Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What's in a name?

What should I do?

I noticed on Sunday that Peter and I now have nametags at church, but it took me a minute to figure it out simply because it wasn't my name.

"Kathy Chang" was next to "Peter Chang". I recognized Peter's name, but I did not recognize mine because that's not who I am.

I did not take his last name when we got married. I was young, idealistic and slightly rebellious. I had just begun to establish a career in journalism, and enjoyed seeing my byline. And when I thought of my parents eventually giving away their two daughters in holy matrimony, there was a pang in my heart. I would become one with my husband, but my name was so tied with my family of origin. If they were really gaining a son, did they have to lose their daughter in the process?

I didn't set out to make a statement with keeping my last name. I had simply become accustomed to my name in all its oft-mispronounced, misspelled glory.

Hyphenating didn't make sense. (For those of you who don't speak Korean, if you put Khang and Chang together with proper pronunciation you get something very close to the word for "soy sauce".) And as open-minded as Peter was trying to be, we couldn't think of a way to explain to his parents why their first-born son was giving up his family name. (He still laughs when students or colleagues of mine mistakenly refer to him as Mr. Khang.)

So I stayed Kathy Khang. The kids' friends call me Mrs. Chang, and I don't make a big deal about it. When folks ask, I happily explain. I love my husband, and my children with whom I do not share a last name, and I love my name.

There are many women in the scriptures who go nameless. The woman at the well. The Samaritan woman. The bleeding woman. I love their stories. And I really do love the story my name tells. Khang - in Korean tradition the family name comes first. Kathy - given to me by my parents when we immigrated to the states because it started with the same sound as my given name. KyoungAh - my Korean name given to me by my paternal grandfather, according to tradition; the characters mean "congratulations" because I was the first daughter born to the family in three generations.

Back to the name tag.

Despite my slightly rebellious tendencies, I am still Asian American. I don't want to embarrass anyone by asking for a new tag, and I don't want to seem too liberal. I don't want to draw any more attention to our family than we already do when we walk into the sanctuary.

What should I do?

How are we different?

We've been doing our best for the past few months at hiding at our local church. We've been blessed and quite impressed at how we've been welcomed and greeted ("Hi, I've not had the chance to introduce myself." and not once "Hi, are you new here?"). The kids have transitioned well into Children's Church, though the idea of a separate Sunday School hour is still taking some getting used to. We've attended the Inquirers Class to get to know the church and the denomination better. But overall, we've tried to keep a low profile, slipping out as quickly as we can after service.

But lately, Peter and I have felt a tug in our hearts. Are we willing to invest into the life of the church knowing that some things will feel different? Until two years ago, we had attended a predominantly Korean-American second gen church where social and cultural connections generally flowed seamlessly into spiritual connections. There was no worrying about what to serve or not serve for impromptu meals together. No explaining why we related to our parents the way we did even though we are grown adults with families of our own.

Peter and I were talking about church, and joked about how we stood out as a family on any given Sunday morning. We've been keeping a low-profile, but there are some things we can't hide, right?

But then my daughter said something that gave me a moment of panic. "Huh? What do you mean we stick out? How are we different?"

My husband and I nearly stopped breathing.

Bethany is developing a wicked sense of humor so for a moment we weren't sure if she was joking with us, but it was soon obvious that it wasn't immediately obvious to her how we were different.

And I'm not sure how I feel about that. I don't want my kids to wear their ethnicity as an angry badge, but I want them to be wisely aware. Does that make sense?

Ironically, I've taught on ethnic identity to college students and adults. Any thoughts on translating this for personal use?