My Korean name is Park Ji-Eun, 박지은. My grandparents picked it out when I was born: Ji for “wisdom”, Eun for “grace of God”. It is a name chosen with love, with purpose.
I loved my name growing up, even though nobody ever used it. When I was little, it was the only word I knew how to write in Korean. I would doodle it into the margins of notebooks, scratch into sidewalks in colorful chalk, scribble it onto whiteboards and erase it. 박지은. 박지은. 박지은. None of my classmates understood it, and probably none of them cared, but I continued to write it everywhere. Every time I wrote it I felt like I was solidifying a part of my identity. Even before I really knew what being Korean meant, writing my Korean name stirred a sense of belonging, of pride. It was something special that had been given to me, something uniquely mine.
My Korean name is also my middle name. Emma Ji-Eun Park. I love its presence on my school records, on my passport. It makes my identity undeniable, a perfect representation of who I am. It is the name of a Korean American citizen of the United States. The name of a girl who watches K-dramas in between seasons of “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” who watches the fireworks every Fourth of July, who eats rice cake soup and wears a hanbok for her grandparents every New Year. Perfectly Korean, yet perfectly American.
One day, my friend asked me if I would ever give my own children Korean names (in the far, far future).
I stared at her. “Um,” I said. “I’m not sure.”
I tried to say yes. I wanted to say yes. I thought I would be able to, but I was surprised by my own hesitation. Suddenly, a frenzy of doubt had entered my brain. Throughout my life, I’ve never really questioned my Korean identity, yet I began to really ask myself, am I Korean enough? I barely speak Korean fluently. My parents aren’t fluent. I’ve never even stepped foot in Korea. I’m a third gen Korean American, which means my kids would be fourth generation. Am I knowledgeable enough to choose a good name? (I’m not.) How would I even choose one?
I’m not sure about any of that. What I do know is that I would want my future kids to feel perfectly Korean American, and to know that they are. My Korean name helped do that for me. Maybe it could do that for them, too.