Should adoptive parents change their children’s ethnic given names to avoid prejudice later in life?

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.”

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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, and rounded up their thoughts at Babble today. Click here to read them – I’m fascinated by the variance of opinions and how parents who want to do right by their child can come to different conclusions in similar circumstances.

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