When I first started having friends here in Seoul, I would always ask a new friend’s name… more than asking for their child’s name. As my social interaction progressed, I noticed I was often referred to as my son’s mom. My first thought was, like Stifler’s mom in “American Pie”? Hmmm… sultry. LOL.
For new acquaintances, I would always ask my friend to help me with my memory. For a non-Korean, remembering a Korean name is quite hard. She would often answer (if the child’s name is Yaewon) “Yaewon’s omma” (Yaewon’s mom). “No, the name of the mommy. What is her name?” I always insisted on that. And I would always receive, “I don’t know“. I found it weird. Until I realized that is how Korean society identifies women with child/ren. A woman with a child is known by her friends and acquiantances through the name of her child. Not by her first name. Most often, the first name is not known.
I always took it for granted that asking for your child’s name is the most normal thing to do. It’s like appreciating the child. I would never have guessed that the reason is deeper than that. It is actually already the woman’s identity. For an outsider, it may be a scary thought. Feminists would surely rise up and make an issue out of it. But then again, who is to say that one culture is better than another’s culture? In this name game, I just decided to observe and be amused but retain the practice I have always known (be called by my own name). There are things where “When you’re in Rome, do what the Romans do” but I guess this one could be an exception for me. Besides, I can always find security in my being a foreigner in this land:-).
To prove that moms are normally called by their children’s name, Jaz showed me her phonebook contacts and true enough, her list contains all the children’s name followed by the word “omma“. That’s how she identifies the other moms in her son’s school. Jaz and Betchay both offered the explanation that in the Korean society, when a woman gives birth, she is in effect losing her identity. She is now her children’s mother.
I love my Little Dynamo so much. But I would love for people around me to know me simply as “Wendy”. I am not my husband’s wife nor I am my son’s mom. But then again, that’s me! That’s my personal preference.
I’ve noticed that with some Korean women who were able to stay or live in other countries, there is a (hidden) desire to be known with their first names. One woman who lived in Indonesia for some time explicitly told me that she wants to be called by her first name and not by the name of her son. Another woman who has lived in Japan and is now teaching the Japanese language in one of the universities here in Seoul easily introduced herself with her first name in contrast with most moms who would introduce themselves as their child’s mom. The most recent friend I hang out with has travelled and lived with her husband in several countries (hubby works as business consultant for IBM) and expressed her desire to be called by her first name but worries that her name is hard to pronounce and remember. In cases like this, I happily oblige.