What’s in a name?

Charcoal mask

I lay on the treatment table, eyes closed with medical tape holding my bottom lashes separate from the top and a spa light glaring through my eyelids, I spoke to Kimleang as she, with surgeon like precision, applied eyelash extensions. As usual we talked about our jobs, the upcoming holiday, family, and this time- about our names. She, also Vietnamese, mentioned that my mother had told her that one of my middle names is also Kim. I knew this already, but Kimleang told me that in Vietnamese, Kim means ‘gold’ or ‘golden’.

My mom has always considered my affinity towards all things luxurious odd, if not only superficial. The cashmere, the many bottle a perfume with notes of freesia, the diamonds, the expensive cosmetics, various applications, and luxurious treatments. All of the opulence that my grandmother so strongly carried on her silk clad frame and buoyant personality.

They say things can skip generations- whether it be eye color or predilections towards specific things- and although I’m adopted, I swear that my grandma Yvonne’s delirious and happily borne adoration of all things glimmering, all things beautified and glamorous and shopped- was passed onto me. Even as she suffered on her death bed in agonizing pain from pancreatic cancer, she ensured that her lipstick was always in tact (either a frosted rose, rich ruby, or striking coral) and that her divinely long clackety nails were painted and filed, that her hair was teased and had a generous amount of Elnett to keep it in place. Her hands were always glinting in the shards of sun that fell through the silk drapes of her antique shop, dust motes dancing around each finger stacked with a diamond or ruby or emerald. She was and continues to be one of the most glamorous women I’ve ever encountered.

So as I reclined with my lashes getting falsely lengthened, I thought of how that when my mom added “Kim” between Anna and Mischke, she was possibly sealing my fate as a magpie to be: shiny things catching my attention, eyes round at glimmering opals and baguette diamonds, mouth agape at a particularly lovely glimmer of rose gold. She has over the years learned to accept that I won’t be the farm girl she grew up as, that while I did love to run around in the woods and build tree forts and bicycle around the neighborhood and catch ladybugs, a buttery soft leather clutch that can be carried for life will usually impress me more than the beauty of the live cow from where it came, cud and snot ridden things- even with those woeful eyes and soft fur to stroke.

Names are so important in many cultures. I’ve begun to appreciate that as I look into the annals of history, from Scotland to Vietnam, China to the Cherokee tribes. Then, there are those who name their kids whoever is the current most popular celebrity or movie character, or just simply however the baby “came out”. Like in Cambodia, where many newborns are named the equivalent of “black” if their skin is of darker color or simply ‘girl’ if the baby happens to be a girl (also like Thi, pronounced tea, and my second middle name which means ‘girl’ in Vietnamese).

Regardless of the reasoning of what other parents name their child, my mother had her own and I was given the name golden. And while gold is heavy, it’s malleable and changes, loved by some and pushed aside by others for white platinum or silver. And whether or not my family, my peers can understand why a charcoal mask, using eye cream at a quarter of a century, and the scaffolding is so important to me- I know that they know the value in something gold, the small importance of simply being me.

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