The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
I grew up in mostly-white Edmonton, Alberta, Canada right smack in the middle of the Iran-Iraq war. Awareness of difference was low and I remember fantasizing about having a name just like everyone else.
The name calling and the teasing was too much at times. “Arriba, Arriba, Undalé, Undalé!” was called after me every time I was around. Adults too would struggle. And although they tried, I eventually shortened my name from Fariba to Fari. It didn’t help. “Fairy? No. Fiery? No. Ferrari?”
My chosen name? Jessica. In all of my fantasies, I was Jessica. Because Jessica was like everyone else, Jessica’s parents weren’t from somewhere else and best of all, Jessica didn’t stand out because of her name.
In Yangsook Choi’s book, “The Name Jar”, Unhei (pronounced Yoon-Hye) moves from South Korea to America. She starts her first day of school having to explain her new name to all of the other kids and, inevitably, they laugh and tease her about how it’s pronounced. “You-hye, bye bye!”, they tease her.
The story develops with Unhei wanting to choose a typical American name like Laura or Amanda. But she’s reminded soon enough about what her Grandmother taught her about her name. Unhei means grace. And her name’s meaning is far more important than fitting in.
Through a boy she becomes friendly with, he discovers her real name and it shows her she can be proud of her name- even in America.
With beautiful illustrations throughout, The Name Jar has inspired conversations with my children about how and why we’re different as a family. How we might ‘stick out’ and why it’s important to embrace those differences because they make up who we are.
I wouldn’t change my name for the world. But I only discovered that as an adult. I wish I’d been able to stand tall and correct the teasers and conformists who desperately tried to make my name sound english.
This book is about immigrants, about fitting in, peer pressure, multiculturalism and third culture kids. Definitely one for your bookshelves if you’d like to inspire conversations about diversity.