The Name Jar

This book is almost one of those books you want to keep secret so that your students read it with you for the first time. When Unhei arrives to the United States from Korea, uncomfortable interactions cause her to not share her name with her new classmates. She decides to choose a new name and her classmates create a name jar of ideas. Explore respect, justice, dignity, culture, names, power and oppression, race, curiosity, fairness, friendship and so much more.
-Dena

Social Justice Standards:

  • Analyze how choosing a new name denies Unhei’s cultural value and can lead to internalized oppression.

  • Evaluate how the lack of empathy from the kids on the bus caused them to not tend to the dignity and well-being of Unhei (cause & effect).

  • Compare and contrast the different characters and the ways they express curiosity about Unhei’s history and lived experiences and the power dynamics in the relationships.

  • Discuss the name jar as a “solution” and its implications for justice. Explore how race, culture and power intersect when trying to solve problems. Use this to evaluate the theme.

  • Study the current rise in attacks against Asian-Americans. Connect to the cultural wealth in your communities by learning from your Asian communities to co-develop local solutions.

Relevant Social Justice Standards:

Identity 1. Students will develop positive social identities based on their membership in multiple groups in society.

Identity 4. Students will express pride, confidence and healthy self-esteem without denying the value and dignity of other people.

Diversity 8. Compare and contrast the different characters and the ways they express curiosity about Unhei’s history and lived experiences and the power dynamics in the relationships.

Justice 12. Students will recognize unfairness on the individual level (e.g., biased speech) and injustice at the institutional or systemic level (e.g., discrimination).

  • Discuss the name jar as a “solution” and its implications for justice. Explore how race, culture and power intersect when trying to solve problems. Use this to evaluate the theme.

Action 18.Students will speak up with courage and respect when they or someone else has been hurt or wronged by bias.

  • Study the current rise in attacks against Asian-Americans. Connect to the cultural wealth in your communities by learning from your Asian communities to co-develop local solutions.

Identity 1. Students will develop positive social identities based on their membership in multiple groups in society.

Identity 4. Students will express pride, confidence and healthy self-esteem without denying the value and dignity of other people.

Diversity 8. Students will respectfully express curiosity about the history and lived experiences of others and will exchange ideas and beliefs in an open-minded way.

Diversity 9. Students will respond to diversity by building empathy, respect, understanding and connection.

Diversity 10. Students will examine diversity in social, cultural, political and historical contexts rather than in ways that are superficial or oversimplified.

Justice 12. Students will recognize unfairness on the individual level (e.g., biased speech) and injustice at the institutional or systemic level (e.g., discrimination).

Action 18. Students will speak up with courage and respect when they or someone else has been hurt or wronged by bias.

Reading Strategies:

Character Analysis: Study the ways the characters respond to Unhei to infer, to compare/contrast, to evaluate cause & effect (see video). Evaluate how the responses amplify power and racial dynamics.

Problem Solution: The children on the bus cause Unhei to respond a certain way to the students in her class. The class attempts to help her solve her problem, but is it truly a problem? Examine how the name jar solution is white-centered.

Book Details:
  • Fiction, All Ages
  • Perspectives: Korean, U.S. American
  • Author's stated heritage: Korean
  • Subject Integration: Writing, Geography, Social Studies, Art

Unhei’s grandmother gives Unhei a dojang (도장) which is a personal traditional stone or wood stamp or seal used to sign your name in Hangul (Korean letters). Today these stamps may be used to sign documents and they have been used in Korea since the second century B.C.


Book covers images are from publishers and in the public domain