proper names

“Names do have power”, I concluded with a nod, as I wheeled away from the crates of sweet potatoes, apples, lotus root, and nashi. This, my favorite market on our walking street, made conversation inevitable, a friendly treat. I am known and since moving here five years ago in July, I love recognizing people as I quickly spot them. “Oh, she’s from the post office. He does your dry cleaning.” I’m the woman who is not Japanese and I buy produce which makes some people very glad. I like their country and I know what to do with a squash. Honestly, no one cares, but it is a friendly feeling.

This trip was funny. Almost done ringing up when an older couple steps up and our cashier wants to show-off my sweet son. Why, yes! He is a doll, they exclaim! “Oningyo-san mitai!” And then peering-in like selecting from mottled fruit, she assesses, “Ogaijiin-san.”

Foreigner. But oh, no. Au contraire, argues the cashier, my new auntie. “He, (she attests proudly) he has a Japanese name. ” Her chin lifts with an authoritative air. And then as if following an unspoken nudge, I present them with his name. He is Tokutaro-kun. Actually, I say it with “san” at the end, instead of “kun”, for the unintentional added effect of regality. He is a classy, young Japanese man. Who knows how far he will go. He is Japanese, fair ones, sweet lovelies of the produce court.

I of course omit speaking his first name, Jude. My Jude. And here is where I thank my wise in-laws for giving us such pride in the lineage, such a name. And I speak this without derision, for what if I could only present “Jude” as an argument. My son is Japanese, yes, and I see the power in his name. Er, names.

For when he spends time in the US with my family, with his people there, will they ask if he is American? Why, yes! That’s right! There is an American name! It is even in front of Tokutaro for added American oomph. Everyone knows, like on the ingredient wrapper of salad dressing, whatever is listed first in waaaaay more in power, way more in volume, in nutrition, or lack thereof.

And back at the counter, where I hastily added some pickled seaweed and eggplant, its purple body bathing in some pickly-water solution, my friend, the cashier, even contributes more towards the fact that the kids are Japanese: her daughter has a Japanese name. “Why yes”, I say in Japanese–“You remember! Yes. ”

“Kariin-chan“, she produces my girl’s name with roundness, with beauty and kindness, as if she holds the very fruit of our daughter’s name–the ancient quince some say may have been the very apple-not-quite-apple in the garden with the original man and his wife. Karin, the fruit made gorgeous in jams, its wood even shaped into the Japanese shamisen. It makes its home here and blooms five sweet pink petals. Do they know what Jude will produce? No, that name is not known, but oh–the joys of Tokutaro, our Toku-chan.

The air smells sweet in fall air. How could it not at the edge of a market, at the edge of October, crates of plums spread open, grapefruit, apples, fancy matsutake mushrooms, gleaming tomatoes and even sale bananas growing old.

I steal down the ramp with a gleam and a smile. Thank G-d we didn’t name the kid George.


How has your name helped you to travel in and out of cultures? Or maybe it has been awkward? If you live in between two or more languages or cultures, what has the naming process been like for you as you ready/(readied) yourself for kids?

4 thoughts on “proper names

  1. mel, this is soooooo beautiful! i can’t wait to read more! it’s quite inspiring and almost like we’re sitting in the same room (perhaps at your grandparents’ beach house) and you’re just telling me about your life šŸ™‚ i love this! and love you! and love to isaac, kariin, and jude!

    • Thank you so much for sitting down to read with me. I am so glad that it feels like we are in the same room. That is my hope–to reign-in some of the great distance we have geographically & have real writing or chats beyond a status update, for sure. Lots and lots of love!

  2. Oh, I can just feel myself standing next to you in a moment like this. And I recall you and I having a conversation about this. What beautiful words. Miss you much.

    • Thank you so much, Layne! Yes, you really inspired me(specifically in that conversation)—I thought before that they are ONE child, therefor they can have ONE name, everything streamlined and integrated. I am realizing that this isn’t always the way it works and that is okay.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s