Why Are We Using An Outdated Word?

by Luanne

I’ve been struggling with the word adoption, as well as its variations like adopt and adopted.

When you are talking about a child and the enormous emotional terrain which springs up, around, and from adopting, it seems ludicrous to use the same word to mean other things.

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, adoption means the following:

the act of adopting : the state of being adopted
Examples of ADOPTION
  1. They chose adoption because they couldn’t have children of their own.

  2. children who are available for adoption

  3. Our lawyer has handled many adoptions.

  4. our adoption of local customs

  5. the company’s adoption of new technology

  6. the unanimous adoption of the resolution by the Senate

This definition doesn’t even touch one of the most common usages: dogs and cats available for adoption.

I’m a huge animal lover, and I don’t want to mess with them finding homes.  But I feel a little squeamish about being forced to use the same word for them as for children.

On WordPress, I search for blog posts using the keyword adopt and come across posts about adorable animals in need of homes.  I read some of them and want to “like” or “comment,” and sometimes, I do, but I feel ridiculous wearing my DWLA gravatar.  Then I wonder if the animal shelter writing the blog will think DWLA is an animal advocacy blog!

Because we English-speakers adopt “local customs,” “new technology,” and resolution and bills, as well as puppies and kittens, why do we use that same word for children?

I think we need a new word.  And with a new word we can rethink the whole notion of adoption from the ground up, rather than relying on old traditions and myths.  We can make sure we do it all right this time.

Maybe that’s pie-in-the-sky, but if we start with a new word, it might just promote education about adoption in the general population.

What do you think?  Can you make up a better word?

Some cities promote "Adopt a Flower Basket" or "Adopt a Flower Bed"

Some cities promote “Adopt a Flower Basket” or “Adopt a Flower Bed”


  1. Coming up with a new word is a tall order. I agree that “ad-option” and its varied uses is an inadequate word when applied to families in children. If I was Ursula K. Le Guin or J.R.R.Tolkien or J.K Rowling I’m sure it would be an easy feat. How about “pluseing” as in “adding a being”?

  2. Lisa Ercolano says:

    I am glad you wrote this, and feel the same way. I think of it every time I pass by one of those signs for “Adopt a Highway” and see that the local Jaycees have done exactly that. But a new word? That’s a challenge. I have to think about it.

    • Thanks, Lisa. I know–those are the circumstances where it kind of grinds me. I think the reason I don’t like it shared with pets is because little kids can find it confusing to be “compared” with a dog or cat.

  3. I can see what you mean because “adopt” is used for silly things “adopt a highway” promotions. Personally, I’m fine with it in animal adoption because the underpinnings are the same, love, care, protection, committment for life – I know other adoptees who dislike the comparison and cringe every single time they hear it. I dislike the cross-over of “forever family” between the two – that triggers me when it is used in either – so you will never please everyone!

    Any other term I can come up with “bind” is either associated with marriage or indenture, “gather” just brings up the worst connotations in my mind, “join” circles back to marriage, Too early and lack of coffee :). I think using the term “adoption” instead of “adopt” reduces the overlap between animals and children. And what would the “orphan ministry” do that tries to compare God’s adoption in the Bible to adopting children today based on how it is done in their message?

    Luanne – if there was a new word and everyone would listen to YOU so that adoption actually was seen correctly and done correctly – I would jump on board…

    • That’s how Marisha feels, too, about animal adoptions. Because, as you know, we’re big cat lovers and also both of us are very anti puppy mill, etc. Thanks for the support, Tao!!

  4. Why not come up with another word? We have renamed so many other things as they have lost their meaning or taken on a negative connotation. Words that were historically acceptable have been replaced – psychiatry, sociology, medicine, and education are all fields that modify their vocabulary.

  5. Not to toot my own horn, but I wrote about this because I feel the same way about things like “adopting” pets, highways, technologies and the plethora of things that get adopted besides children. My post included bunches of other stupid things people say about adoption.

    I don’t know if we need a new word for adopting children so much as we need a new word for getting new pets, adapting portions of other cultures to suit our own needs, sponsoring highways and using new technologies. Wait! See, there already are other words for those things. The pets thing is fraught with emotional land mines. So many American see their pets as members of the family. While I love my dog, I wouldn’t say that we adopted him. We bought him, we take care of him and we will be very sad when he’s gone. But, he’s not my child and to say he is cheapens the bond I have with my children.

    So, I’m in favor of keeping adoption for building families with human children and using the thesaurus to find other words to describe what we do with technologies, pets and highways.

