Of all the things to ponder in a day, it’s doubtful our names would make the list. But, as often happens with culture, sometimes it’s the little things that spark attention.
When reading the article “Kim Jung Un’s Swiss school days revealed,” by Allan Hall of The Sunday Times, an obvious, yet curious mistake arose. One that many Westerners would neither notice nor understand.
The story referred to Kim Jung Un (more formally known as the supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) was referred several times as Un, instead of Kim. From an Asian person’s point of view, “Un” is just a part of the first name “Jung Un;” while “Kim” is the last name. Therefore “Kim” would be the proper referral.
The mistake would be equivalent to referring president Barack Obama as “Ack” instead of Obama.
In countries like China, Korea and Japan, one’s name usually consists of a last/family/surname name structure, followed by a first/given name structure. No middle names are given.
For example, my original name is Suh WonSeop (서원섭), Suh is my family name, WonSeop the first name (Seop is not a middle name).
The reason for this is because of the difference in cultural values.
Asian culture possess a huge priority and respect for origins and ancestors, therefore family names come first. On the other hand, Western culture is more individualistic, therefore an individual’s first name comes before the family name.
There is a lot more the Asian name structure, so look forward to Asian name structure Part II, coming next week.