Thursday, February 19, 2015

Awesome Books - The Naming Jar by Yangsook Choi

One of the teachers I work with at my daughter's elementary school introduced me to this book, and I absolutely loved it. Let me tell you why.

My family and I immigrated to the US when I was ten-years-old from South Korea. Though, at the time, I found consolation in my false impressions that my father spoke English, but I soon found out how little English he actually spoke at the time. Due to lack of English language skills, my brothers and I were teased quite often, but more than anything, our weird names painted big, fat target on our backs.

My Korean name is Ryoung Ah. This is enunciated with the silent R, usually, but the correct enunciation rolls the R in front of the y. But how could the kids in my 4th grade have known? They had to make do with a jumble of letters that you just don't see in American names very often. So, my name got butchered from Rye-young-gah to R-youn-gah, to any number of unwieldy sounds. But I didn't have the courage to correct any of them. One of my brother's name is Dong Hwan, but it got changed to Ding Dong. Dong Dong, etc. The other brother's name is Kyung Tai, but it got changed to Kee-young-tie, etc.

Needless to say, changing Korean names to American names sounded like a good idea, and we did. But even in this, my path to finding an American name of my own wasn't smooth. I liked Christine. Christine Kim had a nice ring to it. So, the next day, I went to school and told another Korean girl that beginning next Monday, I was going to everyone to call me Christine. Well, that "friend" had told everyone to call her Christine after the first recess, and I was left out in the cold. I had to start my search for an American name all over again. Finally, by the end of next week, I settled on Jennifer. I don't even remember if I particularly liked the name, but I chose it because I knew no one else named Jennifer.

With all these stories behind how I ended up with my name, I enjoyed this wonderful book and loved the choice she made. I think it was the right choice for her, but I also realize that I made the right choice for me.

I am Jennifer Ryoung Ah Kim.

P.S. I thought I should add this funny story. When we first got here, my brothers and I were desperate to make friends, and wondered why it was so hard to make friends.... Well, before we started school, my Korean-American uncle taught us a phrase that supposed to keep us out of trouble.

The phrase was... I can't speak English. Please, leave me alone.

What?!? I know.

Even now, I have a hard time believing that my uncle actually taught us the phrase thinking it would solve all kinds of problems. And here we were, wondering why we couldn't make any friends.