What does the word Mongol mean to you?

For Uuganaa Ramsay it means everything. It's who she is. What she is. It's a marker of her ethnicity, her nationality, her sense of self. Others have a different take.

In October 2011, the comedian Ricky Gervais tweeted photographs of himself pulling silly faces, adding the words "two Mongs don't make a right".

Is that funny? Ramsay didn't think so. She can still recall the shock she felt when she read that casually racist, disablist remark. Because it hit her where she lived. And not only because of her Mongolian origins. In 2010 she had lost her three-month-old son, Billy, born with Down's Syndrome. So she knew, all too well, that words can cut just as deeply as the sharpest knives.

Fortunately, she has words of her own to say. You can find them in her memoir, entitled Mongol, published earlier this year. It is an account of her life growing up in Mongolia framed by an honest and painfully sad account of Billy's short life and death in Scotland.

"The original idea came after Billy, our son, passed away," she tells me as we sit in a cafe in Kilmarnock talking about her decision to write the book in the first place. "I wanted ... I guess ... to make him live on."

That desire is at the very tender heart of Mongol. But the book is more than that. It's also a window into another world, one all too few of us know of on this side of the world. And that ignorance can be a problem.

Ramsay lives in Troon these days, with her Scottish husband Richard and her three children. She's a careers advisor in a school in Kilmarnock and works at the Skills Development Scotland centre in the town too. The latter is where I'm due to meet her. When I get there I manage to confuse everyone by saying I'm here to meet "Oogana", pronouncing the name with a hard G. The people finally twig that I mean "Oona".

"Oona" is not long off a plane from Mongolia this afternoon. She's been visiting her parents while working on a Radio 4 documentary she is to present later this year. Her book has opened a few doors for her.

And, if we listen, for those of us who know little about Mongolia. There are quite a few who fall into that category. She's had people tell her they thought it was a made-up place.

Ramsay, who's now 37, enjoyed a nomadic childhood in rural Mongolia living in a one-roomed yurt - or a ger as Mongolians call them - surrounded by animals. "It's so close to nature," she says of her life there. "When they slaughter a sheep or a cow they are using everything, except the animal's breath. There is no waste. Even the dung is used for fuel."

That was then of course. Today, she points out her parents have internet connection and a mobile signal. "I was getting text messages" she says of her recent visit. Still, one of the pleasures of her book is its privileged glimpse into a very different way of life. Ramsay grew up in a Communist country where marmot meat was a delicacy and she'd often drink her mother's urine for medicine. Which prompts the question that's been worrying me since I read Mongol. Did you drink it hot or cold, Uuganaa? "As soon as." What would be the Scottish equivalent to this, I wonder? "A hot toddy. My husband made it when I wasn't feeling well. That was quite interesting." I think she is being polite there.

She says writing the book made her realise how much she had been shaped by where she comes from. "I guess I found my identity in some ways. It made me realise what it was like to be a Mongol."

She talks of the trip home she has just returned from. When she was young she couldn't wait to get away. "But there with my parents I felt a contentment. The fire was on, the door was open and I could see the landscape and I felt 'this is freedom'. For a few moments I felt that peacefulness."

But home is now in Scotland, and has been for most of the 21st century. She moved to the UK in 2001 after meeting her husband Richard the year before while studying English in London. They moved north to be nearer Richard's recently widowed mother and the country has made its mark on her. You can hear it in her accent.

Before coming here the only vision she had of Scotland was of a man in a kilt standing beside Edinburgh Castle - a picture she'd seen in one of her English language books, What she found here, she says, is a warm, friendly people who insist you need to eat chips with your fish.

She can see many similarities between Mongolia and Scotland, in people's values for one thing. "Very family oriented. I think Scottish people are very caring about the elderly and their families and that touched me."

Ah yes, family. Ramsay's son Billy, her third child, was born in 2009 with Down's Syndrome and, it soon emerged, a hole in the heart. Either diagnosis would have been devastating on its own. One doctor told Billy's mother that "it may not be obvious that William has Down's because of your ethnic background."

Naturally the comment horrified her. "It's very difficult because the doctor said it with good intentions and that's the problem. It's embedded inside."

The "It" in question is the persistent use of the word Mongol in the UK as offensive slang for stupidity. It has, unfortunately, a long history. John Langdon Down, the man who discovered Down's Syndrome in the 1860s used the word Mongolism to describe it because he believed there were similar physical characteristics between people with Down's Syndrome and people from Mongolia.

The description was used for the next century and it wasn't until Mongolia joined the World Health Organisation in the early 1960s that they made a request for WHO to stop using the term in relation to Down's Syndrome.

That they did but the term persisted in schoolyards and, even now it seems, the vocabulary of middle-aged comedians.

"I was disappointed with Ricky Gervais," Ramsay says when I bring his Twitter message up. "I felt like I was being bullied, looked down on. That was against civility, against race."

She's met many Mongolians who have been made uncomfortably aware of how the word for their ethnicity and nationality is being used as a casual term of abuse.

I wonder, though, if this is a problem that will die out with my generation, when the language of seventies schoolyards disappears with those of us who were around to hear it? She thinks not. Because it's the language of 21st century schoolyards too, she says. "Remember, these people are grandparents now talking to the younger children. The problem with the younger generation is that they use it as a derogatory term.

"I got a phone call from Liverpool. This youth worker asked me to talk to these six-to-13-year-old girls because they kept saying the word Mongol without realising. They don't know the history of the word. They're just being fashionable. I don't blame them. It's about raising awareness."

That's why she is now writing her book in her original language, encouraged by Mongolia's culture and environment ministers and Mongolian associations around the world keen to then translate it into other languages, to raise awareness in the countries in which they live and work.

Her family, she says, are both Scots and Mongols. She's both too herself now. So how does she reflect on the place she comes from. "Mongolia is still considered a developing country. When I was growing up the west was this big civilised world. But now when I look back I don't think everything is measured by the money in your wallet or how many rooms you've got in your house or how big your car is. There's more to life."

Life has taught her that. It's been at times a hard lesson.

Mongol is published by Saraband, priced £8.99. Uuganaa Ramsay is appearing at the Wigtown Book Festival on Sunday October 5 at 3pm.