I’ve never discussed the origin of the name “ZenKimchi” and have never felt the need to. But I frequently get asked this question in interviews.
Be prepared to be disappointed.
There’s no real deep meaning to the name. In the early ’90s I was starting college in Mobile, Alabama. There was one girl I knew through my sister, I think because my sister had a crush on her brother at the time. Her name was Amanda. She was intelligent and beautiful. We were friends, but I’m sure that if she wanted to be more I wouldn’t have hesitated. But the conversations we had were deep and special.
A group of us geeks, mostly music geeks, since I was majoring in music at the time, got together frequently. Some of us were in bands. I was a keyboardist for a wanna-be ethereal rock Pink Floyd type band when I wasn’t assembling sandwiches and manning the grill at the school canteen.
One of our favorite subjects-slash-projects was creating a virtual band, like Spinal Tap. It would never be real, but we’d create a back story and promote it like it was a real band on campus. A concept band, really. But I think our goofiness took it in more Weird Al directions. The band would be known for playing “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” but instead of a fiddle, it would be a tuba contest.
Amanda came up with the name for this band: Zenpickle.
At the time, it was a parody on the overusage of the word “Zen” in ’90s alt-rock band names. That name really stuck with me and became my screen name on my internet accounts in 1994. It became so much a part of my identity that people sometimes called me “Zen” in real life. I even had a domain name, where I tried to start a political site that led to my gig as co-producer of the Thom Hartmann Program in 2003.
When I came to Korea in early 2004, it was logical to symbolize my major turn in life by changing “Zenpickle” to a different kind of pickle, “ZenKimchi.”
And, to clarify, it is one word with a capital Z and K.
See? I told you there wasn’t any deep meaning to it. Though I do wonder what Amanda’s doing these days.
NOTE: It seems that the word “Zen” upsets a few Koreans because it’s associated with Japanese Buddhism. I want to stress again that it is a nonsense word–no different than the nonsense English used by Koreans when coming up with names for their own businesses. It’s for personal association with my own internet presence that it has that name. It’s not meant to insult Koreans or suggest there is a Japanese connection. So please, lighten up and get over those old racist hang ups.