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.


pickel said...

I love your perspective...that as much as a name is is what you make it.

Melanie Recoy said...

I can understand the conflict. Everything adoption is always so complicated.

a Tonggu Momma said...

As complicated as this topic is (as with everything in adoption), I loved hearing your perspective.

Triona Guidry said...

Great post. Thank you for sharing.

Mei-Ling said...

How did you communicate with your Korean parents? Like, what are your language capabilities? (I know Korean is backwards from English, so I'm curious)

Jeff and Madeline said...

Very thoughtful post.
M has asked many times what her first family named her--I don't know that they named her anything as it is not unusual to not name a child so young, but I totally know it is a possibility. it is not something I asked them during our visit--I hope I will get that chance again (she didn't ask me until the day after we met them).
She also has an orphanage name (I do know how that was derived) and a nickname from her foster family and then a name from us (which incorporates her Chinese name).
I don't think any identify her completely, but they all do play a role in the formation of who she is due to the fact that our society labels and generalizes our names and our personalities in relation to them to some extent.
We are always open to her changing her name or using her Chinese name exclusively--it is her name. I have altered my own name over the years when I felt it didn't represent me. Names are important; however, they are not all defining.
It is a powerful question--what is the act of naming and the acceptance or rejection of given names?

Mila said...

Thank you all for your comments.

I know this post barely scratches the surface of all the complexities that adoptees face over the name issue. Many adoptees have blogged about this issue previously.

I felt particularly motivated to write about it now, simply because I just recently gained this info...

I think I could write a whole book discussing all the conflict and turmoil I feel over the name thing...I'm sure I'll blog about it more in the future as I slowly continue processing the events of this year...

Mei-Ling, to answer your questions in short (I'll most likely do a blog post devoted to this topic in the near future)...

I communicated with my Korean parents like this:

Either my Appa or Omma would sing out a string of phrases gazing into my eyes with great hope and eagerness...

While intermittently, I would interject with the following options:

smile, nod, shrug, tilt head, burrow forehead, smile, laugh, mian hamnida, mawrugessumnida, half-smile, sigh, sigh again, take deep breath, smile, turn head, stare straight ahead...

It was two weeks of pretty much that.

There were a few times we were able to have someone present to translate. And my Appa knows a few more words and phrases [he also had a simple one-word translator on his cell phone] than my Omma [remember they're not together, so I spent time with them each separately].

It was sweet actually, he would send me text messages [I rented a cell phone while in Korea] each day, especially the days we didn't get to hang out with short phrases like "Love you," "Miss you" "Have good day," etc.

But the majority of the time we spent together was translator-less, and proceeded as indicated above.

Does that answer your question sufficiently?

I'm trying to have a sense of humor about it, but honestly, my heart sinks any time a person asks me about the whole language thing...

Mei-Ling said...

Yeah... been there, done that.

I know what it feels like to have one's parents keep saying things and not having a damn clue.

And no, I didn't really have a translator either.

Mia_h_n said...

It's been said before but I too believe that you define your name and not the other way around.

But it is very personal and powerful. I would change my name if I felt it necessary, but I wouldn't for instance take my husband's name because I'm not him.

I feel I'm both of my names, but who gave me my Korean name is one of the things I've been thinking about asking, if I ever meet my parents. It will be interesting to see what the consequenses will be if the story's similar to yours.

kyungmee said...

beautifully said. I think so many of us can very much relate to names and what they carry ..I haven't been here for some time and read that you just returned from korea! Wow. I am looking forward to reading about your so happy for you! I will be leaving in two days to the netherlands to see my brother there:) I am nervious but very excited. I wish we could go and meet our family in korea but I am happy to see my brother..our first meeting!

Mila said...

Oh, wow, Kyungmee! Best wishes to you on your own journey. I can only imagine all that you're feeling and thinking--the anticipation must be overwhelming. I look forward to hearing about your trip.