February 1, 2009

Honoring Culture with a Name

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:56 pm by bitsypieces

Jane at What About Mom had a really interesting post about adoption.  One thing that struck me was the idea of naming an adopted child a culturally appropriate name as one way of honoring his/her culture.

While I certainly understand the reasoning behind this–and, indeed, it may be right in certain circumstances–a “culturally appropriate” name would have only worsened the childhood taunting I encountered.

First, the facts:

– I am an Asian female (born in Korea).

– I was adopted by my (very) white parents when I was 9 months old.

– I had a (very) white adopted brother.

– My hometown was (very very very) white… as in, I was the ONLY minority in my school.

– My town was (very) small… and, in many ways, small-minded.

As a result of these little factoids, I often encountered some ugly racism while growing up.  (Note:  I have a normal, Anglo name.  I don’t speak with any type of accent.  And I dressed the same as my peers.  Basically, my parents raised me like a white person.  Which is good with me.  I love white people.  I  married a white man.  My daughter is half white.  Which is the reason I think it’s strange that people call her Asian.  She’s only half Asian.  She’s also half white.  So why is she called Asian and not white?  But I digress.)

If I had been named something very Korean–like Mae Rhee–I would have been mercilessly taunted by (some of) my fellow students.  Seriously.  It was bad enough as it was… it would have been downright horrible if I’d had a “strange” name.

I thank God all the time that my parents chose NOT to see my race.  They raised me exactly the same as they would have raised a daughter born to them–name and all.  I wasn’t taught that I had a culture separate or different from the rest of the family.  We were a family, darn it, and our background was the same… not different.

So that’s my perspective on it.  I think maybe, in today’s society, we’re sometimes a little too worried about doing the Politically-Correct-cultural-respect thing… when instead we should be focused on doing the family-sticks-together thing.



  1. Jane said,

    I’m so glad you shared your story. (Everyone has such interesting stories!!)

    I’m actually tempted to agree with you that Americanized names (with maybe cultural names for middle names, or at least an Americanized name for a nickname that the child can choose to use, etc), esp in such Middle America type places as you describe are probably a good idea. My point with the Tarik/Tarikwa thing was that it seemed like they were trying to honor the culture by keeping her name, but then they shortened it to the male form, which just negates the whole cultural honoring thing, right? I mean, not even taking the time to be aware of whether that new form is an appropriate name even in the culture?

    And I love what you say about the family, being a family, is the most important thing. I agree.

  2. bitsypieces said,

    I agree with you, too, that if you’re going to stick with a cultural name, it’s best to make sure you get the gender right!

    Cultural names are probably more easily accepted in larger cities, where all kinds of names/people reside.

    Funnily enough, I chose to stay in a small town (pop. 3,000). But things are (thank goodness!) different these days, and I don’t get the funny looks or racist comments that I used to get. Things do sometimes change for the better!

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