My friend Dee and I were talking about our kids when the topic on names came up. After hearing how she named her child I knew it was something that might be of interest to others as well. Fortunately she was kind enough to agree to share her story here on the blog. I hope you enjoy, and again thank you Dee! 🙂
“I was 8 months pregnant with my baby when the pressure of deciding on the baby’s name hit us. Surely many parents look forward to this part, but if you’re a month away from delivery and still haven’t picked a name, you’d know it is a head scratcher. I wanted a perfect name that would go nicely with a Korean surname but still neutral enough to have an English equivalent. I came up with a list that my husband approved but picking one was not easy and the more fixated I was on it the harder it became to choose. So while at my in-laws’ one weekend we happened to talk about what my baby’s name would be. Naturally, I was excited to share my list and to hear what my family thought of it. After reciting the names I waited for signs of validation or disapproval but there weren’t any of those. Just courteous head bobs while voicing out the names as if to test how well it went with their last name. There was that but no definitive comments. I was a bit disappointed thinking the names weren’t good enough for them. Then, my sister-in-law said that well, we wait for the birth date of the baby anyway. I wasn’t totally surprised when she said this.
I learned from my husband that the traditional way was to name the baby after he or she is born. In my head I was playing different scenarios as to why there’s a need for that. I thought, maybe they didn’t want to jinx the birth of their baby? But my random idea was quite far-fetched compared to the actual reason behind this tradition.
According to my husband the birthdate of a person is an important factor in picking a name. The date and the time of birth will determine names that will be suitable for the child.
So, it was like when my grandma picked my father’s name, I thought. My father was born on December 28 which corresponded to Innocents’ day in the Christian calendar, thus he was named Innocencio. I get that.
After telling us that we had to wait for the baby’s birth before deciding on a name, my mil asked me how we chose names in the Philippines. I told her that we come up with the baby’s name long before it’s been born. To which she asked back “How do you decide without knowing the birth date?” I simply told her that many parents already knew what they wanted to call their babies. It can be after a loved one, a biblical name, a popular English name, a celebrity name, or just about anything that’s meaningful to the parents. She squinted and couldn’t seem to comprehend what I just told her. (Of course it’s possible that she got lost in translation.)
I added that we needed the name for the birth registration at the hospital. I asked how they register the baby without a name. They said they do it after they come up with a name. So, the mom leaves the hospital with a nameless beautiful baby that one still called by its fetus name/nickname or tae-myeong. That broke my heart a little. Despite the cold reception of my baby list, I wasn’t swayed to change it. However, I had to know more about their naming tradition because it seemed important to my husband’s family.
My husband then gave more details regarding this matter. I’ve learned that they don’t simply decide the name based on what’s on the calendar but they actually consult with someone.
“WHO?” I asked.
“We go to a fortune teller, or a shaman,” my husband said.
I’m not a fan of horoscopes, that whole astrology thing, or feng-shui, or anything of the sort. This just made it a bit harder to side with their tradition. So, to enlighten myself even further, I asked some of my Korean friends about this tradition and they had a lot to say about it.
One friend’s name was given by a shaman that her parents consulted with. This shaman received information from my friend’s parents like their respective birth dates, names and the baby’s birth date up to the exact time he/she was born. In exchange for the perfect baby name, the parents will give a sort of “donation” to the shaman’s practice. Because a shaman is not supposed to receive payment, he would simply call it a “donation”. This “donation can range between 100,000 won to 1,000,000 (4000 pesos to 40,000 pesos) depending on the shaman’s popularity and how generous you are feeling.
Now perhaps you’re wondering who might be crazy enough to waste that much money on a baby name from a fortune teller. In this modern age, half of all the expecting couples in Korea will consult with a shaman for a baby name.
What’s in a name exactly? Why go the extra mile for a name that you can easily come up with? This is because Koreans believe that a person’s name entails a certain luck or fortune that ripples through the entirety of his life. Certain “karma” comes with every name so in order to live a successful, wealthy, long or happy life one must first bear a “good” name. In fact, some adults go as far as changing their names legally with the belief that their old names were hindering them from being the people they were meant to be. They would change their names in hopes of better career prospects, marriage prospects, business prospects, and so on. So, if you want a clean karmic slate for your newly born child, be prepared to shell out at least 100,000 krw (4000 pesos) for a couple of syllables that will apparently help your little one through a smooth sailing life.
What happens to those who just don’t have that kind of money for the perfect baby name? Well, there are websites that provide similar services for a cheaper price. For a small fee they will generate words that complement the child’s birth date. The words come with corresponding hanja characters (Chinese characters), description or meaning, and karma to go with it. It is up to the user which words to combine or just choosing one word or syllable. And so we decided to follow through with tradition.
Yes, I decided to conform to tradition in the end. After due consideration, it was the logical thing to do. My baby is a Korean citizen after all, so having a Korean name is only appropriate. Although I had my very own list of baby names, I opted for one that was suggested by a search engine. Why? Because I’m a mom who knows none better than my urge to give the best to my baby. And if following this Korean tradition would ease the mind of my other family, then that’s something I could live with. Forget my dream of naming my baby Emily, or Emma or Sophia, or any other sweet little girl’s name. Because like all mothers I knew whatever I called my baby would sound perfect in my ears, and I call mine Jiyeong.”
How did you name your child? Any thoughts you’d like to share? Please let me know (which I will share with my friend) by sharing your messages in the comment section below.