BlogHer of the Week: Shinyung from Kimchi Mamas
By Elisa Camahort on July 20, 2009
BlogHer Original Post
As I started reading the post, All In a Name..., by Shinyung from Kimchi Mamas, I found it all too familiar.
Shinyung tells the story of when she was a girl and her family moved from a high-rise apartment in Flushing, Queens to a Houston suburb. Shinyung sees it as a chance for a fresh start, and a real opportunity to live a life like those lived in Judy Blume books. Including...
To go with my new life, I decided that I needed a new name. One that fit my new life, my new beginning. No one would butcher my new name trying to pronounce it. And no one in Houston would call me “Shin,” as my teachers always did. I remember coming home and crying to my mom that I’m not a shoe (a homonym for shin in Korean).
I was born and raised in the suburbs of the San Francisco Bay Area, before it got quite as diverse as it is today. And for the first 17 years of my life I did not go by my given name. I was "Lisa". I'm sure my parents started calling me that because it was easier for people to spell and pronounce. I was certainly happy to go by it, since I wasn't going to find pre-printed souvenir items with "Elisa" on them, nor was Miss Mary Ann ever going to see "Elisa" in her Magic Mirror on Romper Room. And don't get me started on my middle name, "Rosario". I remember an argument with a neighbor girl when I was just 8 or 9, when she told me confidently that that was a boy's name, because it ended in "o".
There were other ways I didn't embrace my heritage. I never learned Spanish. Nothing grossed me out more than Tongue Adobo. Somehow, I totally identified with my mom's Jewish background. My dad's Hispanic background, not so much.
Back to Shinyung: She enters college and has a change of heart:
During my third year of college, I took a class called American Lives. In the class, we read biographies and autobiographies of famous Americans. While reading Harriet Wilson’s “Our Nig,” we discussed the significance of naming in American culture. What it meant, as Americans, to be able to name ourselves, to take ownership of our identities.
In the course of that class, I started thinking about my own name. Why I had, as a 12-year-old child, shed my Korean name and picked an American one out of the blue. Suddenly, I started feeling like a phony. Even though I had named myself, I felt like it had been for the wrong reasons, as if I had given up a part of myself. Instead of making others pronounce my name correctly, I had sought an escape.
I, too, decided in college that the extra "E" in my name suddenly mattered to me. And I claimed Elisa as my first name.
I never thought about it as deeply as Shinyung, and I certainly never articulated it at all, but I have a feeling that there are many of us out there with similar stories. We don't want to be different. We don't appreciate our heritage. Whatever the reason: We don't claim our names.
Shinyung is now pregnant with her first child and, once again, considering names. Balancing how she felt as a child with how she felt as a young adult. And not yet having the solution.
It's a fascinating journey. And I think in many ways it's a very typical American journey...played out in many different households and in many different languages.
I'm going to keep reading Shinyung to find out what happens when her child is born, how about you?
Thanks to everyone for continuing to send in your nominated posts. Remember to nominate individual posts, not entire blogs, and keep them coming! If you want to check out all the BlogHer of the Week posts, check out the BlogHer of the Week archive.
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