I shall be called by a new name, embraced by a fresh pair of arms,
but I shall come and go, the eternal me.
Rabindranath Tagore 1861-1941
Children in foster care are transient. They can be moved at any time and for any or no reason. As a result, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to feel a sense of stability or belonging. If the child is put up [put up sounds like someone hanging a picture or making pickles] for adoption, chances are their last name will be changed. And depending on the age of the child, their first name may be changed as well.
How do you think that child must feel? A name helps to give a child a sense of self; an identity; a connection. It is a complex and difficult decision; one that is fraught with ramifications that affect both the child and the adoptive parents for a lifetime. Of course the adoptive parents want their adopted child to feel included, part of the family and settled. The child wants all of these things as well. However, the older the child is when adopted, the more connected to and defined by their name they have become. Changing a child’s name is a major decision and should not be made lightly.
The following story illustrates what can happen when a child who is 10 years old and has their name changed. The child had been in and out of 5 or 6 foster homes and finally went to what was to be their forever home. Through the first 10 years of life, the child was called by one first and last name. Even though the child felt no sense of security, grounding or permanence, one of the few constants had been their name. Now the child was going to another placement, supposedly a forever home. The child was skeptical at best. The first thing the new family did was change the child’s first and last names. How confusing and scary for the child. The child was now in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people and being called by a name that had no meaning or connection to who they were. The child felt lost and demoralized. Having a new name must have meant the old one was no good – just more confirmation of what they believed about themselves. They were no good. The “eternal me” was lost. It would take many, many years for the child to realize that maybe, just maybe, the “eternal me” might just still exist.
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