Should Adoptive Parents Change Their Child’s Name To Avoid Prejudice?

Several recent news stories have shed light on an unfortunate xenophobia in regards to names and employment. Earlier this year, the Freakonomics podcast report that there is evidence that a name can influence how a child performs in school and even her career opportunities. More recently, a NY Times blogger shared her discovery that typing in traditionally Black-sounding names yielded a google image search of mugshots, which did not repeat when she searched for images related to more traditionally white American names.

In a recent piece in The Washington Times, the author explores the bias against names that sound “ethnic.” After the above article was quoted on the Times‘ Facebook page, a mother commented on her worry that her future son’s race and name alone would leave him marked as a criminal for life. Another commenter shared that he is a hiring manager who routinely passes on “African sounding” names so not to give his existing employers “discomfort” in having to “deal with someone with such a name.”

racist on facebook

The bias against names that sound non-white is steeped in prejudice (as well as ignorance since, as a nation built on immigrants, ANY name held by an American citizen is an American name.) However, we are not living in an ideal world  where this is recognized, and many parents grapple with the potential prejudice a name can carry as they choose what to name their children.

This is certainly true in the adoption context, especially for those adopting internationally.  Many adoptive parents struggle with the decision to keep a child’s given name, versus giving them a name that is more common in the culture in which they will live. Some feel that a child’s heritage and birth family connection should be honored above concerns about prejudice. Others feel that an unusual name just ads to the list of ways transracially adopted kids may feel “different”, and may contribute to the narrative burden of having to explain origins every time they meet a new person. This tension . . . between honoring a child’s original culture and helping a child navigate easily in a new culture . . . make naming a difficult decision for adoptive parents. Of course, the age of the child is a consideration as well.

I’ve talked with several adoptive parents and adoptees who have a variety of opinions and experiences with names and adoption.  Here are some of their thoughts:


  • "We wanted her to know she was wanted . . . " 1 of 17
  • "They were already preschoolers with their own identities . . ." 2 of 17
  • "I considered . . . did their name sound racially appropriate?" 3 of 17
  • "I could not fathom how we could give him a ‘better’ name." 4 of 17
  • "Their names belonged to them." 5 of 17
  • "I started regretting my decision to change her name." 6 of 17
  • "It is difficult for people to pronounce . . ." 7 of 17
  • "It’s important to allow them to keep that part of their heritage . . ." 8 of 17

    "It's important to allow them to keep that part of their heritage . . ."

  • "My parents gave us American middle names, which we use as our preferred names." 9 of 17

    "My parents gave us American middle names, which we use as our preferred names."

  • "My son shares his name with revolutionary men." 10 of 17
  • "I was also worried about him getting man-handled by the TSA." 11 of 17
  • "Loosing a name is a loss of connection to their birth heritage." 12 of 17
  • "The social worker was unsure how to pronounce it." 13 of 17
  • "Their birth families named them and that is a source of pride." 14 of 17
  • "They were losing everything . . . we couldn’t bear for them to lose their names as well." 15 of 17
  • "We ended up following family tradition." 16 of 17
  • "We changed their names to more American ones that reflected our families." 17 of 17

When you named your children, whether adopted or biological, did you think about how their name might effect them later? If you are raising children of color, were you concerned about the bias towards ethnic names? If you have adopted children, did you keep their names, or change them?


Article Posted 4 years Ago

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