What’s in a name? by Sunyoung (Sunny) Hong

For some of us, names are just names. It’s a word that other people call us by, a word by which we’re known to the world. Your name might be something familiar like Sam, Jennifer, Chloe, or David, but sometimes, it may be something that raises people’s eyebrows like Ruòxī or Aapikka.  

In some cultures, much significance is placed on the meaning of the name, and some even pay professional naming experts to name their children.  

For parents of mixed-race kids, coming up with a name for your kid can have an added layer of complexity. When my husband and I were preparing to welcome our first child who would be part Korean and part American (and entirely awesome!), we had a lengthy discussion on how we would go about considering names. My Korean heritage is a prominent part of my identity, and it was something I wanted to pass down to our kids.  

For many families that are first or second generations Americans, it seemed customary to give their kids an ‘American’ first name while having their middle name being something from their cultural heritage. When I started thinking about how to name our first-born, I couldn’t help but begin to question this practice. To me, using conventionally ‘American’ names as first names felt like prioritizing and assigning the other heritage as the lesser of the two. Would my child not feel as connected to her Korean heritage? Would giving her names from different cultures make her feel torn when she thinks about her cultural identity? 

Something else that bothered me was the subtle implication that you could only be real ‘American’ by adopting a name from a list of preconceived names. Why couldn’t someone  named Tae-hyeok be just as American as someone called John?  

Despite all the angst and debate, we did succumb to the common practice of using an  ‘American’ name as the first name and Korean name as her middle name. Culturally identity  aside, we didn’t want our kid to have to endure 20 kids butchering her name every year at  school and commit her to a lifetime of spelling bee, always having to spell out her name each  time she meets someone new.  

It is my sincerest hope that my kids grow up embracing all of themselves and find the world to  be just as welcoming which ever name they choose to go by. 

At Portmanteau Home, we make cultural and visual portmanteaus.  With each collection, we feature iconic textiles from different regions of the world to show how different cultures can come together to create something new and amazing.  https://portmanteauhome.com/

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