The Name Game: Part 3 – Lessons from Down Under

I am completely astounded at how much traffic I have received since
I wrote about naming. I was only putting down my thoughts about my own
process, because a friend of mine had recently decided to change her
name back to her Korean name too. When I was going through the "should
I – shouldn’t I" stage, I was very fortunate that I had friends who had
done it already, and they really supported my decision and helped me
with the difficult and rewarding transition.

When I was writing The Name Game: Part 2,
I was researching like crazy to find information on something I’d heard
but couldn’t confirm – that Australia requires parents to keep their
adopted children’s names. I searched and searched and could not find
the information. But, thanks to a reader who sent me the following
information, I’d like to pass on to you how this issue of naming is
approached in Australia.

I was pleased to see that many of the points my TRA friends and I
make about naming are the same answers that this Australian law makes
as well.

To change a child’s name requires
the services of a Solicitor and ‘special circumstances’ need to be
outlined. In this sense the government department in Australia who
manage Intercountry Adoption have published the following statement:

DoCS (Department of Community Services) Rationale supporting retention of the name of a child.

Each person’s identity is made up of a number of components; their
name is a core part of their identity. Children recognise their name
from about 4 or 5 months of age. A child’s name helps them to identify
her/himself as unique and separate from all other children- a powerful
factor in the development of a “sense of self”.

In the case of intercountry adoptees, the child’s name usually
reflects their race and cultural identity, and is one of the few
remaining links they have with their birth country.

The Adoption 2000 (the Act) proclaimed this year states in the
“Objects and adoption principles’’ –“The child’s given name or names,
identity, language and cultural and religious ties should, as far as
possible, be identified and preserved.” Section 101 (5) of the Act
upholds this principle of the importance of retaining a child’s name.

The New South Wales Law Reform Commission (LRC) outlined in Report
81 Review of the Adoption of Children Act 1965 (NSW) the rationale
behind their recommendation to retain birth names of adopted children.
The report cited Australia’s undertaking in the United Nations
Convention on the Rights of the Child to “respect the right of the
child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and
family relations”.

The LRC also noted “The intercountry adoptee endures enormous change
and dislocation in the process of being adopted overseas. The child is
uprooted from all that is familiar, including relationships and
language. The child’s name is one of the few remaining links with his
or her birth culture. More importantly, though, the child’s name is an
integral part of his or her identity”.

Keeping a child’s name is a sign of respect to the birth family and
to the overseas country from which the child is adopted and allows the
child’s racial and cultural identity to be valued and preserved.

Most children arriving from overseas know their name-even young babies respond to their name. This is the most compelling reason to keep this name.

Some reasons given to explain why parents want to change their child’s name:

* They wish to give the child a name to make them part of their family and give them the context of their Australian family.
While this is a reasonable desire, every adopted child gets the surname
of their Australian family so the family is giving their name to their

*They feel changing an intercountry adoptee’s
name to an Anglo name makes it easier for the child and they say other
migrants coming to Australia do the same.

It is
understandable that a parent wants to protect their child from
difficulties. Still a migrant retains their surname so their
cultural/racial heritage can be identified. So for example most people
would realise that “a Peter Wong” is Chinese by his surname. The child
lives with their parents/family members and maintains their native
language and cultural/religious practices. An intercountry adoptee
whose forename is changed to an Anglo one loses this part of their
cultural/racial identity that would have been preserved if their
forename were kept.

*They feel because they changed their first child’s name, they need to do the same for their second.
Again this is a reasonable concern but adoption practice changes over
time and what was common practice when one child was placed with
adoptive parents can change by the time the next child is placed. We
find that generally parents are usually more than able to deal with
differences in practice over time, and to explain them appropriately to
their children.

It is in the above context that the Department supports retention of
names of non-citizen children and cannot support a change of name
unless there are exceptional circumstances. We sincerely believe it is
in the best interests of these children for them to retain their names.
These children do gain by being placed in a loving Australian adoptive
family but we must remember they do lose through adoption as well and the more we can reduce this loss the better for them.

From Dept of Community Services (Australia) – 2003

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

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