"Getting the language right, PAL"

(excerpt from "Adoption for Dummies")

by Tracey Barr and Katrina Carlisle, BSW, LSW


"The phrases that people commonly used in the past (and that less informed people still use today) to describe or define adoption have negative connotations. How would you feel, for example, if someone asked, "Why didn't your real mom want you?" The language in this question implies that 1) the mother you have isn't the one you really belong to and 2) that you weren't placed for adoption because your birthmother wasn't prepared to be a parent; you were placed for adoption because she didn't want you.

So in comes PAL, which stands for Positive Adoption Language. This is the language you'll hear when you talk with adoption professionals, and it's the language you should use when you speak about adoption."

Positive LanguageNegative Language
  • Birthparent
  • Real parent or natural parent
  • Birth child
  • Own child, real child, natural child
  • My child
  • My adopted child
  • Born to unmarried parents
  • Illegitimate
  • Make an adoption plan
  • Give up/ give away my child
  • Put up for Adoption
  • Decide to parent her baby
  • Keeping her baby
  • International adoption
  • Foreign adoption
  • Child in need of a family
  • Unwanted child
  • Unplanned pregnancy
  • Unwanted pregnancy
  • Could not conceive or could not carry
  • Could not have children
  • Parent
  • Adoptive Parent
  • Search
  • Track Down


"Words not only convey facts, they also evoke feelings."- (Adoptive Families)