Ask AF: Honoring a Birth Name

Keeping and treasuring their birth name is a powerful tool for international adoptees.

Q: When we adopted our daughter as an infant, we gave her a first and middle name, and kept her Korean birth name as a second middle name. Now a preteen, she’s begun saying that she feels her Korean name is “pushed aside.” When a form has space for only one middle initial or name, for example, that’s the name that gets left off. She’s asked us to use only that name on forms. We want to honor her heritage, but don’t want to mess things up from a legal standpoint. I’d be willing to do a legal name change if that seems best.

 

A: The great news is that your daughter is talking to you about this, and you seem to understand that this is about her need to claim her full self, not about rejecting you. Too often, international adoptees do not feel entitled to embrace their birth heritage, because they have received explicit or subtle messages that they should be happy and grateful for their new identities as Americans. During her teen years, she must decide how she wants to incorporate all the different aspects of her self, including her experience of adoption, race, and ethnicity. When she looks to you for validation, I encourage you to support her exploration.

Given that both her middle names are legally hers, she/you can use whichever you choose on things like school forms. Since you said you’d be willing to do a legal name change, I’d discuss this with her and support her if she decides that would be important to her.

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