The ability to give a child a name is something that is so incredibly special and sacred. There are some cultures and religions that have naming ceremonies for this reason. For example, one of my friends is Nigerian, and she was explaining to me the beauty of Nigerian names being phrases and children having more than one name given to them by family members and elders.
I don’t think that I fully understood the weight and responsibility for naming a child until I became pregnant. Now, in choosing a name for Baby R, I realize that names have the power to not only shape our identities, but possibly shape our experiences as well.
Being a teacher, the first thing that came to my mind when we started thinking about names for Baby R were the facts that:
A) I didn’t want her name to be so popular and trendy that she was the fifth ____________ in her class.
B) Thinking about my own experiences growing up, I didn’t want her name to be something people would come to on a roster and struggle to pronounce.
C) I didn’t want her name to be one that could easily be turned into a crude or undesirable nickname during her middle school years.
Aside from those criteria, I didn’t really have any preferences. Sure, there were certain names that we ruled out quickly because they reminded us of students or people from our pasts that we really didn’t want to name our daughter after, but most names we came up with were fair game.
Originally, we had the conversation about whether there was anyone in our respective families that we wanted to name her after. My husband and his family are Jewish, but none of them felt strongly that we needed to follow the Jewish tradition of giving a child a name that begins with the first letter of a deceased family member. Similarly, no one in my family felt as though we had any particular matriarch or patriarch who deserved to have a child named after them.
Overall, choosing a first name for our daughter was easy. I mentioned it to my husband one night on the couch, and he said that it was also a name he’d always liked and that it was at the top of his list as well. We flip-flopped between the name we ultimately chose and one other one, but ultimately, we felt our second choice name was becoming too trendy.
Choosing a middle name, however, became much more difficult.
When the topic of Baby’s middle name came up, we started with Western names. We went through names in literature and famous scientists to pay homage to our respective careers but quickly dismissed most of them. Then we tried “J” names because I put forth the argument that both my adoptive parents’ names begin with “J” and that the Baby would have nothing from my side of the family since we decided to give her my husband’s last name (I’ve kept my maiden name through marriage because I didn’t not want to drop any of my given names).
Alas, none of the “J” names seemed to work either.
One day, my husband asked me if I would want to give her a Korean middle name. Initially, I said, “no” because I didn’t feel as though I knew enough about Korean names. Additionally, I had recently found out that my own Korean middle name, “Kwon,” was not actually my Korean surname like we had thought. Instead, it was my birth mother’s surname. My official Korean surname should have been, “Kim,” after my birth father.
There was also a part of me that felt like giving our daughter a Korean middle name might impose too much “Koreanness” on her. At the time, I was really struggling with the fact that she was going to have nods to Asian features, and I think that the protective side of me wanted to shield her from any adversity that could potentially come from acknowledging her Korean heritage. I also sort of felt like an imposter giving her a Korean middle name. Who was I to give a child a name from a culture I grew up so divorced from and had only recently begun to reconnect with?
But after sitting with it for a few weeks, I had a change of heart. I realized that it was important to me that our daughter be proud of her Korean roots, and that she learn about her Korean heritage right along with me. Instead of continuing to feel as though I didn’t have the right to bestow a Korean name upon her, I felt that I did not have the right to rob her of one out of fear and the projection of my own experiences.
I reached out to a Korean friend of mine and explained our desire to choose a Korean middle name for Baby R. I asked if she would be willing to help me come up with a list of possible names because I didn’t trust the internet to be accurate in meaning or spelling, and she wonderfully was over the moon about helping. WIth her guidance, we learned more about the meaning of my own Korean name and my given name, as well as the meaning of the name we’ve chosen for Baby R.
There was something so beautiful and poetic about the way she approached the process. She put so much emphasis on what our hopes and dreams were for our daughter and what my instincts already tell me about her as a mother. We talked about nature and symbolism, and the tying together of Baby’s Korean name and mine. Every conversation left me feeling as though I was forming an even stronger bond with my daughter and breathing even more life into her before she meets us Earthside.
Now that we have chosen her full name, I am happy that it too represents all parts of her heritage. She will have her first name which is more typically American, a Korean middle name, and a Jewish last name. And while we are still waiting until she is born to reveal the names that we chose, I can confidently say that we hope her names allow her to always be a bright guide for others while knowing where her true North points, and that she will rise above any adversity that comes her way while soaring to new heights no one ever thought possible.