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Lemn Sissay (2019)

My Name Is Why. A Memoir

Lemn Sissay's story of his childhood in care, and how he came to know his birth name.

Available via Waterstones & other bookshops

 Gaynor Cherianne (2022)

An Adoptee's Journey: Letters of My Life 

"My life as an adoptee through the power of letters to family, friends, and those caught up along the way". Available via

Jackie Kay (1991)

The Adoption Papers

Jackie Kay tells the story of a black girl's adoption by a white Scottish couple, from three different viewpoints: the mother, the birth mother, and the daughter.

Available via Waterstones & other bookshops.

Then… ? A poem By Roz Munro

(after Bread and Butter by Jo Roach)

I came from a girl lately arrived
after weeks at sea, then 
one person heavier.

I came from a sailor who glanced
over her, a passing interest then
I to him and him to me. 

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Useful Links

  • Holly Marlow:

    Adoption & Fostering Stories & Resources

  • Identities, family relationships & feelings of belonging within adoptive families

    Watch this 30 minute video on YouTube where we in Adoption Name Stories study (Jane Pilcher, Jan Flaherty & Hannah Deakin-Smith) talk about the project and share some early findings.


  • Coram Adoption:

    Coram is an independent adoption agency. Its website offers support for adopters & includes some adopters' stories.


  • How To Be Adopted:

    How To Be Adopted provides spaces for adopted people to connect in person and online.

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We’ve come across some resources about adoption, and/or adoption and names that we are keen to share with you. Please let us know of any similar resources you would like to see included on our resources page.

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Name Stories

Name Stories

We gathered adoption name stories from adoptees and adopters, and you can read excerpts from some of these here. Except for those participants who wished to keep their first name, all names are pseudonyms.

  • Roz, Adoptee

    On reclaiming a name:

    When I divorced I reclaimed my birth surname, Kerr, rather than return to my adoptive name of Barton. My mother saw it as a rejection of them. It was harder telling them about this decision than it was telling them I was getting divorced! 

  • Cat, Adopter


    I kept his first name as it is but I did change his middle name. His middle name was Tyler and it is now Danny. I wanted Liahm to have a name that I had chosen – I feel almost guilty saying that as it is though I have removed part of his identity to make my own mark. I have no real excuse for that, and if he wants to add the Tyler back in when he is older I will help him do that.

  • Anne, Adoptee

    On name change and alternative selves:

    On the surface, I feel quite detached from this name Kay. However, somewhere deep inside I feel that this name represents a part of me that is hidden, myself as a baby prior to my adoption.  It feels like it names a possibility, a possibility of a life not lived, a path not taken. This name, Kay O Brien symbolises an unrecognised, unfulfilled potential of a life not lived.  A crossroads in my journey.  The ’what ifs’.

  • Matty, Adopter


    I sometimes think that the changing of names should be allowed and encouraged upon adoption, particularly if the family are still open with the life story work and explaining that the name was given by the people who they see as their parents.

  • Julian, Adoptee  

    On birth names:

    I wonder if natural mums should give their child a name if they give them away as it sort of creates an identity or bond.  And from my perspective already having a name was probably the most emotional aspect of the process around finding out about your history. 

  • Rachel, Adoptee


    It was just quite a surprise to me when I found out my surname was Clifford… I don’t know, it just didn’t occur to me that perhaps I would have a different surname.

  • Colin, Adopter

    On retaining child’s birth forename:

    Well it’s the child’s name, it’s their identity. I guess some people have issues with connections with birth family which they struggle with, but you know, for us it was a connection to them I guess. We felt that’s the least we could do was keep the name because that’s the name she was given by her birth parents. So why would you change it?

  • Elizabeth, Adopter

    On changing a child's name:

    The reason we had to change my daughter's name by deed poll and not on the adoption order is because her social worker did not agree that we should change her name and threatened us with not supporting her lodging to the court. This was very distressing as you can imagine. So, we kept are heads low until she was officially a Sturman.

  • Maia, Adopter

    On naming a child:

    It has been such a powerful experience. To talk about his name, to reflect upon the choice of his name. Like so many things, we speed through only touching the surface as to why we do certain things - logical reasons for everything we do.

    Nothing about naming a child has anything to do with logic. It is all linked to our dreams and hopes about what this person can be…one would hope, anyway.

    It’s a privilege to be in a position to raise a child, and naming that child, I really believe, sets their course. I am writing for and about my son at the moment, and I wouldn't have really looked at how we named him in more than a sentence or two if I hadn’t done this.

    I’m really grateful I did it and felt the tears come up more than once. It really touched a deep part of me.

  • Andrew, Adoptee

    Reflection on change of names:

    At around ten years of age, I was told by my adoptive mother that Andrew wasn’t the name I had been first given and that I’d originally been named Richard. That was quite a shock, it confused and hurt me as it contributed to a challenge to what I then perceived as my identity.

    Over the years I’ve become more comfortable with the name change, after all I am who I am, but not with the loss of identity which it highlighted to me.

