Thursday, October 8, 2009



My Korean mother gave me the name Cha Mi Ra. My Korean father chose the name Cha A Reum. The agency recorded my name as Yoon Mi Ra.

So when people ask me to share my given Korean name, it is complicated.

It is always complicated.


Is complicated.

In the world of adoption.


I have always referred to the name Yoon Mi Ra.

Obviously it is incorporated into the web address for my blog.

It is the name on which I have relied for thirty-four years.

I would write it on scrap sheets of paper over and over—while searching for my origins—hoping that clues would emerge from all my scribbling.

It is the name fastened to my infant torso, almost reminiscent of a mug shot, in the photos posted to my files at the time of intake.

It is the name I uttered through my sleeping tears, thinking it would serve to lead me to the answers for which I longed.

In some ways, it did just that.

In other ways, my affections for this name are now divided and conflicted.


It is neither the name that my Korean mother nor my Korean father bestowed upon me.

And yet somehow, it is still me.

* * *

My Korean mother tells me that she does not know how the name Yoon Mi Ra came to be.

She tells me that Yoon is in fact my deceased maternal grandmother’s surname, but that she does not know how the agency would have come to such knowledge or how the agency would have decided to give me this surname.

She states that she gave me the name Cha Mi Ra.

I make a note to myself that most likely some pieces are perhaps being willfully omitted or subconsciously denied or have simply been lost forever neither willfully nor subconsciously but simply consequently.


My Korean father never had the chance to see me or meet me. My Korean mother disappeared a month before I was born.

When he finally learned of her whereabouts, it was too late. I was gone, and she had moved on with her life.

In the bitter years to come, he decided to call the daughter, whom he had lost, by the name Cha A Reum—hoping one day that fate would allow their paths to meet.

[Areum means “beautiful” in the Korean language.]


Now, they both call me “Ma-leesa.”

So, really, to be troubled over my Korean name is to trouble myself over a name and a fate that has come to pass…

And to trouble myself over an identity that seemingly never finds rest…

But I always seem to be drawn to trouble.


I am all of these names, then. I suppose. Just as much as they represent the different lives I have lived and the different parts of who I am.

Just as I am of more than one people and one land. And just as much as I wrestle with each people and each land to neither restrain me nor reject me.

I am a Cha as much as I am a Chatham as much as I am a Jeon. And a Yoon and a Reynolds and a Fightmaster. And a Konomos.

Don’t get me wrong—a name is powerful. I am not denying the significance and weight that a name can carry—or the genetics and heredity, or the pressures and expectations that come along with it.

But I am saying that a name need not define the sum of who I am.

Rather I can define the name. I can choose who I will become and how who I choose to be will define the name, or names, given to me.

I may have a temper, but I can choose how I will manage and use that temper. I may be deeply emotional and fiercely passionate, but I can choose whether I will use these qualities to either benefit or hurt the world around me.

Maybe it is the chicken or the egg dilemma.

Or maybe it’s the chicken and egg solution.

It’s both, perhaps.

Or maybe, neither.


Pseudo-lofty words from a not-so-lofty person. So take them just as they are—pennies and drops of water in a world already overwrought with debt and flood.

The perfect substrate for hope and courage and ultimate triumph over strife.