Image result for WHEN MY NAME WAS KEOKO


Author: Linda Sue Park

First Edition: 2002

Pages:  199

Genre: YA fiction

“By order of the Emperor, all Koreans are to be graciously allowed to take Japanese names. … Let them! Let them arrest me! They will have my body but not my soul—my name is my soul!”

It is the year 1940.

Sun-hee, her brother Tae-yul, and their family live in Korea– a colony of Japan. Under Japanese occupation, food is scarce and Japanese rules are unbearable to accept.

Korean people must take Japanese names. Korean students must read and write in Japanese. Young Korean women are forced to work in Japanese factories or drafted as “Comfort women” for Japanese soldiers. Young Korean men are forced to join the Japanese army.

No one can fly the Korean flag.

No one can go against Japanese rules.

Korean traditions are to be forgotten; they are to be buried under Japanese oppression.

Sun-hee, Tae-yul and their family fight in silence against Japanese rules, while struggling to keep their Korean identity alive in a world that seems to bring only negative changes.

If you are, like me, enamored with historical fiction, you will absolutely adore this novel.

AND, if you are, like me, in love with Kanjj, you will tightly hug this book until each Kanji character is squeezed out of the page and poured into your heart. There is a whole chapter dedicated to kanji characters and their magical meanings!

We often know about WWII from Western culture books. In those books, not, much is said about other cultures and their struggles.

YES, before reading When my Name Was Keoko, I was aware of the history of Korea, but I was not aware of all its details. I was not aware of all the rules Korean people had to abide under Japanese oppression.

 ” My name is my soul.” 

I don’t particularly like my name. It is difficult to pronounce and to understand.

Nonetheless, in my name there is my personal story.

There is the first boyfriend who whispers my name before kissing me, there is my dad who calls me a day before dying to say goodbye, there is my teacher who proudly yells my name before a poetry award.

YES, my name is my soul.

In my name there is my whole life encrypted in ink; shaped into tiny letters. In my name, there is my past, my present, and my future. There is my culture; my family and my emotions.

My name is my soul. AND, my name is mine.

Names are like memory boxes. When someone changes our name, the memory box loses its key.

Don’t allow anyone to steal the key.

Keys-Acrylic paint on a small canvas purse-Trompe-l’œil by Ink n Paper


  1. I read this for school in the seventh grade and loved it. This has definetly encouraged me to pick it up again.

    As a person with a name that doesn’t follow English phonetics rules I have had an interesting relationship with my name as well. I used to tell people the American pronunciation so often in elementary school I forgot how to day my name correctly for a bit.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I so wanted to change my name, when I was a kid because it was an unusual name. I am still struggling with it, sometimes, especially when people cannot pronounce it. But, my name contributed to who I am today and I am grateful for it. I am also grateful that my mom did not called me Selvaggia ( Italian for Wilderness). 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I used to be so jealous of the South Korean kids in my school with American nicknames but I’ve grown to realise that my name is a part of me and my culture and rejecting that would be so wrong


      2. Yes. I agree with you. At the end of the day, after all the struggles, jelousy, and frustration that come eith our names, we are still proud of our names because they are an important part of us. I am thinking about WWII and concentration camps , in which names were replaced by numbers. Without a name we are so naked and vulnerable.


  2. Names are so much a part of who we are. I have a Cambodian friend who — like so many others — chose an American name for herself. We talked one day about how she made the choice. She’d heard the name on a television program and liked it. If you were to change your name, what name would you choose? How would you ever decide? I remember as a child hearing a story about a little girl whose parents didn’t give her an actual name. They wanted to let her choose her own name. I can’t imagine such a thing now, although at the time I thought it was an interesting idea. I’ve got a dentist appointment this morning — just a routine cleaning — so I’ve got to go right now, but later I’ll have to tell you the story of my oldest daughter’s middle name. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. well, I am in love with the name Alice and Giulia ( my grandmothers’ names). When I was a kid I ashed my friends to call me Giulia for a while….because my name was difficult to grasp.
      A few weeks ago I met a woman from Korean. She changed her Korean name. When she was a kid, her classmates made fun of her name…. her name in the U.S. sound like the number one ” uno” in Spanish. Thus, she decided to change it out of desperation. So sad. Her name is so beautiful and so unique. It is unfair that even if she liked her name, bullism made her change it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My Cambodian friend used her American name for similar reasons. No young woman wants to be called “Ho” 😦 which is what her real name is. The story about my daughter is amusing, I think. I didn’t give her a middle name. Her first name is Gabrielle, and I thought that was enough. And it was…until the first day of Kindergarten when she realized all the other kids had middle names. So I sat her down and wiped her tears away and explained that her first name was so beautiful she didn’t need another name, and I thought that appeased her. When I finished she started bawling again that “I don’t have a middle name.” Well, throughout her school years, she gave herself several different middle names. I don’t remember them all, and then when she was 18 she was working as a secretary for a legal office, so she legally gave herself a middle name. She finally settled on Justine. Where that came from, I have no idea. But it just goes to show, yes, names — even middle ones — are powerful.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Love the story. In Italy middle names are not a must unless you have a non-Catholic name and you want to be baptized in the Catholic Church. Or at least this was the rule when I was a kid. My mom wanted to call me Selvaggia ( Italian for wilderness)… definitely a non-Catholic name and definately a name the priest did not like. So glad for that priest!

        Liked by 1 person

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