An International Adoption Name Challenge

November 27, 2014 Linda Rosenkrantz

By Angie Bahng

Like many other adoptive parents, my husband and I thought long and hard about how to incorporate HJ’s Korean name into her legal name when we brought her home from Korea. We had her American name picked out and we were set on that as her first name. Her Korean name was given to her by my grandfather. The Korean name he picked for her means “wise and righteous and affectionate.”

Although we continued to call her by her Korean name when she came home, we decided not to make it her legal middle name, although that is a tradition kept by many Korean American parents and a decision that we most definitely respect for those that choose to follow it.

Being Korean American ourselves, my husband and I knew the pitfalls of having a difficult to pronounce Korean name when growing up in the U.S. My Korean middle name is spelled as Aerie on my birth certificate, but the “r” sound is somewhere in between an “l” and an “r” in pronunciation. Growing up, I hated having to explain my middle name to people, or having people pronounce it “Eddie” and having a “boy’s name.” On top of that, my husband has somewhat of an unusual Korean last name that is both hard to spell and pronounce in itself. (Even after 10 years, my mother still has difficulty spelling it correctly!) So adding another complicated Korean legal middle name seemed a bit too much.

We still wanted to give HJ a middle name that had special meaning and significance for her. My husband came up with “Eden” as it is the official name of the orphanage that my grandfather started in Korea and means “delight.” We felt that was perfectly appropriate for HJ, as she brought so much delight to everyone she encountered in Korea and of course to us when we adopted her.

Unfortunately, ever since HJ started school, she has decided that she doesn’t want to be called by her Korean name, because it was her “baby name” and of course now she is “a big girl.” Apparently she also doesn’t like her special middle name, because her little sister has decided that it sounds like a boy’s name and reminds her about it more often than she would like. I’m sure things would be different if we could all choose our own names despite all the thought and care our parents try to put into the process!

I hope that as HJ gets older, she’ll want to know more about her Korean name and the history behind it, but for now we’re not going to push it. We’ll see how she feels whenever the time comes for us to take her to visit Korea for the first time and people start calling her by her Korean name. For now, we’ll let her be who she wants to be and let her be called what she wants to be called… Hopefully in the future she’ll be able to embrace the uniqueness of her name and culture and let it be something that we can model for her now.

Angie Bahng is a writer and editor living in the Chicago area with her husband and two daughters. She blogs about parenting, adoption, and special needs at Those are her two adorable girls in the photo.