ANS Member Research: “Surnames and surnaming in families formed though adoption” by Jane Pilcher

Recently presented at the 2024 Annual Meeting of the American Name Society, Jane Pilcher’s work explores surnames and surnaming in adoption. You can watch the full presentation here:

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In this talk, we present new data about adoptive family surnames drawn from our qualitative study in the UK which examines names in the experiences of adults who are either adoptees or adopters. Our findings suggest that adoptees and adopters can feel differently about surnames and how these link them – or otherwise – to familial lineages and to their own individual identities. Some adoptees may feel that their adoptive family surname does not link them authentically to that genealogical familial line or at least is disruptive for their sense of family identity. At marriage, some women adoptees were pleased to change their surname to that of their husband, as this meant they were able to exercise choice about their name-based familial identity and affiliation that had been denied them in the past. Yet other adoptees reported feeling happily connected to their adoptive family surname. For adoptees who had become parents themselves, sharing a surname with their child (and so across another generation) had made their adoptive surname meaningful to them in a way that it had not been previously. For participants who were adopters, sharing a surname with their child(ren) was also a key part of their family identity, including through extending the genealogical line. In examining these types of experiences of and feelings about family names amongst adult adoptees and amongst adopters, our article highlights the complexities of meanings of surnames for adoptive family life and for adoptees’ identities.



Dr. Jane Pilcher is Associate Professor of Sociology at Nottingham Trent University in the UK. As a self-described sociological names nerd, Jane studies people’s names to analyse, understand and deconstruct identities and inequalities. Her current project examines names and naming in experiences of adoption.


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