are the child’s parents in the eyes of the law, they do not have the authority to determine the child’s legal name. The individual with the power to give the child a name initially is the birth mother, the recognized parent at birth.

The issue of the child’s name first arises shortly after birth when a birth certificate application is completed. State laws require such applications be submitted within a specified amount of time following a live birth. The brief period allotted does not allow sufficient time for an adoption case to be finalized as, of course, the wheels of justice grind slowly. Since a name must appear on any birth certificate issued, the decision falls on the birth mother to give one.

But the birth mother may decline to choose a name if she will not be parenting the child because he is being placed for adoption. She is not required to select a name. If she passes on name selection, then the birth certificate will identify the child as “Baby Boy” or “Baby Girl,” or some similar description, followed by her last name.

On the other hand, the birth mother carried this child and may wish to remember the child she bore by a name she has chosen. She may give the child whatever name she chooses. The last name does not even have to be her own. If she believes the baby daddy is her boyfriend, she may opt to identify the child by that man’s last name.

Whether or not a name is given to the baby by the birth mother, the choice of a name is hers to make. Prospective adoptive parents are not the ones completing the birth certificate application, so they do not control the initial name selection. But adoptive parents are not bound to keep the child’s original name upon adoption. Petitions for adoption filed with a court routinely include a request that the court give the name the adoptive parents have chosen for the child, and the granting of that request is expressly included in a final judgment of adoption. A new birth certificate bearing the child’s adopted name will subsequently be issued, showing the adoptive parents as the child’s mother and father.                                                                       Selection of a Name Could Be a Collaborative Effort

In open adoptions, prospective adoptive parents and the birth mother could be communicating directly prior to the baby’s birth. The topic of what name the child will be given is likely to arise. Since the birth mother and the adoptive couple are part of the adoption triad, they are already collaborating on an adoptive placement. They may wish to extend their collaboration to the choice of a name. All may jointly agree on a name which the child will originally be given and keep following the adoption. Alternatively, these triad members may divvy up the name choice responsibilities. Perhaps the adoptive parents will choose the child’s first name and the birth mother will select a middle name. Even if the child’s name remains the same following adoption, a new birth certificate will still be issued, showing the adoptive parents as mother and father.

Should You Honor the Child’s Racial, Ethnic, or National Heritage?

Transracial adoption is more common today than in years past. According to the Institute of Family Studies, the share of kindergarteners raised by a mother of a different racial or ethnic group rose 50% between 1999 to 2011. The United States also embraces international adoption. According to the U.S. Department of States’ 2019 Annual Report on Intercountry Adoption, American families continue to provide homes for half of all children adopted through inter-country adoption.

Given these statistics, an adopted child may not share the same background as his adopted parents. While an adoption makes the child a part of a forever family, that legal relationship does not change the fact of the child’s racial, national, and ethnic heritage. Why not embrace and honor that difference? It is part and parcel of who the child is. Paying homage to a child’s heritage recognizes who the child is and where he came from. Choosing a name reflecting that background is one way to accord that recognition.

Establish the Incorporation of the Child into the Family        

Finalization of an adoption results in an adopted child legally becoming a part of the adoptive family. But that inclusion is one which is merely on paper. Feeling accepted as an actual family member is something beneficial for a child who was adopted. Naming the child after a parent, such as Joseph Smith, Jr., or after a beloved family member, such as a grandparent, is a tangible way to show the child he is viewed as a part of the family—even if he does not look like his relatives.

Start Thinking about Names at the Very Beginning of the Adoption Process          

It is impossible to know exactly how long it will take to receive an adoptive placement. Some couples wait years, while others receive a quick placement. No mathematical formula exists to ascertain what amount of time will pass before a child is placed in the prospective adoptive home. Given this uncertainty, some couples put off considering names until a tangible opportunity is presented to them. This choice may put them in a bind should a last-minute situation arise such as a drop-in birth mother at the hospital.

The name to be given to a child is a significant one with long-term consequences. Because of its importance, the decision is one akin to marriage—something that should not be entered into lightly. A child’s name should be thoroughly considered and not a snap decision.

If a couple is starting the adoption process, they need to prepare for having a child in the home. They may work on a nursery, investigate possible childcare arrangements, and buy baby clothes or gear. Is choosing a name any less important than any of these activities? Even if a firm decision is not made in advance of the child’s birth or placement, a short list can be compiled and certain names eliminated. Boy Scouts are taught to be prepared. A prospective adoptive parents’ to-do list to prepare for arrival of an adopted child should include thinking of what to name their new family member.

