I understand that one's name tells the story of family, culture, and belonging. In a historical context of imperialism and colonization, names also tell the story of winners and losers, in which the oppressed are named and re-storied by those with power. For me, I am reminded of my status as a loser--despite the winning meaning of my English name--each time I introduce myself, apply for a job, and provide my signature. At present, I live in the dissonance between the Korean face that reflects my mother and father, and the German-Irish name that carries the violent history of forced assimilation.
Yesterday, the translator called at the request of my father. At age 28, he wants to name me. He is requesting my permission to consider Korean names for me, and is eager to discuss them with me on my next visit. I am letting the weight of this incredible offering sink into my years of pursuing place and family. But without over-thinking it, I am undeniably pleased with my father's desire to name me.
During the four hours of lecture today, I couldn't help but reflect on the story of my name as I know it. I grew up as Lori Jane, a lovely name for a blond-haired, blue-eyed German girl. Around the age of 10, I decided I was too old to be called Lori. I required everyone to address me as Laura, which was an appropriate name for someone of my maturity. During these past years, I have grown more restless with the name that my adoptive parents assigned to me. At best, Laura Jane is far too sweet to reflect my aspiring badass status. At worst, the name is a daily reminder of how my constructed identity was more worthy than who I was when I came into this world.
On Friday, September 30, 2011, at 10:00 am, I learned that the Korean name, Kee Wha Yung, was given to me by the social worker at Holt. Though I was never certain, I had believed that this Korean name was given to me by my birth parents. An hour later at 11:00 am, I met my birth mother and was told that I was never given a family name. She shared that my first name was 똘똘이, a nickname that translates to "Smarty", due to my clever behavior.
I am still unclear on how and why I spent the first nine months of my life with my family, but without a family name. My mother shared it was because my father wanted a son, and that sons were more valuable at that time. As a daughter, I was denied his family name, and ultimately put up for adoption. On the contrary, my father shared that I was not named because the family was struggling, and they did not have the financial means to name me. He received a lot of pressure to bear a son, though he never agreed to putting me up for adoption.
I accept that it may be years before I can ask for and comprehend the truth, starting with the story of my name. For now, I am reaching for understanding through translation, which will have to do until I can engage in a conversation with my own words.
On a lighter note--today I was told my name is sexy, which has led to plenty of teasing by the other adoptees. I am learning Taekwondo, and am working with some classmates to choreograph a routine to music. Our storyline is a typical good guys versus bad guys plot, where good guys are protecting the K-pop star, and the K-pop star needs protection from the bodyguard. Anyway--I introduced myself to my Korean classmate who was guessing the English spelling of my name. After he tried L-o-r-a and L-o-a-r, I intervened because I recognize how ridiculous that silent "u" is. As he finished writing L-a-u-r-a, he exclaimed, "ohhh, Laura, sexy name." I guess that sneaky vowel provides some intrigue.