My Name in Korean

We’ve just started a memoir unit in writing workshop. One of our mentor texts is My Name by Sandra Cisneros. I was inspired to write something about my name. Something that has been a struggle for me…

My name in Korean means beauty and wisdom. My name in English sounds ugly. I hated my name. I already knew I was different from my friends. My friends had to take their shoes off when they came to my house. There were weird smells coming from all the kimchi in the kitchen. I had to speak in Korean at home. I didn’t need my name to remind me of it.

As a little kid, I always wished to buy things with my name on it. I would go to souvenir stores on trip and I would desperately hope to find my name written on the pens, mugs or key chains they sold. However, as I searched through all the J names, there was nothing that resembled my name between Jackie and Jenny. There was no Jee Young. Never.

I always dreaded the first day of school. Not because it was a new class or teacher, but because of the role call. I would anxiously sit in my seat, just waiting until they would get to the letter K. Kim, yes, that was my last name, which I secretly wished at times was my first name. As the teacher would go through the list, after saying Kim, sometimes, there was a pause. Other times, there was a joke. “Gee, you must be young…” Or, “Is Young your middle name?” ,”How do you pronounce your name?” Was it really that difficult? It’s Jee Young. No jokes please. No middle name. No silent J. Just say my name.

When I turned 17 years old, I became an American citizen. On that morning, my mom mentioned to me that I could change my name. Change my name in a few hours? Why didn’t she tell me earlier? Why didn’t I think of that before? Do I seem like a Jessica? Julie? Jenny?

As I stood with my hand up and pledged to be an American citizen, I knew that no matter what the papers said, I still had my name. That was something I wouldn’t change. I was finally starting to like.

Slice of life challenge is hosted every Tuesday by the Two Writing Teachers.

15 thoughts on “My Name in Korean

  1. LInda Baie (@LBaie) says:

    I have used that text with my students and we’ve all written about our names. Our names come with such memories. I didn’t know that your full name was Jee Young, not just Jee. I’m glad to find out! I have a niece adopted from Korea, so she looks Korean. Her name is Katie. Many times she’s been asked how to pronounce it (when she’s worked where wearing a nametag). I’m sorry you never found your name on those racks. My son never did either. His name is too different for those who decide, I guess. Thanks for sharing!

  2. melody says:

    Wow. Holy moly was actually the first phrase that popped in my head, as if I am six years old. That was beautiful Jee Young! I liked your name a lot, now I love it.

  3. Jennifer K. says:

    I absolutely love this Jee Young! I’m working on a memoir unit in third grade right now and I’ve used many short stories from Sandra Cisneros as mentor texts. My favorites are “Eleven” (my number 1!) and “Hairs.” Do you like those, too? I’ll have to try this lesson. I have it as a mentor text, but I haven’t done much with it yet. We should swap notes and ideas on teaching memoir. 😉 It’s funny that you wrote memoir today…so did I! Check it out if you have a chance. If you want a copy of the mentor text, let me know. See ya!

    • jee young says:

      Thanks!! Sounds like a great idea. Yes, we actually use “Hairs” as a mentor text for our memoirs unit as well. Great minds think alike! 🙂

      • Jennifer K. says:

        I used your post as a mentor text. The kids loved it, and since half the class is Korean, they totally connected to it…much more than the original version. Thanks for sharing! 😉

  4. elsie says:

    What a powerful mentor text you have created for your students! There are so many great example as teaching points. I so connect with you on this because I could never find my name on keychains either. I’ve been meaning to write up my name story, you may have inspired me to do this soon.

  5. Mandy Chock says:

    Jee Young, this is such a wonderful slice! It has pockets of humor in such a meaningful piece of writing. My maiden name was “Baptist” (it’s Portuguese), and I always loved it (still do!), but kids in school always referred to it as “Baptism,” (we went to Catholic school) and I hated when they did. You are very lucky to have a Korean name; I am part-Chinese and wish my parents gave me a Chinese middle name.

    Thank you for sharing!

  6. Jama says:

    Jee Young, as I read your memoir about your name, I am pleased that you found your way to claiming it as your identity inside and out. Beauty and wisdom do fit you. I’m glad you didn’t choose to change your name. I can understand your frustrations with the tourist trinkets, though. I never could find “Jama” either.

  7. writekimwrite says:

    So truthful and touching. Jee Young thank you for telling it. I have always tried to honor the names of my students for the reasons you explained. My first name is Kim which was not always available at souvenir stores either when I was a little girl ( just so you know:)

  8. Jaana says:

    Jee Young, this is beautiful! I had never really heard or thought what my name means until I lived in Taiwan. My Finnish name does not really have a meaning, but my friends gave me a beautiful and meaningful Chinese name that I have treasured for many years now.

  9. Tara says:

    Ive used that mentor text as well, and discovered that it allows my kids to reveal powerful idea and stories about themselves, their history, and their sense of identities. So great that you wrote and shared your own with your kids – what a wonderful writing mentor!

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