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Speaking About Adoption

The way we speak and the words we use when talking about adoption will directly influence the thinking and the language used by our neighbors, friends, and family. It will also have a powerful effect on the way our children feel about their adoption story. If we are constantly sharing that they were “given up” by their “real parents,” how will they feel about their adoption stories? Rather, we should say that they were placed into our homes by their birth parents. Adoption is all about love and we need to share that love, and our love for adoption.

Appropriate adoption language can stop the spread of misconceptions. By using accurate adoption language, we educate others about adoption. We speak and write in appropriate adoption language with the hopes of impacting others so that this language will someday become the norm.

Choosing the following, appropriate adoption language will accurately reflect the true nature of adoption.

Less-Appropriate Language

Appropriate Language


Real parent, natural parentBirth Parent, Biological ParentReal or natural implies that the adoptive parents are fake or unnatural.
Own child, real child, natural childBirth ChildReal or natural implies the adopted child is fake or unnatural.
Adopted child, own childMy ChildThere is no need to distinguish between your children by birth and children by adoption. They are all your children.
Adoptee/is adoptedMy Child
Person/Individual who was adopted/was adopted
Being adopted is not a condition, it is an event.
IllegitimateBorn to unmarried parentsThis is an old term with very negative emotions. Just stay away from it, especially when talking about a human being.
Give up, Put up for adoption, Give awayConsent to Adoption, Make an adoption plan, choose adoptionTo give up or put up sounds careless, as if the child will be forgotten or handed over without foresight. You give away things, not children. Don’t objectify the child.
An unwanted childChild in need of adoptionNo child is unwanted. Stay away from this term when talking about a human.
Handicapped child, hard to placeChild who has special needsDon’t put a label on or define a child by a special need.
Keeping your childDeciding to parent the childParenting is a decision that requires commitment and responsibility. A child is not an object to be kept or given away.