Obama gets a Korean name
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.)
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.