It’s been a while since I wrote regularly here, mostly because once the excitement of the wedding was over, I didn’t feel I had much that was Mrs. Kim-ish to write about. My life was focused on getting a full-time job, applying for Mr. Kim’s green card, and worrying about politics (in the USA and Korea). So while I didn’t stop writing, the Annals of the Mc-Kim family have been pretty empty.
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!
I’ve taken a somewhat inevitable break from blogging for the past couple of weeks, as wedding-related phenomena–travel, crafting, family, out-of-town visitors, exhaustion–took over our lives. The next several posts will definitely be going over some of these things in detail (especially the travel and crafting), but today I’m going to ease back into the writing with a top 6 list of wedding-related events, people, places and things from the past couple of weeks.
Most people take a honeymoon after their wedding. That’s great, but for us, this pre-wedding trip was perfect. We aren’t taking a honeymoon for a few reasons: We’re kind of tired of traveling at the moment after moving across the globe, we’re 30 years old and have already traveled all over the world, and we’re living on Mr. Kim’s grad student stipend and my part-time hourly wage (and needed to get back to work).
But, when Mr. Kim mentioned with regret a few months ago that maybe he wouldn’t be able to attend the American Historical Association conference because it was the weekend before our wedding, I got an idea. The conference was in Atlanta this year, a five-hour drive from my hometown; flying into my hometown is surprisingly expensive; and we needed to be in town most of the week before the wedding anyway. So, we decided to fly to Atlanta together, enjoy the city (and Mr. Kim the conference), and take a one-way rental car to Jackson. It was a great decision; I crafted in a nice hotel room while Mr. Kim met up with fellow historians, and the rest of the time, we ate amazing food and saw historical sites. Being away from our everyday lives for a few days before wedding craziness was a sanity saver.
5. Seeing my ideas become reality
I’m pretty good at visualizing things and turning that vision into reality–witness our Minions Halloween costumes, for example–but it’s always a pleasure (or a relief) to see things really come together in the moment. I planned all the decorations, from simple things like table coverings to origami flowers and programs, and had a good idea of the atmosphere I wanted to build, so I was gratified to hear all the compliments and to see things looking the way I had hoped. I especially loved the programs I made, based on our (and most of our family members’) mutual love of books, and they turned out to be a bit of a hit.
4. Showing off Jackson
As I’ve written before, a lot of people have a definite and unfavorable image of Mississippi. I was pretty nervous about so many people, from pretty diverse backgrounds, coming to Jackson for a weekend. I was a little worried that someone would say something obtusely racist and confirm their stereotypes, but only a little; most Mississippians, and probably all reputable ones, are extremely polite to strangers no matter how much they disagree with them or what their private thoughts might be. Mostly, I was worried people would spend the weekend thinking, “What the hell am I doing in this provincial dump of a state capital?” It seems, however, that I was worried about nothing. The food and beverage situation at the wedding (and beyond) was great, which went a long way, and anyway people seemed to really have a good time; one friend of ours, an Ivy-league PhD candidate, even entertained a fantasy of opening a Korean restaurant there.
3. Wearing hanbok
I love love love our hanbok! Hanbok are traditional Korean clothes, and we wore them for part of the wedding reception and also for a lot of photographs beforehand. I had never even tried on hanbok until we had these made last summer, and wearing them was so much fun. I love the bright colors the hanbok tailor helped us choose, I love how comfortable it is (especially compared to a wedding dress), and I love the photographs our wonderful photographer, Christina Cannon Boteler, took of us wearing them around the Ag Musuem, where we got married. Plus, unlike the wedding dress, I will be able to wear the hanbok again and again on future special days: Korean holidays, our child’s first birthday, and maybe even a future child’s wedding one day! Hanbok: If you have a connection to Korea, do it!
2. The ceremony
A lot of guests commented on how sweet and lovely our ceremony was. I mean I guess that’s a normal thing to say about any wedding, but I have to say that I felt like it was particularly true of ours. One friend of mine, who doesn’t plan to have children and has a nontraditional view of monogamy’s centrality to marriage, told us about how when she got married, the pastor went on and on about how she and her husband would be blessed with children and always be physically faithful to one another. Mr. Kim and I are much more conventional on both counts, but we really appreciate how the pastor who married us took the time to get to know us–our values, our future plans–and worked what she learned into the homily she gave. We did almost everything in both Korean and English for Mr. Kim’s mom, and even though my vows were stuttering and I mixed my registers, I’m proud of it. And the church was adorable, and nobody cried except the pastor, and everyone laughed when I said “I will” too loud and when I grabbed Mr. Kim’s face for the kiss.
1. So many people we love in one place
Undeniably, the best part of the wedding (besides becoming Mr. Kim’s wife!) was having so many people who are important to us gathered in one place, and I was especially happy (and relieved) that our families (especially our fathers) got along so wonderfully, and that I got to spend so much time with one of my most beloved friends (also a bridesmaid) who I rarely get to see these past few years. Of course, there were a few people missing: One of Mr. Kim’s best friends who would have been in the wedding party couldn’t make it because of Korea’s inflexible work expectations, and my mom’s best friend couldn’t come because of an accident involving a horse and 46 stitches. But both of our families and so many friends from many stages of our lives were there, and even though I didn’t get to talk to most of them as much as I would have liked, it was wonderful to feel their love around us.
We’ve spent part of tonight packing for tomorrow’s trip down South to spend Christmas with my family. This will be Mr. Kim’s first Christmas with my family, and our first spent in the same place–kind of a big deal in the Korean context, since Christmas isn’t really a family holiday but a romantic one there.
Of course, with our wedding coming up, this trip is also partly for preparation for that. We’ll meet the officiating pastor a third time, hopefully finalize some plans for the days before and after the wedding, and go check out the venue one more time.
I’m also taking my dress down:
I’m taking it carry-on–after UPS lost it before, I’m taking no chances!–but the trade-off is, I have to squash it up a bit more than I’m really thrilled about. Will it come through unscathed? We’ll find out! But at least we’ll have plenty of time to get any wrinkles steamed out before the 16th!