What’s in a name?

Today we went to Holt Children’s Services office in Seoul (my adoption agency). And a lot happened! But for right now I’d like to share just one of the dozen experiences we went through today.

Within a small auditorium we were greeted by some of the post adoption services members. Each of them incredibly kind. We are formally greeted by Esther who I’m excited to finally meet because I’ve heard her name thrown around so many times during my search. After watching a quick video we are assigned a case worker and we divide up into groups (I’m assigned to Esther). But before that, Holt informs us that they have a gift for all the adoptees. It’s a bag with various items within it but the most sentimental piece is a necklace with our Korean names engraved on it.

You could hear the gratitude in the crowd when they announced this and I’m sure some, if not all, got a little emotional. We were all really moved by the gesture.

For me, I was really grateful. But to be completely honest it was the gesture I treasured most. When I was growing up I always knew my Korean name. My parents made it a point that I knew my name and I always assumed it was given to me by my birth mother. So there was this lengthy connection for awhile between my name, Kim Hee Yung, and my birth family. It wasn’t until I was older that I started to realize that my assumption was more than likely wrong. And it wasn’t until last year when I received my paperwork that it was confirmed, my Korean name was given to me by a Holt social worker.

Many adoptees (not all though) struggle with a sense of identity. Particularly interracial and international adoptees. I never really struggled with this until the value of my name was destroyed by one piece of paper.

In Korean culture, there is so much (SO MUCH) value in family and family origins. One of the most important facets within this is the family name. So to be told that my family name was just made up by some social worker was one more blow that really just got me mad.

Today when I met with Esther she didn’t try to defend or deflect any doings by her office or coworkers. In fact she got mad with me as she looked over my family registrar. She said that the hardest thing within Korean culture for adoptees is this stupid family registrar paper that you have to show for a job, for school, for everything. It includes your entire family information and for adoptees there normally isn’t one because the mothers cannot add their child into their family registrar without their family knowing.

I actually took comfort in Esther’s frustration. And it felt nice to know that my adoption agency was mad with me. Together we viewed that paper and she explained how Holt created my own family registrar and I was the first and only one within this registrar. If I had stayed in Korea that piece of paper would have been my downfall within society (more than likely). But as an American I kind of embraced it. It really wasn’t until that moment, staring at MY family registrar that I realized a piece of paper doesn’t mean anything to me unless I make it mean something. That I might not belong to a family registrar but that I had a family from the very beginning who took it upon themselves to make my own registrar. Because they knew I would eventually grow up, come back, see that stupid piece of paper and be like: I own this family and I’m going to fill that stupid registrar with a stupid ton of love. I realized today that I had a family from the very beginning, and it was Holt.

My necklace reads Kim Hee Yung, but more importantly it also reads “Holt”. My necklace has my family name and the name of my family. And I really love it.

Thank you so much Esther, and thanks to everyone at the post adoption services that helped us today.

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