What’s in a Name

By: Julie Young

July 2, 2016

I have a Korean friend whose name is also Julie and she loves it. As she says, she is such a Julie. I, on the other hand, have never liked my name Julie. I much prefer my birth name – Ji Hyun. There was a brief time when I tried changing my name back to my birth name. Not legally, but I wanted my friends and family to call me Ji Hyun or just Ji. I recognize that it is not Korean tradition to only use the first name but one benefit of being an adoptee is that we can make up our own rules. And interestingly, I feel most like a Ji. That name feels the most right to me. Trying to have my friends and family call me Ji though didn’t really work so well. It was hard for those who have always known me as Julie to make the switch. Now I have a few friends that were new friends when I was making the switch who still call me Ji. (And I love it!)

Growing up with the last name Cardona, although I considered myself a feminist, I knew when I got married I would more than likely take my husband’s name. (The exception being if the name was truly horrendous, then I’d stick to Cardona.) Up until that point, I felt detached from my American name. Clearly, I didn’t look like a Cardona and I didn’t feel like one either. It wasn’t until later in life that I came to appreciate my adopted cultures. Before that, I wanted to ignore the fact that being brought up in an Italian-Irish American family helped shape who I am today. But it took me being much more comfortable and secure in my Korean identity in order to also appreciate my adopted culture and name.

When I was pregnant with my twins, we called my daughter “Baby Ji” and my son “Baby J.” We didn’t start thinking about real names until very late into my pregnancy because it was so high risk. Early on in the pregnancy, we were given a 50-50 chance that our babes’ would make it. After more than five years of trying to get and stay pregnant, we took the odds. But, the odds and the trauma we had been through before (two ectopic pregnancies) made us very cautious about jumping ahead of ourselves. I had been devastated by my previous two losses so, basically, I felt like I held my breath throughout the pregnancy. But somewhere around the sixth month, we started thinking about names for our babies. My husband wanted them to have names that started with a J because he is a J and I am a J. I didn’t feel strongly about this so I agreed to having J names for our son and daughter. I would choose our daughter’s name and my husband would choose our son’s name. (With veto powers given to both of us!)

Long before even trying to get pregnant, when my future daughter was just a dream, I always planned on giving her my Korean name, Ji Hyun. But while I was pregnant, I had the metaphysical realization that giving my daughter my Korean name would be an unfair burden on her. When I think of my Korean name, it embodies the entirety of the loss that came with being adopted. Thus, my attachment to my birth name. While I could not burden my daughter with Ji Hyun as the name that the world would know her by, I still wanted my Korean name to be a part of her since it is such a part of me as she, obviously, is too. So, Ji Hyun is her middle name. (Which she loves and I love that she loves it.)

Her given first name, while I won’t include it here because I don’t use my children’s names in published materials, was a journey to get to. Initially, I was looking for J names that were from an African language. That didn’t work. Then I opened myself up to other names. The name we settled on was not one I ever would have imagined I would choose for my daughter. It was too common, too popular but it kept coming back to me in many different ways. Finally, toward the end of my pregnancy, I had a dream with the very clear message that the name was a part of me. Literally, in the dream it/someone/something said “________ is a part of you.” I woke up the next morning and told my husband about the dream and said this is her name. And, of course, she really is her name.

I was born Yoon Ji Hyun, renamed Julie Ann Cardona, married and became Julie Young. I like that my married name is so anonymous and that it ironically brought me full circle back to the end of the alphabet again. But the name that I feel most connected to and feel most comfortable with will forever be the one that carries my beginning and all that I truly am. Deep inside I am, and always have been, Yoon Ji Hyun.

Julie Young is a former litigation attorney and currently works full-time in the nonprofit sector.  Additionally, Julie is a writer and speaker. She serves on the Board of Nazdeek and is an Advisory Board Member of All Together Now.  Julie holds a B.S. degree in Psychology from Fordham University and a J.D. degree from Cardozo School of Law.  She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and twins.