I have two names: Vivien and 은혜 (Eun Hye). As a second-generation Korean American who grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, I was (sadly) thankful my American name was in English. Vivien. It was easy to say, spell, and no teacher or classmate could butcher it. I’ve gone through years of schooling witnessing white peers and teachers making a show of trying to pronounce other cultural names, only to decide it was too complicated to say. Instead, teachers, my friend’s parents, and college professors would never fail to ask me if I knew my English name was like the beautiful actress from Gone With The Wind. I would copy and paste the same answer, “Yes, so I’ve heard! However, I’m not named after her and instead my mother’s favorite aunt.” Even then, the actress’s last name was Leigh, not Lee. When white students found out that I went by 은혜 at home, they would ask, weirdly, if I could give them a Korean name too — I wasn’t Santa Claus. I was also embarrassed after another classmate informed me that my name was common among Koreans and the meaning was so simple. I was glad that, unlike many other Korean parents, my parents didn’t make it my middle name. I was just Vivien Lee.
While my classmate claimed that 은혜 wasn’t special, it did have a meaningful significance for my family. My Korean name means “grace,” and my grandfather had named me that because he only had one eldest granddaughter and seven grandsons. He wished for another granddaughter to love and cherish, and then I was born two to three weeks early on December 31. I was his youngest granddaughter from his youngest son, so he always said I was a gift from God’s grace. However, it took years for me to be used to it — aside from when my family members would occasionally call me by it. And it wasn’t until I was introduced to Kinn‘s nameplate necklaces that my love for my Korean name started to grow.
The Korean- and woman-found jewelry brand creates timeless fine jewelry pieces designed to be modern heirlooms. The brand only uses sustainable materials and recycled 14K gold whenever possible. Jennie Yoon, the founder and CEO of Kinn, hopes to create classic pieces that’ll last a lifetime and can be passed down to generations. Seeing all the graceful gold jewelry in person reminded me of the delicate pieces my mother always wore and that I’ll be inheriting one day.
Within Kinn’s intricate jewelry collection, there’s a nameplate collection called Dear Kaia. The first two, Dear Kaia Initial Necklace and Dear Kaia II Nameplate Necklace, are steered towards English names. Growing up, I secretly envied those who could get their names in adorable nameplate necklaces. I’d see fashion influencers, celebrities, and girls in classes throughout high school and college wearing necklaces with their names in cute loopy, bedazzled scripts. Finding my Korean name in a necklace was already a non-starter, but I could also never find a nameplate with the correct spelling of my American name, either. While I recently was gifted one with “Vivien,” I never thought there’d ever be a time when it’d be possible with my Korean name. Kinn changed it all.
The jewelry pieces from the Dear Kaia III Nameplate collection are currently available to be customized in Korean, Chinese, and Japanese. You can choose up to four characters max. (Most Korean first names are two characters with the addition of another for their last name.) Since you’re creating a custom piece, it’s worth noting that all sales are final, and it does take 10 to 15 business day to ship since it is customized (though shipping itself is fast and free on orders over $200).
Kinn allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and be proud of my heritage by showing my name to the world. The inclusive brand has created a way for Asians to be proud of their name, its unique story, and how they came to be who they are today. I hope you’ll begin AAPI month by sharing yours. It took me a while, but as a 25-year-old Korean American, I’m no longer embarrassed to share the story behind my name or to think that people might find it common or mispronounce it. My name is Vivien Lee, but I also go by Eun Hye.
Since all of the pieces are delicate, Kinn’s jewelry easily be layered with other dainty necklaces for a stylish look. That is certainly true for the Dear Kaia III Nameplate Necklace — the subtle piece is eye-catching and a daily reminder to be proud of your name. The brand describes it as, “an ode to immigrant families and the many challenges they’ve had to face while building their life in America.” Yoon also cites her own experience as an inspiration for the piece, since she went from being called 혜정 (Hye-Jung) to Jennie when she moved to the U.S. The deeper meaning behind the necklace definitely resonates; when I showed my parents my necklace they were so surprised to see my Korean name, and my dad even had tears in his eyes.
The Dear Kaia collection also includes a personalized bracelet option. It can be purchased as a set, or worn alone for anyone who doesn’t wear necklaces. It has the same delicate look and feel (and sentimental meaning) as the original necklace, and can be easily layered or worn alone. Another meaningful way to incorporate the nameplate bracelet into your collection would be to have it made with the name of a loved one, like a parent, grandparent, or child.
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