About the Holiday
Established in 1997 as part of Celebrate Your Name Week, Unique Names Day celebrates uncommon or uncommonly spelled names and encourages those with unique names to always take pride in their name. One way to celebrate is to find out more about your name and how or why your parents chose it.
The Name Jar
By Yangsook Choi
Unhei has recently moved to the United States from Korea. Although Unhei is excited about the first day of school, on the bus ride she misses her former home and looks at the wooden name stamp her grandmother gave her. A boy sitting behind Unhei notices the unfamiliar object and asks about it. Then other kids notice Unhei. They ask what her name is and when she answers, they mispronounce it, laughing and making jokes.
Unhei is embarrassed and glad that when the bus drops them off that those kids head to a different classroom than hers. As Unhei enters her own room, her classmates smile and greet her—it is obvious that their teacher has prepared them for a new student, and they are excited.
Of course, they first question her about her name, and remembering the experience on the bus, Unhei is reluctant to answer. She quickly says that she hasn’t picked a name yet, but will tell them next week. When she gets home, Unhei tells her mother that she wants an American name, a name that is easy to pronounce.
Her mother is dismayed; Unhei’s name was chosen by a master so that it would describe her uniqueness. But Unhei doesn’t want to be different, she just wants to fit in. Later while she and her mother are at a Korean grocery store, she introduces herself to the owner, who exclaims that her name is beautiful and means “grace” in English.
That evening Unhei tries out American names in front of the mirror—Amanda, Laura, Susie—but they don’t feel or sound right. The next day at school Unhei finds a jar on her desk with pieces of paper in it. On each piece of paper is a name—suggestions from each of her classmates. Her new friends have chosen these names thoughtfully. Daisy is the nickname of one girl’s baby sister; Tamela is a smart and brave heroine from a story; and Wensday is the day Unhei joined their class.
At the end of the school day, a classmate named Joey comes to her. He knows she actually does have a name, and Unhei, while not wanting to say it out loud, shows him the characters on her wooden stamp. Joey thinks it is beautiful and asks to keep the paper. Day by day the glass jar fills up with names. Unhei will have to choose soon.
One Saturday Unhei returns to the Korean grocery store. When Mr. Kim calls her by name, the one other customer turns around. It’s Joey! Carefully and slowly he says Unheis name until he gets it right. On Monday when Unhei enters the classroom, she discovers that the jar is missing. It’s all right, though, Unhei has chosen her name.
She walks to the chalkboard and writes her real name in English and Korean. She tells the class that her name means “grace.” Other kids reveal the meaning of their names, and they all practice saying Unhei’s name. That evening Joey comes to visit. He explains that he took the jar because he wanted Unhei to keep her original name. He suggests putting Korean nicknames into the jar for their classmates to pick. He has already chosen his Korean name with the help of Mr. Kim. It is the prefect nickname: Chinku, which means “friend.”
Ages 3 – 8
Random House, Dragonfly Books, 2003 | ISBN 978-0440417996
Discover more about Yangsook Choi, her books, and her art on her website!
Yangsook Choi’s The Name Jar is as timely now as when it was first written. Through compelling and detailed storytelling, Choi explores the themes of identity, empathy, family, friendship, and more with sometimes heartbreaking honesty. Unhei’s varied experiences at school, at home, and at the market provide an opportunity for adults and children to discuss and embrace the diversity of our multicultural world. Choi’s warm-toned illustrations reveal the conflicts that Unhei encounters and her growing confidence as she makes friends with Mr. Kim and Joey who accepts her as she is.
Unique Names Day Activity
Love Your Name Organizer Jar
Everyone needs a place to store their special stuff! Here’s a way to recycle a plastic jar and make a cool organizer jar with your name on it. This organizer jar also makes a great gift for your friends!
- A large plastic jar, such as a peanut butter jar or mayonnaise jar, cleaned out and with the label removed
- Acrylic multi-surface paint or markers
- Chalkboard paint
- Paint brush
- Paint a rectangle on the front of the jar with chalkboard paint
- Decorate the rest of the jar with paint, markers, or paper just the way you want! My green jar sports a friendly dinosaur!
Picture Book Review