Obama gets a Korean name

Obama arrived in Korea yesterday.

In this article from the Korea Herald, we see that there’s a Seoul based pro-U.S. organization that has created a Korean name for U.S. President Barack Obama.

Deriving from the Chinese characters “吳韓馬” (Oh Hanma), they creatively found a name for him that sounds kind of like his actual name, and gave it some kind of meaning in Korean.

According to the article, the surname Oh, in this incarnation means “Country” and Hanma means “Korean Horse”.  The organization says that the horse is a symbol of the U.S. in Korea.  That’s a little strange in my opinion for several reasons.

First, this is the first time I’ve ever heard of anyone associating the U.S. with a horse.  Usually the U.S. is represented by an Eagle, or derogatorily by a turkey or a pig.

Second, most people find it strange when westerners in Korea refer to themselves using Korean names (either self created or given by a third party).  So, I don’t really know what the point of this is.

I mean, you wouldn’t find Barack Obama going to say, France, and going by the name Baraque Obamais, so really, why is it necessary here?

I know it’s just a symbolic gesture, and he’ll still be known as Barack Obama here, but the idea that this is a gift from the Korean people suggests in some way that Korean names (and by extension, Korean people) are superior, and that’s the exact opposite of a gift.

On the other hand, when Asians go abroad to Western countries, they are expected to abandon their Asian names and choose Western ones… a practice which I think also needs to end.  People say that the reasoning behind it is because Westerners can’t pronounce Asian names properly, so it is easier to just affix a Western name, but I think that coincides with a loss of identity.

My progressive parents were smart enough to choose a name for me that works in both English and Korean, so that no matter which society I happened to be in, I could use exactly the name they gave me.  But others have not been so fortunate.

What?  How is that possible that your name works in both places?

Well, there are several names which exist in both Korean and English.  Here are a few examples.

Johannes – 요한 (Yohan)

Mia – 미아 (Mia)

Jason – 재선 (Jaeseon)

Eugene – 유진 (Yujin)

Sunny – 상희 (Sanghee)

Julie – 주리 (Juli)

Thomas – 다미 (Dami)

The list goes on but I am drawing a blank.  Some of these are actually a stretch.  Some work in both languages, but only if you switch genders.  (For example Thomas (or Tommy) is a boy’s name in English, whereas Dami would unquestionably be a girl’s name in Korean.)

Seong-Chul sounds better to me.

I don’t really like the approach that some people take, like,  “Hi my name is Minjae, but you can call me Margaret.”  I don’t like it, but at least she chose a name that begins with the same letter.  Some people choose their own names based on a name they hear that they like.  For example:  “Hi, I’m Seong-cheol, but you can call me Voldemort”.

People in Korea don’t ask non Koreans to conform and use Korean names, so I can’t really understand why it’s expected that when you change a the language you speak, suddenly you need a new name in the West.

Anyway, I think I’ve been rambling long enough.  The point is, don’t be afraid to use your name, no matter where you are.  The only possible exception I’ll forgive is if your name is a cuss word in the other language you are speaking.  Bum-Suck, you are forgiven for using Barry or Bartholomew.

20 Responses to “Obama gets a Korean name”

  1. is 지나 a name in Korean?

  2. hahaha Voldemort!
    Same thing happens to me… I never change my name when Im at work and usually people end up calling me “Susana” 😐 I guess Gisela and Susana sound alike??? and my friends always ask me why don’t I change it to something our users (from the US) can understand and I always tell them “Because my name is Gisela” and I like it! n_n so I don’t really understand why Koreans outside Korea change their names :S to something completely different like “rainbow” (Yup that’s real!)

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      Well, you could Anglicize it but keep it the same name. Like Juan = John
      Pedro = Peter
      Isabel = Elizabeth

      But it looks like Gisela has no equivalent in English other than Gisela.

      Since you are working in a call center though, the users want you to fix their problem, not chat with you, I am assuming.

      • Yup,, I’m used to be called Susana while at work and I like it when they can pronounce my name (: …. but even If I get to move somewhere else I will not change my name

    • You have some lazy colleagues if they can’t remember to call you Gisela, which is a western name. I’d be correcting them each time, if I were you, and would not put up with it. Try calling them by a random name and see what they do! I just think it’s disrespectful.

  3. Just another korean american Says:

    다미 (Dami) could be Tammy (a girl’s name).

    I chose to keep my difficult-to-pronounce korean name despite strong protest from my parents to adopt a western name before high school, then college, then work. I too, find it odd that asians adopt western names, especially when they live in asia like those in Singapore and HK.

    But I can see my generation of Asian-Americans giving our children western names because we are more americanized. Plus we live here.

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      Yea, that definitely makes sense if we live there to just get a western name.

      But then again, on the other hand, let’s say an expat and his expat wife live in Korea permanently. Would they then name their non-Korean (but having grown up in Korea) son with a Korean name? Or would that just be weird?

      • Haha my friends were having this conversation couple of days ago while we had dinner. But, western naming happens in a lot of countries and a lot of businessmen have a pet english name. I guess it helps people recognize them more maybe?

        Sometimes I am afraid to call out on someone cause I forgot their names ( ㅡㅡsadly I cannot remember names). But, it they were davids or victorias. I wouldn’t have such a hard time memorizing their names. Well, its harder to distinguish them.

        Anyhow I love my Korean name 😛 I wish my last name was cooler though lol :S a lot of the Filipinos have interesting last names !

      • Just another korean american Says:

        The expats would be like my parents who immigrated to the US from Korea. And their kid would be like me (born outside the country but raised mostly in that country). It’s that kid’s children (expat’s grandchildren) who can be given a Korean name and not be weird since it’s parents became koreanized.

        Does that make sense? I feel like I’m doing a “Who’s on first” routine.

        • The Seoul Searcher Says:

          I hear you that it would be similar. We don’t react to John Kim or Ronald Lee. But do you think Koreans wouldn’t find it weird to see a white kid named Youngjin Smith? I don’t think we’re at the stage where we can just say it’s the same thing.

          • Just another korean american Says:

            I understand but give it some time, it WILL happen.

            I personally know of asians in Latin America and Europe who have taken on local first names (like Carlos, Ignacio, Sabine, etc.). My father even has a Japanese name (though for different reasons).

            So why not white people (in a generation or two) with Korean names?

          • The Seoul Searcher Says:

            Hey, I’m all for it.. I’m just saying it’ll probably sound weird at first, until the society gets over the idea that race and nationality aren’t always the same thing, which is a difficult thing to get over, because up until very recently race has been the same as nationality.

            Sang-hyuk Carter
            Geonwon Jones

            Haha, just having some fun.

  4. I introduce myself as Bo since non-Korean can’t pronounce my full name. But I’m thinking of having a western name since I am advised that Bo is actually a dog’s name in Whitehouse.

    • The Seoul Searcher Says:

      Yea, I guess that HY sound is difficult for some. BO HIGH UN~! HAHAHAHA!

      Bo’s okay. It’s definitely a boy’s name though.

    • Bo is an American name. There was a famous football player featured in ads named Bo. Also there is a traditional southern name Beau or Bo, which means beautiful male. Lots of people name their dogs human names.

  5. Obama gets a Korean name | The Seoul Searcher…

    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……

  6. I laughed a lot that’s “hello my name is Seong-cheol but Voldemort can call me” lol, and had put the end of the article. any resemblance to reality is purely coincidentally.
    I wonder what my name in Korean ..

  7. Most asians I know either use their own asian names or choose an American/English name they like. No one makes them do it. Some of them clearly like choosing a name they personally consider cool, compared to what their parents might choose for them.

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