Look to the Future                                                                                                                                                                                          

Babies will not stay babies forever. A name which sounds cute for a bundle of joy or a young child may not be fitting for an adult. Will the name be appropriate for the long haul?

Popularity is typically fleeting. Choosing a trendy name for a child is great while the name is trendy, but a new trendy name will replace it at some future point.

Cutesy names may date the child. Giving a little girl the name Corona is a pretty good indication that she was born in or around 2020.

Does the Name Fit the Child?    

Psychological studies indicate there are common perceptions as to what a person with a certain name looks like. The thought is that the right name will fit a person’s face. Some couples want to lay eyes on their new child before settling on a name. New parents may have their hearts set on “Victoria,” but when they see their child, they may conclude she doesn’t look like a Victoria at all.

Request the Child’s Input                                                                                                                                                                       

Not all children who are placed for adoption are infants. If the child is older, she has been using her original name for some time. By that point, she can voice her own opinion as to whether she likes it or wishes it changed. It is the child’s name, after all, so shouldn’t she be allowed the opportunity to provide input?

Consider What Is Associated with a Name     

What’s the first thing you think of when someone says “Benedict?” Chances are, “Arnold” immediately came to mind. The name Benedict has negative connotations. A child will start off with one strike against him if saddled with a name that elicits a negative reaction. Isn’t life hard enough without adding to the things with which a child will have to deal?

Even if a name does not have a general negative connotation, it may have one in a personal context. Perhaps the name one parent is suggesting has baggage from the viewpoint of the other parent. For example, a parent may not want her child named after an ex-boyfriend who broke her heart as a teen. Allow a child to have his or her own identity without being undermined by connections to someone in the parent’s past or present life that are not pleasant.

Ponder How a Child’s Peers Will React to the Name    

A name is the first way a child is identified socially. This identification affects his self-concept. If the name given a child makes him self-conscious because it is so different, trouble may lie ahead. Kids can be extremely cruel to one another. An adoptive parent does not want to provide a reason for their son or daughter’s peers to tease or bully him or her. How will the child feel if his classmates dissolve into fits of laughter when his name is called on the roll the first day of school?

Unique names are cool in the abstract, but that is the name the child will need to be able to spell and live with for life. Will the spelling or pronunciation of the chosen name provide a basis for a child to be picked on?

Think About Whether a Name Change Will Cause Confusion       

If the child is too young to give input on a name change but old enough to be accustomed to his name, what happens when his name is changed? Children adopted out of foster care have already experienced their share of trauma by being removed from their family and being placed in the system. Will taking perhaps the one thing they have left—their identity—be too confusing or upsetting to them?

Do Some Research                             

Prospective adoptive parents do not have to rely solely on their own imagination to come up with possible names for a new family member. They, more than likely, will eagerly research information about the adoption process. Why not do some research as to what names could be considered to bestow? Baby name books on the market provide thousands of options for a name. Various sites on the Internet also list names to consider.

Government and other websites offer information as to what the most popular names given are for specific periods of time. For example, Michael and Lisa were the top names for baby boys and girls respectively in the 1950s; the years 2000-2010 saw Jacob and Emily rise to the top of given names. The information on what the top recent choices were for names can help in the consideration process in a couple of ways. Such names are safe from being subject to ridicule because they are mainstream. Knowing what the most popular names are also allows the chance to avoid bestowing such a popular name that their son is one of four Jacobs in his class.

Make the Name Meaningful    

Some adoptive parents strive to make a statement with the name chosen for their child. It may express how they feel about their new addition: (“Joy”); what got them through the adoptive process: (“Hope” or “Faith”); when the child was adopted: (“Noel” or “June”); or where the child was born: (“Florence” or “Daphne”). In these instances, the name not only identifies the individual, but also tells part of her story as well.

The name given a child has life-long consequences. It will affect how others react to him and his self-concept. Given the importance a name has, the decision as to what a new family member is to be named is one which prospective adoptive parents need to thoroughly consider. Although a seemingly simple task, many points should be considered in choosing a name. Does it fit the child? Does it have negative connotations? Can it serve to tell the child’s story or honor his heritage? Name selection is not a task that can or should be accomplished as quickly or taken as lightly as naming a tune.