The short answer is, “Yes. After a child is adopted, you can change their name.” Whether that is a good idea or not, in my opinion, needs to be determined by circumstances.
When M & T arrived in our home and we were told that we would most likely be adopting them, we started thinking of what we might name them. This is a pretty sensitive subject. After speaking with our social worker, we learned that M had never been called by her full-name. With both her mom and in other foster homes, she was given different nick-names. When she arrived in our home, she was not really speaking much. Since we were thinking in terms of adoption, we knew her given birth name was something that would have made her stand out in our family (which may or may not have been an issue). There is nothing wrong with her name but different cultures have different ways of naming children. We wanted a name that would be acceptable in African-American culture but also something that was very much a part of our family as well. Maybe that was bit selfish on our part. To be honest, I never really felt totally sure on what the right answer was to this situation. What we ended up doing, was giving her a short nick-name that had similar sounds & letters to her full name. Had we adopted her, we would have just made that her first name legally. For T, we just called him a shorter version of his full name and, if we had adopted him, we were going to legally change his name to something very similar to his given name at birth.
Well, we felt like huge jerks about all of this once we learned that the kids would be reunified. Did we scar M? Did we confuse her? We were worried that we had made a wrong decision and had been selfish to make ourselves more comfortable. We started calling her by her birth name and there really didn’t seem to be any confusion for her at all. She started talking and when asked what her name was she would say her given name. She knew herself by that name and the one we gave her and a few other nick-names she had. In this case, it all sort of worked out in the end. When we talk about M now, we call her by her given name and, to be honest, we have kind of fallen in love with it. It is so her. And I think it is another part of the story in that everything really worked out the way God intended.
With the ages of D2 & A, we did not really even consider changing their first names at all. They know those names and identify with them. We like their names and they work well for our family. D2, in particular, is very sensitive to his name being mispronounced and he is not too big a fan of nick-names even, at this point. If we are able to adopt them, we will likely give them middle names that have some sort of meaning to us and, of course, they will have our last name. They don’t know their middle names or their last name right now (not because it is a secret, just because at 3 and 4 and they just don’t care).
I think the whole situation of naming has to be handled with great sensitivity. We are still learning in this whole foster & adoption process, so if you have any thoughts on this, we would love to hear them.