by Yangsook Choi
“I think I would like my own American name, she said quickly. Her mother looked at her with surprise. ‘Why? Unhei is a beautiful name. Your grandma and I went to a name master for it.’ But it is so hard to pronounce, Unhei complained. I don’t want to be different from all the American kids.”
Unhei and her family have recently moved from Korea to America. On the bus on her first day of school Unehi’s attempt at teaching kids her name is a negative experience. So, when asked her name in class she decides to tell everyone that she hasn’t chosen one yet. While the class begins to fill a jar with possible names, Unhei spends time at home struggling to find one that fits. Along the way she makes a friend who likes her just the way she is. His kindness and actions help Unhei embrace her name and feel confident sharing it with the class.
Talk About It
- Look at Unhei’s face as the kids began chanting her name. What do you think she’s thinking or feeling?
- Imagine being at a new school in a new country and your first interaction with kids at your school is feeling teased. How would you feel? Would you want to stay at school or go home? How might Unhei’s experience have been different if one of those kids had stood up and been a friend? What could they have said or done differently?
- Why do you think Unhei decided to tell the class that she hadn’t picked a name yet? Talk together about what it would feel like to have to lie about your name; something that is such a part of our identity; because you are afraid of kids laughing at you.
- What could the teacher have done to help make Unhei feel more welcomed and comfortable?
- Unhei’s mother told her that it’s more than okay to be different. Do you agree or disagree with her?
- What else could Unhei’s mother have asked her to try to understand more about what Unhei was feeling? Why is it important to share our thoughts and feelings when difficult things happen at school versus keeping them to ourselves?
- When Unhei stands in the mirror trying out different American names, why do you think she feels like none of them fits? How did it make you feel to see her worrying so much about fitting in and being liked?
- What do you think about the class’ idea to create a name jar? When Uhei smiles do you think its because there’s a name jar or because kids are being kind to her?
- Talk about the Doing something even when you know it will be hard. it took for Unhei to open up to Joey. How do you think it made her feel when he reacted so positively to learning about her The traditions, customs, arts, and achievements of a particular nation or group of people.?
- When Unhei receives the letter from her grandmother reminding her of the love they share, how do you think that made Unhei feel? What do you think she was thinking about in front of the bathroom mirror?
- Unhei runs into Joey at the grocery store and she courageously tells him her real name. What good qualities of a friend did Joey display? How do you think his actions impacted Unhei’s decisions to tell the kids at school her real name?
- Talk about how Unhei’s decisions to share her true self with the class created a ripple effect in which they learned how to pronounce her name and began sharing personal stories with her. In discussing this it’s important to talk about the fact that when someone is new to a group it shouldn’t be solely up to them to reach out. It is our responsibility as a good person to make sure they feel welcomed & included. What differences do they think this would have made for Unhei both now & how she remembers this experience later in life.
- What do you think about Joey taking the name jar? Talk about how it was not just his support, but his actually taking action, that helped Unhei trust in the beauty of who she is & her name.
- Imagine Unhei as she gets older. What impact do you think feeling proud of her name will have on her confidence and appreciation for her heritage?
- Think about ideas for what you could say or do to make a new kid feel welcome in your school or other group. Also, what can you can say or do if other kids aren’t being nice. Take turns role playing the words and actions you come up with. Reiterate the importance on not just being kind to other kids but of standing up for others who aren’t being treated fairly.
- Spend time being honest about any situations in which a member of your family has been teased or made to feel badly for being different in some way. How did it make you feel? What do you wish someone had done differently? What did you learn from it?
- Have your child write their name in a decorative way on a piece of paper. In bright colors, like confetti, fill the space around it with qualities that make them unique, proud, etc. Share your thoughts about what makes your child special. Make sure they know the story of how you chose their name and what it means.
- Take some time to research the Korean alphabet. Talk about the differences you notice between this alphabet and the English alphabet. Then talk about the ways in which no matter what it looks like, all languages are used in the same way…like writing letters or books; sharing feelings of love; etc. Maybe even pick a few languages and write the same word in each style and listen to the pronunciation.