Chul Ho Shin & Language

Something random happened last week that has been on my mind…and it doesn’t have anything to do with the 2016 Election!

Last week during a training on pronouns we were asked to introduce ourselves with the name given to us at birth and what if any was the significance and meaning of those names.

I thought it was a really interesting way to introduce ourselves and it was such a great way to learn more about each other.

The awkward thing for me was that I don’t have a name that was given to me at birth. Additionally, I didn’t keep my Korean name, and was re-named when I was adopted.

My Story

brian-2I was left on the steps of a South Korean orphanage in Seoul without a name. My Korean name, Chul Ho Shin, was given to me by the orphanage days later and the meaning is lost to me. I’ve done research on what it means but I can only guess as to whether there was purposeful thought behind it or if it was just the next name on the list.

Once I was adopted, my adopted parents decided to give me American names, and selected Brian David. They selected these for me because both are names are connected with strength. While over in South Korea, before I traveled to the United States, I had pneumonia, which delayed my adoption and traveling. So being the spiritual humans that my parents are they dubbed me with those two names to put positivity and support out into the universe for me even though I was hundred of thousands of miles away from their embrace.

The Reflection

As we went around the room, I began thinking about my names and how I was given them and realized that I was marginalized by that one extremely common phrase that we all use. Who would ever think that there are individuals who don’t have a “name given at birth”? Thankfully, I was one of the last to go, so I had lots of time to contemplate how I was going to introduce myself. I decided to just tell my story and be upfront that I didn’t have a name given to me at birth.

After the training (which was aaaamazing) I realized that while that one phrase had marginalized me, I wasn’t upset or hurt by it. I was marginalized, yes, but not maliciously nor was it done intentionally. I mulled over other potential inclusive versions of it and after this weekend, came to the decision that there was no better alternative. In most of them it would end up defeating the work that would be done or it would marginalize me in a different way.

Over the weekend, I think I came to realize that language itself will always marginalize us. Language, like everything else including us humans, has its limitations and constraints. And it’s the power of the marginalized to decided how to handle it and use it.

For me, I acknowledged that I was probably 1% of 1% of 1% of individuals on this planet in that situation. To make it into a big issue and claim a social justice disservice would have, in my opinion, actually hindered and harmed the conversation at hand. For me, I decided to point it out as part of my journey, but not make it a cause.

I think because language is flawed that we will never be perfect with phrases, terminology, etc. especially when it deals with social justice, diversity and inclusive work.

This incident really put into perspective for me, that maybe the best way to have conversations and bringing awareness to some of these marginalizations is to tell your story with all it’s limitations, marginalizations etc., and be open to the possibility that that may be the best we can do; to simply bring awareness of the limitation. Sometimes there will be no “better way to say it” or “better word to use”.

I think I’m coming to an understanding that sometimes there is no answer, but rather the intent and respect that you use language.

Just some Monday morning musings. 🙂


Until next time,

Peace, Love and Pandas!

Published by Brian

I am currently the Assistant Director of Student Life for Registered Student Organizations and Late-Night Programming at Michigan State University. After earning my B.A. from the University of Michigan-Flint, I entered the Student Affairs profession. After a few years in the field, I returned to school and earned my M.A. in Educational Leadership-Higher Education Student Affairs from Eastern Michigan University. In my spare time I blog about my thoughts and musings on current issues in higher education, student affairs, digital worlds, identity development and general life inspirations and observations. I also volunteer a lot for my fraternity and multiple regional and national professional associations.

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