    Having had my own child I love the fact that he has my surname, the only genetic mirror I have in my life has given real meaningful context to my name.

  • Helen, Adopter 

    On keeping/changing different parts of a child's name:

    We chose to give her a middle name because we wanted to gift her a name that we had chosen that did not remove or erase the identity that she had before she was adopted. Changing her first name may have resulted in her feeling some resentment towards us in later years and caused her to question her identity. We also wanted the name to have meaning so that she would understand how much she was wanted and longed for. 

    As the parent of an adopted child… I think names have much more meaning and should represent a link between both the past and the future. It’s an important way in which the adoptee can maintain a link to where they came from but also equally important for the adopters to gift a name in some way so that a link can be established within the new family for the future.

  • Sam, Adopter

    On changing children's surnames: 

    I think it felt important to us, and I’m not sure why, maybe it was something about anchoring them within our family and giving them some of our family? Rather than bringing them in, it’s actually saying you know, this is yours too.

  • Julian, Adoptee

    On name change and alternative selves:

    I mean sometimes you know, I suppose, there is an element where you know I suppose you walk around the streets sort of thinking you know er, you know, you, you know, although you haven’t got it, it’s a, it’s an invisible name, but it feels like you've still got that identity to it I a way, because that's what you were given at birth[…] it’s that sort of you know, you've got this sort of other alter ego of, of, of, through um, er through, through that name.

  • Lisa, Adoptee

    On discovering birth names:

    I think I was probably relieved to you know … I suppose … I suppose if I’m a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing, that was … that [birth name] was one of the pieces, quite a big piece. So that was er you know, interesting and erm it was … it was information that I wanted to have.

  • Anne, Adoptee

    On discovering birth names: 

    So I remember when I first saw my name [cough] on my birth certificate, um it was very surreal, because it was like, that was me, but it didn’t feel like me at all, um…”

  • Eddie, Adoptee

    On birth names:

    My Thomas Roberts. Well, it isn’t, not now, but it was, when I was born. However, shortly after my Mum named me I was given to a different set of parents who thought it was fine to rename me (would they have renamed a rescue dog?). They renamed me in their image, after Kings of England, as Henry Edward Phillip. I hated it as a kid, and as an adult. I still hate it. It just isn’t me, at all. Growing up, all I wanted was a really simple name, like Bill, Jo, Bob, or Tom. Then, aged 49, I found out my Mum had called me Thomas, Thomas Roberts.

  • Robert, Adopter

    On changing a child's name:

    And when I read the report you know literally inside-out erm the risks that we felt that they were making as safeguarding issues on er for us, I felt didn’t amount to the threshold for me to make … to feel uneasy about keeping her first and middle name. Er and we were happy to live with those risks to keep her identity erm as much as we possibly could. Because I think as she gets older, the one thing I am very passionate about is if she ever does decide to get to that point in life where she wants to reconnect with birth parents or … or family members erm I … we want her to realise that we’ve done everything we possibly can to keep her identity, to not change her identity, not change her kind of life journey, her history.

  • Jane, Adoptee

    On names and identity:

    My name is Jane Tomlinson, but that wasn’t my birth name but it is me, it is my security, my identity and one of the moments when I realised how important MY identity is was when I got married, thinking about changing my name to my husband’s name as women traditionally do,  gave me feeling sadness and felt like I’d be losing part of me […].

  • Paul, Adoptee


    My original name, the one that hangs around like a shadow in my background. Expunged from the records. Well not really but effectively erased from history. That path, that trajectory that he/ I might have had was erased at the stroke of a pen. Except he still existed, to some people, those that dared to speak of me – women mostly I believe, when they felt it safe. Paul Harlowe used to think of him, a lot, still does.

  • Ann, Adoptee


    Yeah, well that's why, in the back of my mind, I think, well maybe it wasn't about the shortness [of name] maybe that was a good excuse for, for giving me the name Ann.  And I've no idea, I've never asked them, and I’ll never know now.  But I’m really glad; I’m really pleased that there is that continuity.  Because I think it makes...makes life so much easier if you get to know your birth family again, and there's some resemblance at least.  I think it would have been really hard for my birth mum if she'd had to get used to me being called Samantha, when she’d called me Annabelle.  I know Ann was bad enough, but at least she could, it was just like, she used to call me Annie, so it was a kind of in between, a hybrid between Ann and Annabelle.

  • Louise, Adoptee


    There is a heritage and a history and traditions attributed to names that I never felt part of. Everyone had the same colour eyes and I didn't. Everyone had a certain accent and I didn't. I felt like everyone belonged to that name and I didn't. When I got married this changed completely. My surname is shared by my husband and I and we gave it to our daughter. I am in a tribe of 3 and that name means I belong and I am loved and I am part of something exclusive and special. My surname means more to me than my first name. 

    My middle name was chosen by my adoptive parents and I love it. I even gave it to my daughter because I wanted to create new traditions with my name.

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