What’s In a Name?

by Stephanie Dong Hee Kim, adopted from South Korea to the Netherlands.

Is a name just “but” a name?

The meaning of words and language is so much more than a collection of letters, signs or sounds.

Words and sounds have meaning, these are symbols, they reflect feelings and thoughts. A name expresses your identity: who are you, where are you from and who and where do you belong (to)?

Questions which don’t have an obvious answer for many adoptees and every person who is searching for both or one of their birth parents.

I was conceived and grew to be a human being in my Korean mother’s womb, as the fourth daughter of the Kim (김) family, and my parents named me Dong-Hee (동희) after I was born.

I was adopted by a Dutch family and got a new first name and also a new family name . Lately, to me this started feeling like ‘overwriting’ my identity and I don’t feel senang about that anymore.

I see myself more and more like a Korean woman who grew up in the Netherlands and has a Dutch nationality. My Korean identity is my background and forms a big part of who I am, even though I didn’t grow up in that culture.

There is a slight difference between how I feel about my first name and how I feel about my family name.

I am grateful that my adoptive parents never took away 동희 from me and just added Stephanie so that my life here would be easier. It’s still easier to have a western name nowadays, since discrimination hasn’t disappeared through the years.

I feel more and more that my blood relation and my Korean background is where I want my family name to refer to, I feel proud to be a 김 family member.

I feel less connection with the Dutch family name, because I do not share any cultural and biological family history with this name and the people wearing this name. Also, there has never been much contact nor connection with any of those family members, besides my adoptive father and -brothers.

That’s why I’ve decided to get used to what it’s like to let myself be known by my Korean names, starting with social media . Just to experience what it does to me, if it makes me feel more me and in place.

I would like people to start feeling comfortable to call me by either of my names. I think it will help me sort out which name(s) reminds me most of who I really am, makes me feel home. Maybe it’s one of them, maybe it’s both. I’m okay with all outcomes.

It’s in some way uncomfortable to me because it feels like I’m taking off a jacket and with that I’m a little exposed and vulnerable.

But that’s okay, since I have been identifying myself with my Dutch names for more than 42 years.

This was originally posted on Instagram and redacted for publishing on ICAV.

Resources

What’s In a Name? Identity, Respect, Ownership?

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