July 6, 2011

"Please don't forget my name" (yet another Korean culture)

What is the very first thing that defines your identity? Fingerprints? Your physical appearance? The car you drive? Your position in the company? I would say it is your name. Before knowing someone or finding out more about that person, the very first thing you know about that person is his/her name.

In Korea, however, I’ve noticed that after getting married and becoming a mother, I don’t use my name as often as before. In fact I think they are still people around me who don’t know my name because they know me as “Min Hye Umma”. Min Hye is my 1st born and after you give birth to your first child, people will naturally call you by your child’s name and affix the word “Umma”. Even after a few babies, your “name” will still be the name of your first child.

When you first get married into the family, you will be addressed as “New Baby” (Sae Aga/Egi) by your parents in law. Sisters or brothers in law will have other honorifics for you and nobody will use your name.

On a lunar new year’s morning, we were at my parents in law’s place for the “jae-sa” (ancestor prayers). We spent the night there before and were supposed to wake up at about 5am to prepare. My father in law stood outside my room and asked, “Min Hye, are you awake already?” I answered him no because my daughter was still sleeping but little did I know he was referring to me! Only then did I find out that not only they call you so and so's Umma, but they also cut it short and just call you by your baby’s name.

Of course I do believe there are exceptions in other families but on the whole in general, this is how Korean culture is like. Most women here are so natural and quick in introducing themselves as so and so’s umma. Not only amongst the elders, (which is still understandable) but even amongst friends, there are actually young people who introduce themselves as baby’s umma when making new friends. As much as I enjoy being an "Ajumma" here in Korea, I really hope to see women continue to claim their names proudly and not let their self identities be overridden by the fact that they are somebody’s wife and mother.

So the next time you hear your baby’s name being called, please check before responding. ^.^

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