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GIMH Carnival – Names – Naming our Korean Children!!!

Posted Oct 09 2009 10:02pm

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No matter how a child enters a family over and over again I see much time and thought that goes into what that child is named. In the adoptive community I have seen even more agony over a child’s name – what should we do is the usual question, followed closely by what did you do if you are also an adoptive parent.

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When we named the twins we knew that we wanted to give them more American type first names with some sort of Korean middle name and possibly an American middle name as well. My mom was not happy with that response, that is too many middle names she thought. In the end it turned out to be a complete mouthful for all of the names so we dropped the American middle names, gave them American first names and kept their Korean first and middle names as one name as their middle name. As we get closer to finalizing the adoption we talk more about adding that American middle name back in because due to their age when they came home we used both their American first name and their Korean name and this has just stuck, we call them both or either name on a regular basis and they respond to all of them!

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But before we were referred the twins, we had talked about Korean names we liked as possible middle names for our child. This was before I knew how complex naming a child could be in Korea. On my Korea adoption yahoo group an adult adoptee explained the process recently and I am going to see if I can get it right here (and include parts of her story to illustrate but I will not be using her name….I didn’t get permission to use her name and so I will leave identifying factors out).  – If you want to participate the Adoption Carnival the Mr. Linky is here.   Here I go… (click the word more to read after the jump!)

Korean names and Korean naming systems can be complex. Koreans pour hopes, dreams, aspirations they wish for the child into the child’s name. The traditional naming system in Korea works like this:

*One* part of the name is a generational name. So for example, Boon Soon and Boon Ah may be sisters. Boon Ae is their cousin. Say that Boon Ah has a brother, sometimes that brother also is required to have “Boon” in their name, though this isn’t frequent. For example, this adult adoptee has a generational name and her cousin also has that same generational name in her name as well.

This might not seem that bad until you look a little deeper. In super traditional families with close ties, there are *manuals* for which generational names are allowed for *that* generation. No joke, I think it is like that in some families in the US as well as look how many children are named John Smith IV for example! So that means that all of the Lees of the Royal family line would have the *same* generational name. This has great impact even on a small family, because if you have say, 4 siblings, that means if you are the head of the family, you will have *fierce* fights and battles on what to name the child, because it effects the *entire* family. (Patrilineal).

For example this adoptee’s Appa (father) named her brother with her maternal grandfather, but they fought over which hanja to use to shorten his name.(Hanja are Chinese characters and are used for Korean names. Especially the traditional style names. As I highlighted even the hanja, which probably won’t be used in the child’s lifetime are fought over because names in Korean superstition have power). In other words, they had selected the meaning, but they were both dissatisfied with the amount of *strokes* to render the name. To shorten the strokes each man came up with new Chinese characters with the same sound but a neutral meaning. The battle must have been fierce because her Appa lost, her Appa almost never loses and he is still bitter about it after 20+ years!! (She thinks he lost because he named her without consulting his elders which is a no-no in Korea.) They were fighting over *one* stroke’s difference. Seriously. One stroke.

Sometimes the naming process can go on for months or for the entire pregnancy. And this process can be a fierce battle during that time. Every one in the family becomes really invested in naming the child well. Traditionally,  the child would be named something like “ugly” for 100 days to help ward of evil spirits. It only stands to reason that in the past before the child was given an official name, the battle raged even after the child was born.

The second part of the name is the given part of the name. Now the more modern approach has two schools of thought, and this can be an equally fiercely battle, especially with the older crowd that is into the traditional naming system.

You can find a two syllable word with a good meaning and good hanja. A common one is Hanneul. (Usually given to men.) This has a strong dislike with the traditional crowd because then you can’t tell how many choon (generational distance), a person is. (Samchoon is literally 3 choon away… which is your uncle). However, newer couples see it as trendy and cute. The older generation wants tradition help.

Another way would be to use a single unit name, this is also not favored by the traditional crowd. Things like Shin, Yul, etc of Goong would be in the trendy area.  Also in this area are people that are consciously choosing Korean names that sound like English names.

No matter how you look at it, it is likely someone in Korea named your child prior to your receiving your referral, it could have been the birth family, the social worker or even a hospital worker but for the time your child spent in Korea that was his or her name!

Hoped this very long explanation of the Korean naming system worked! Thanks for reading!

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