Do you remember that soliloquy from Romeo and Juliet?
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
Born to a Korean family, my family name had originally been Kim, Aram Kim. The name said that I was a Korean person. It also said that I was not a Smith, a Garcia, a Goldberg, a Kurusawa, etc.
Harijan is a hindu word which means children of God. Gandhi used this word to describe one of the world’s most discriminated group of people in the world, Dalit – more commonly known as the untouchables.
In India, I met the untouchables. They were not allowed to live close to others even in the small village I had spent my time. Their dirt-floor huts were located in a desolate location away from everyone else.
This untouchable person tried to explain to me what it was to be live as an untouchable person. As he expressed his anger and sadness, this grown man cried for understanding and justice. I stared at him blankly; my mind shattered in disbelief. The wind was blowing dirt all over in the little untouchable village we stood in.
After that experience, I questioned what it meant to be a Kim or Smith. What purpose do our names serve?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name.
Juliet was asking Romeo to give up tradition for love. She spoke of truth in Romeo’s nature, which is that Romeo was Romeo regardless of what he was called.
I realized that names misled. I realized that my family name, Kim, only spoke of half the truth about who I am.
So I looked for a new name which I thought would represent who I am and the family to which I belong.
In studying Gandhi, I came across the word, Harijan. In calling the most dis-privilieged people on earth by the highest title, he tried to remind us that regardless of the social prejudices we have against people who have certain surnames, that we belong to the same family – humanity, God, love, and everything that makes each of us the same.
After two years of contemplation, I went to the Orange County Superior Court in Hillsborough, North Carolina and requested to change my legal name from Aram Kim to Aram Harijan.
Ten days later, no one had objected my application to change my name, and the court clerk notarized this piece of paper which said that I belong to a greater family – the untouchables, the Kims, the Smiths, and everybody under the Sun.
I am Dr. Harijan, but please call me Aram.