A piece I wrote on the meaning of a Southern accent and how mine has changed over time is up at The Bitter Southerner as part of the Folklore Project. I’m excited to have my work appear in a publication whose mission–to tell the stories of the South in order to make it a better place–I believe in.
Growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, I never thought much about being Southern. I groused with everyone else at the no-shoes and cousin-lover jokes on late night TV and grimaced at Nicolas Cage’s grating try at a Southern accent, but that was about it. Dressin’ was dressin’, pens were “pins,” Mississippi was home, and I couldn’t imagine anything different.
Not that I always fit in perfectly. One summer in my early teens, my family drove down to Biloxi, where my younger siblings and I spent the first day of vacation getting badly sunburned off Ship Island. The next day, while my brother and sister stayed at the hotel basking in aloe and cable television, I braved the pain to go with my parents to the Ohr Museum and afterward to a café, where the latticed wrought-iron chairs dug into my lobster-red legs.
“Can I have a soda, please?” I asked the lady behind the counter.
Her eyebrows lifted. “You mean a coke, sweetie? What kind of coke?” She took my money. “You must be from up North.”
Mr. Kim and I have been married just over a month now, and it’s been great! I’m still reveling in the memories and warmth of our ceremony and reception and eagerly awaiting the rest of the photographs so I can stare at us and think about how good-looking we are reminisce about the good times we shared with friends and family.
Of course, for all the promises and partying to mean anything to earthly powers, you need a marriage license beforehand. The process is different in every state (and in some states, every county), but here’s our experience.
From whatever point in my life I connected marriage and name change–probably later than average because I just didn’t notice things like that–I said I’d never change my name. I liked my name, and what if my husband had a terrible name like Schlong or Weinermeister*, or a boring one like Smith or Williams**, and besides, my mom never changed hers. There was no way I’d ever change my name, I told people when the issue came up, and I wouldn’t hyphenate either; my name already had four syllables!
Of course, now I’m married, and I am hyphenating my name. I’ve already done it socially and professionally; I’ve even gotten mail in my new name; and I’ll do it legally after primary voting and some other paperwork is done with.
There’s a lot to consider when contemplating a name change, of course: personal branding if you’re a businessperson, publications if you’re an academic, your spouse’s feelings on the matter, your own thoughts. But there are extra things to mull over if your marriage is an intercultural one. With that in mind, here’s what I thought about when making my decision.
My mother never changed her name, but her own mother believed so firmly in the tradition that she’s even put what she considers my mother’s married name (my mom’s first name + my dad’s last name) on official documents–35+ years later. So, tradition can be pretty strong, and if you’ve been a woman getting married in the United States, you’ve probably had someone say to you, or at least think at you, “Just change it, it’s traditional!”
Well, actually, no it’s not. It might be traditional in white-bread America, but it could be totally weird in your partner’s country or culture! In Japan, women are actually required by law to change their names upon marriage, unless they marry a foreigner. In Korea, on the other hand, nobody changes their family name, as far as I know, except that I think sometimes children of divorced parents get their mom’s name added as a second surname these days. Spanish women don’t change theirs, nor do Chinese women or the women of many other countries. And of course, men changing their surnames is unusual almost everywhere. In any case, while I love both Korean and American traditional food and traditional holidays and many other traditions, I don’t really think tradition in itself is a good reason for any major choice.
Just because Shakespeare asked, “What’s in a name?” doesn’t mean the answer is “nothing.” My own name is Scotch-Irish, and while I’m not particularly attached to that cultural heritage–no kilts or coats of arms–I have been using it for more than 30 years, and I love it! It’s unusual and when you search for my first+last name, the only results are me and a woman whose ex-husband tried to hire someone to kill her lawyer, yikes. A lot of people do seem to feel like their original family names are an important marker of their cultural background, though, and that’s a great reason not to change.
I was actually in the opposite situation, in a way: After spending most of a decade in Korea, basically finishing my growing-up years there and considering making it my permanent home, I felt like Korea was such a big part of me that I was happy to add Mr. Kim’s name to my own to make McSomething-Kim. I feel like my new, hyphenated name actually expresses my cultural identity and way of life better than my old one did.
Another consideration for hyphenating instead of wholesale changing a name in an intercultural marriage is to avoid confusion. I’m a really obviously white person. Kim is a really obviously Korean name. If you’re a Seinfeld fan, you probably remember the episode where Jerry goes on a date with a woman named Donna Chang who doesn’t look like anyone expected, resulting later in George’s parents deciding to go through with their divorce. I don’t want to see that “ohhhhh…” look on people’s faces for the rest of my life, in America or in Korea.
Actually, I don’t think this is a good reason in itself to avoid changing a name. (And partly, I’m just jumping at the excuse to reference Seinfeld.) I wouldn’t have let this stop me from changing my name completely if I’d been inclined to in the first place, but since I love both names, avoiding confusion is a nice perk to hyphenating.
