In English, Miyoko means “beautiful child” or “child of the beautiful generation.” Or at least that’s what babynamespedia.com says. Before I’d done the Google search, I’d known only a handful of Japanese words and phrases. My middle name was not one of them.

In my family, Miyoko is a painful memory from a POW camp in Harbin, tucked away into my grandmother’s yellowing letters. A single black and white portrait. Miyoko is a story of darkness and waiting and fear, told through whispers, silences, and averted gazes. Miyoko is the story of the infant Yamagata daughter, starved by war. They couldn’t guarantee the lives of those under five, they said. Miyoko is a year that ended on October 25th, following Hiroshima and Nagasaki, one week after stepping back onto home soil. The beautiful [lost] generation.

Miyoko. Mi-yo-ko. I can imagine Miyoko as a beautiful aria in the voice of my grandmother, tied to the end of lullabies and kisses. But it sounds awkward in my mouth, a combination of teeth, tongue, and lips that I am not used to. I can’t help but notice that it always comes out as a question, my voice rising on the last vowel, teetering on the edge of mispronunciation—Miyoko? Sometimes I forget that it is mine. My name. My spelling. My pronunciation. It isn’t until it falls flat off of the tongues of those who speak as little Japanese as I do that I cringe, feeling violated somehow, the need to protect what is mine and my family’s bubbling at the pit of my stomach.

Andrew, Thomas, and Miyoko—I am the only Schindler child with a Japanese middle name. It is a tribute, my mother says, a symbol of family history, a reminder of my cultural roots. Breathing Japan into my name, Miyoko is a responsibility: to remember, to know, to understand, to connect. It is a pressure to embody a cultural standard that I too often fall short of—allegedly. Miyoko gives my name a song, a dance, a meal, a people, a place, a history, [expectations] that I have yet to identify with—

I blush every time someone discovers that I do not speak the language of my own name—

To the skeptics, Miyoko is confirmation among green eyes and curly hair that I have more than Germany in my blood. People never question my German-ness, despite my ignorance of all that it stands for. It is my Japanese-ness that I must legitimize.

But my brothers don’t seem to notice; they don’t seem to feel this responsibility, this pressure.  They do not have Japan in their name.

Above all, I see my middle name as a chance to continue the story that its previous owner couldn’t—to expand the beautiful [forever] child’s heartbreaking vignette into a novel about the adventures of love, loss, dreams, and triumph.

That is—

My adventures. My story. My name.

Miyoko is my name.

Post submitted by JoAnna


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