Tuesday, July 8, 2014

What's in a Name?

Entering day 3 of our baby's life on planet earth. Whereas the labor and delivery were quick and easy compared to other recent births in my family (18-19 hours or so for vaginal birth, compared to C-sections for my brother and sister-in-law's children due to difficulties, including 36 hours of labor for the former), it's taking a while to get baby Jack home. His bilirubin count is a bit high, possibly a side effect of having received a vacuum delivery: an alternative to forceps in which a little suction device is attached to the baby's head to encourage his egress from mommy. Bruising to the head is involved which might result in jaundice, so the neonatal intensive care unit is keeping him under observation and administering UV treatment as a precaution. The test results have all been promising, but he still might end up having spent and extra one-to-two days after delivery before going home with us. The staff here at St. Joseph's really have been the best, giving us a lot of attention and assurances. But I'll admit to a little frustration that we're not already back at our apartment settling in. The first doctor who gave me the rundown was a nice gentleman named Dr. Khan, and on hearing the news I couldn't help hear a little voice in the back of my head indignantly screaming, "Khaaaaannnnn!!!!" Something I fortunately did not vocalize.

Anyway, within the cycle of sleeping, eating, feeding the baby and so forth, there has been a bit of down time, allowing me to keep friends and family informed via e-mail, text and Facebook, respond to congratulations, and generally kill time in trivial ways (I regret that I did not pack any books to read, something I almost always manage to do). This naturally included informing everyone about our baby's name, or more specifically, names.

As posted earlier, our baby's full legal name is going to be Jack Diego Kim Salud Sora. In addition to that he'll be getting the Japanese name Yoshikata and the Korean name Uihyeon (which are both rendered using the same ideograms.

Yes, I'm sure it does seem a lot like overkill. Maybe even surprising to some friends, since I have not hidden the fact that I'm no fan of a lot of the creative hippy dippy naming some folks use with their children. I mean, it's a free country and do what you want, but it's sometimes hard for me to suppress a giggle when I'm told by a couple that their kid is named after a Hindu deity (despite being white, Christian and from Dubuque), comic book character, Beyoncé song, or their favorite food.

But when it came to deciding our child's name, I found myself wanting to incorporate as much of his heritage as humanly possible, and my wife was in agreement. I can't tell you exactly why. Neither my brother or I have Asian names, our parents choosing not to bother with it and go with completely American names (Dwight Egan for me and Linus Willard for my brother). It might have been encouraged by my brother, whose wife is Chinese-Thai, and named his son Kietsai Kono Sora-Lee: Kietsai being a partially Thai-based name, Kono my Japanese paternal grandmother's maiden name, and the baby's surname being a hyphenation of our and my brother's wife's family name. Discussing the naming of his son over the phone, my brother's suggestion was "Go weird" as much as possible.

It also might have been a matter of thinking about what our son would consider himself, given his pretty blended background, even more so than myself.  Though my wife and I are both Asian American, we are completely different types. My father is Japanese, however, his family has been in Hawaii since my great-grandfather's time (see here). On the other hand, my mother is a first-generation immigrant from South Korea, and her own name and identity make for a good story. Her father's side (Kim) is originally from the city of Kaesong, which currently rests on the North Korean side of the 38th Parallel, and thus sadly none of my older relatives are likely to see it again unless regional politics change for the better within their lifetime. She herself was not born in Korea or as a Korean: in the year of her birth, 1943, the Korean peninsula was still annexed as part of the Empire of Japan, and my grandfather had actually moved the family to Manchuria for work, itself renamed Manchukuo as a puppet state of Japan. During that time, Japan had implemented one of its more notorious policies: forbidding the use of indigenous language or names in all parts of its empire, and forcing the use of the Japanese language instead (If you're interested in an excellent account of this period, check out Richard Kim's autobiographical novel Lost Names). Thus my mother's given name at birth was Hatsue Matsunaga (松永初枝), and only changed to Hyunchoo Kim (김현주) after liberation with Japan's defeat in WWII (Sometimes I wonder about the odd fact that my mother's family was once forced to adopt a Japanese surname, and then later she received one via marriage). And here's two little details to further complicate matters. In Korea, women do not change their surname upon marriage, so technically she is still Hyunchoo Kim back in her home country. And in addition, she adopted the name Judy for everyday use when she moved to the United States. Therefore, today she is alternately known as Hyunchoo Kim, Hyunchoo Sora or Judy Sora depending upon the crowd.

Moving onto my wife, Czerina is Filipino, with a sliver of Spanish ancestry on her mother's side. It is from her that we got the idea of giving our son a lengthy string of names tracing back his family line, drawing upon the Spanish appellido tradition which the Philippines adopted over its years under Spanish colonial rule. Her full name is actually Czerina Susan Diego Roxas Perez Salud, which is something I love writing out if not actually trying to say out loud. Our version of an appellido breaks down as follows:

Jack       Given name, taken from my paternal grandfather Yoshitomo's American name.
Diego    Czerina's mother's maiden name
Kim       My mother's maiden name
Salud     Czerina's surname
Sora      My surname

Why go to all this trouble, especially since we admit that we'll simply be calling our son Jack most if not all of the time? And who knows, maybe we'll end up even calling him by some other nickname as the years progress (In my family, my father usually refers to me as "Guy" and my brother as "Pal," which lead to my brother joking that maybe he never learned our names.  My mother has a habit of hurriedly merging our names together when talking about both of us at the same time, which comes out as "DwightLinus.").

Why go to all this trouble, since both Czerina and I are pretty far removed from the realities of being Japanese, Korean or Filipino (or Spanish for that matter)? We both grew up in the Midwest, speak unaccented American English, have had mostly non-Asian friends and have never really lived in our countries of origin (I'm the closest, having spent one year as a college exchange student in Japan).

No real specific reason I can think of. And I categorically reject anyone who says that it's just natural or acts like it was a matter of course that we gave him an Asian name (well, names) since we're Asian. Add it to the long list of things one should not assume Asians just happen to do, like eat sushi (I know plenty who don't), use chopsticks well (natch) or study martial arts. As I said above, my parents didn't do it, and I know lots of others who haven't as well. It's a choice on our part. And for whatever the reasons, it's a choice that makes me feel happy. What's in a name is like anything else in life: It seemed like a good idea at the time, and if it continues to make you smile, so be it.

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