This is another consideration that I don’t think is strong enough to base the name-change decision on, but it’s something I couldn’t help thinking about after hearing the story last year of the white man whose poem, rejected 40 times under his real name, was accepted much more quickly after he submitted it under a Chinese pseudonym. If I go about life with the name of Kim, I wondered, will I be trying to benefit by falsely taking on a cultural identity that’s not my own?
Well, I don’t know; I guess some people could view it that way, even with the hyphenation. In the end, though, I’ve decided not to worry about it. For one thing, I’m not falsely doing anything; I am actually a member of the Kim family, one who speaks (mediocre but aspiring) Korean and eats Korean food for dinner several times a week and cooks a traditional spread on both Christmas and Lunar New Year.
So anyway, in the end, the only thing that really counts when thinking about intercultural name change is who you are, and who you want to be. There’s no wrong choice, as long as it’s yours.
*I don’t know why I had such a dread of German-sounding names as child; my mom’s family is actually German-American, and so is her name.
**Also names of actual ancestors, so again, why was I such a hater?
Lunar New Year–not Chinese New Year! It’s not only Chinese!–is coming up Monday, so this seems like a perfect time to post about hanbok (한복), which I wore for the first time at my wedding last month:
Hanbok literally means “Korean clothing,” although, of course, most Korean people only wear it on special occasions. (Before our wedding, I think the last time Mr. Kim’s mom wore hers was his college graduation almost eight years ago!)
Like many types of clothing, fashions have changed over the years, and people of different social classes have worn different styles made from different materials. The lower-class women’s hanbok of the late Joseon period (late 19th century-early 20th century) were actually quite scandalous by today’s Korean (or Western!) standards, as you can see in this NSFW photo. Fortunately, the fashions have changed my hanbok was much modest!
As I’ve said, one of my favorite things about our wedding was making things for it myself. I definitely enjoyed our origami wedding flowers, but my absolute favorite project was our DIY book-style wedding programs.
I like books a lot, and they were my best friends for much of my childhood, but my relationship with bound volumes is far eclipsed by Mr. Kim’s as well as both of our fathers. Also, there was plenty we wanted to include and we were doing it in both languages. So, a book-style wedding program made a lot of sense. Here’s how I did it:
1. Plan out the content and number of pages.
It needs to be a multiple of four because one sheet of A4/8.5×11 paper makes 4 pages for this size of book at least. Ours was 24–a lot, sure, and not super cheap to print (6 pages front and back), so adjust accordingly.
I divided the content into chapters, and I named each chapter after a chapter from a book that was meaningful to one or both of us and related to what would go on during that part of the day: (We did have to change one because in the Korean version of Pullman’s The Golden Compass, “A Decanter of Tokay” is called “Assassination Conspiracy,” which is not what we were going for!)
2. Write, otherwise create and lay out the content.
I studied journalism in college and used to design the front page of the paper–I even won awards–so I used Adobe InDesign; we downloaded a free trial about a month before the “big day.” Getting back to layout was super fun, and as a bonus, I am now really comfortable with my InDesign skills again. (College was a while ago.)
In addition to writing content for each “chapter,” which Mr. Kim kindly translated in to Korean to save my poor wedding-frenzied brain, I peppered the book with coloring pages found using Google image search of Korean and Mississippi themes, like people wearing hanbok and crawfish. I also made a crossword puzzle, following this excellent how-to, about us:
3. Print it, carefully! Whatever you used to design the programs, you probably want to put it in pdf format first so that when you go to print it, stuff won’t have moved around onto the next or a previous page.
Also, you need to print on both sides of the page (flipped on short edge)! Definitely do a test. I wasted kind of a lot of money because, apparently, I made a mistake (in spite of two test copies) when I went to print 80 copies at once at Staples and the back was turned the opposite direction to the front. I think I accidentally flipped it on the long edge on that batch after doing it right on the test… So sad! So be careful, because the printing is the most expensive part of making these, especially if you don’t own a printer!
4. Bind them.
Fold the pages for each book in half, and also fold in half whatever you plan to use for the covers; I used various colors of 8.5×11 card stock bought from Amazon. Then decide how you want to hold it together.
I wanted mine to look like real old-school books, so the first 25 or so I actually sewed by hand in our Atlanta hotel room using this kind of method. This looked nice and worked, but it took a while. Because I had messed up on the printing, I didn’t have that much time before people started arriving and things got busy, so I stapled the rest. Sad face.
5. Make ’em pretty.
I bought five types of cloth, a half yard each, from Jo Ann’s Fabrics. (I loved the colors and patterns and about half of it’s left, so I’m planning to use it to make some quilted throw pillows.)
I cut pieces the height of the books and about 2 inches wide and glued them on using kiddy glue sticks.
To put the titles on, I bought a Fiskars stamp press and found some letters I liked to use with it.
Ta-da! Some people liked our programs so much they even asked if they could take an extra one.