NOP3 | What’s in a Name?

By Jamie Jung Eun Kim | New Organizing Project blogger

 

“John Kim?”

“Here.”

“Joseph Kim?”

“Here.”

“.. ge..o..n.. …?”

“Here,” as I cut the teacher off before she finishes, “but call me Jamie.”

Explaining to people what my ‘real name’ is has been an annual tradition for me. My official name is Jung Eun but to make things easier I decided to go by the name ‘Jamie’ instead as to try to avoid the painful process of others butchering my Korean name. Year after year, I had to make a case to my friends and teachers over and over again as to why I chose to go by my adopted name rather than my given name….And it felt as if every year, I was trying to win people over as to why Jamie was a great name for me instead of Jung Eun.

See, for the longest time, to me, having a ‘good’ name was crucial. I thought that if I had what I considered a good name, I would be able to project a certain persona. I would say to myself, “If I was a Rowan, I would be this fierce Nancy Drew type that wasn’t afraid of anything. If I was an Autumn, I would be sitting by the café window, wearing chic sunglasses, drinking expensive coffee and reading interesting books.” Jung Eun did not evoke those kinds of images to me at that time in my life.

However, in high school, I began to experiment with putting my Korean initials to my name:  Jamie J.E Kim.  And starting in college, I made a ‘bold’ move of writing my entire name: Jamie Jung Eun Kim.

It actually wasn’t until recently that I began to think more deeply about what these two names mean to me, names that have been haunting me my entire life. Looking back at my ten year old self, I can’t help but feel a bit sad. Having immigrated to the United States, I wanted to assimilate as soon as possible. I already felt like an outsider as it was and having a Korean name seemed to accentuate my outsider status even more.  So when I had the chance to choose an ‘American’ name, I didn’t think twice about adopting an English name that my cousin came up with in an hour.  With it, I felt like an ‘American,’ and soon I wore Roxy sweatshirts, watched Lizzie Maguire, and sang along to Britney Spears songs.

But two months ago, I encountered a girl by the name of Eunbi and I loved how confidently she announced her name. To see a fellow Korean American embrace her Korean name, I felt a bit jealous…She wasn’t ashamed of her name, she owned it. Her name was beautiful and it was unique, just like my own.

It was then that it dawned on me for the first time…. Why didn’t I keep my own Korean name? Why did I not even hesitate to change my name when the opportunity presented itself?

Would I be ‘more Korean’ if I chose to use ‘Jung Eun’? Would that have changed the way people interacted with or perceived me? Would I be different person because of it? Did I choose Jamie solely to make people more comfortable?

After months of serious tossing and turning, I finally came to realize that I love both of my names EQUALLY; I just love them differently.  Being ‘Jamie’ has significantly influenced the person that I am today. Adopting the name of Jamie allowed me to feel like part of the club.  And while I do embrace my Korean name, abandoning my English name would be losing experiences I had as Jamie. Jamie that waited for 6 hours to get a copy of the Harry Potter book. Jamie that asked her crush to the Sadie Hawkins dance. Jamie that came into her own person.

I didn’t want to come to this predictably dramatic ending of “I am Korean… (long pause)… but I am American too…”, but so what if it’s a cliché? It’s the truth! I have finally come to peace that I don’t have to rank my names. They both embody who I am and will always be.

Have you been through something similar with your own name? Leave a comment below with your story!

 

 

Comments:2

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  1. Nice job! Jung Eun speaks wonderfully to an inner struggle about identity that so many (not just KAs) concern themselves with.