    Here’s the link to my post: http://wp.me/p15l2g-53

  6. I totally agree with you about the use of adoption language when it comes to dogs. That’s always made my skin crawl and I too am a lover of animals and have two “rescue” dogs that have joined our family. It would be great to come up with a new term, but not likely to happen. I am a part of the adoption ministry at our church, but cringe at the use of “orphan” ministry which many churches use. The term implies to me that the child has no living parents and that is often, if not nearly always, not true. We have 9 children via adoption and none are “orphans” in that sense of the word. Thanks for starting the discussion. Great post.

    • Great great point about the use of the term orphan. That is such a misnomer in the majority of cases. It doesn’t allow for the best interests of the child to always be at the forefront.

  7. Just thought I’d add this from thesaurus.com:

  8. I was “overly sensitive” to the use of adoption outside of adopting a human – but my daughter is the one who freely uses the terminology – and insists they are family too. So I follow her lead.
    I always had fun when people asked if I was the “real” mother 🙂 “No, I’m the fake one.”

  9. Two thoughts:
    1) Unless the new word is a perfect, home run of a replacement, you’ll probably run into a tough time with getting it adopted (see what I did there?) into the vernacular.
    2) The spin we heard during our training – and it is most definitely spin – is that adoption is such a wonderful thing that families should be thrilled to share it with other situations.

    Personally, I don’t lose a lot of sleep over dogs, highways, and laws being described with the same wonderful that made my family complete. Just as I know there is a difference between baking a cake (using a just-add-water mix) and baking a cake (a four tier, fondant covered, wedding cake from scratch), I know there is a difference between adopting a mile of Hwy 31 and adopting my beautiful daughter.

  10. I guess I’m in the minority. I like the word adoption. I don’t mind that it means other things. There are a lot of words that mean different things, and then there are homonyms. English is a crazy language!

    I think of my pets as my family, so I’ve never had any problem with adopting them, as well as my children.

    I don’t like the “adopt a highway” type programs, because you’re not really adopting the highway. It would be more correct to say “sponsor.”

    • I love that you admit that your pets are part of your family. Hahaha, ours are, too. But people who don’t have that relationship with their pets don’t understand, I don’t think.

  11. I am with you Luanne. We adopted a greyhound rescue a few years back and hope to adopt another one this year. But in reflecting back I so don’t want our girls to think they entered our life and family the same way we chose a greyhound. Better terminology is needed.

  12. I like the word adoption because of its biblical meeting. I love how adopting a child into our family reflects how God adopts us into His family when we put our faith in Jesus. For what it’s worth, I don’t associate the word adoption with animals . . . but that’s just me. 😉
    Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  13. Here in the UK the term adoption is mostly used to refer to children or animals…not roads so much (although we do have unadopted roads, that is roads that are owned by the residents, rather than ‘adopted’ and maintained by our local councils).
    I’m not bothered by adoption of animals meaning bringing them into our homes and them joining our families. Indeed my son talks about dogs being adopted in that sense and it’s something he can identify with.
    I *am* bothered by our trips to the zoo where you can ‘adopt’ an orangutang. What they really mean is ‘sponsor’ for a year. This is confusing for our 6 yr old son, he wants to know why the orangutang can’t come live with us, like he did. And he wants to know why it’s just for a year because we’ve told him that we’re his forever family.

    Interesting discussion…thanks for linking up to the Weekly Adoption Shout Out

    • I love WASO! Right: adopt an orangutang. They are using the word incorrectly. I wouldn’t be bothered by the animal usage so much if it wasn’t that people don’t always view their pets as forever families. Witness how many animals are brought to shelters by their owners–and those are the less brutal.

  14. I cringe when i hear the word ‘adoption’ being used on tv out of context, well out of context to our lives any way. Its a difficult one isnt it!

  15. I agree with Vicky. We adopted a donkey, and then we adopted our son. You cannot possibly pigeon hole those two experiences in the same space. However, I do think that adoption is slowly becoming integrated better into society. I don’t think it will ever be as bad as … say Scope – who had to change their name from the Spastics Society, on the basis of how the word Spastic was used. Interesting thought.

  16. Realy interesting discusion. It bothers me less than most. I think finding an alternative word could in it’s self cause more problems. I think the word is definitely used irresponsibility by the animal charities and it is they who should be looking to change.
    Thank you for being part of the weekly adoption shout out


  1. […] of a highway by picking up the trash (adopt-a-highway) or enacting a piece of legislation. Over at Don’t We Look Alike, Luanne suggested a new word be created specifically for the adoption of a child to elevate it to a […]

  2. […] in the Middle with You (Hearts & Minds)Why Are We Using An Outdated Word jQuery(document).ready(function(){ […]

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