Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What's in a name?

A few weeks ago, Se Jin's father decided he would give me a Korean name. Names are really important here, but in a totally different way than in western countries. I've learned some interesting things about names that I'll share with you (I can't verify the accuracy of all of this, but most of it I've read/heard from multiple sources).

Korean names are (almost) always three syllables, the first being the family name and the next two being given names. There aren't many family names really, the most common being 김 (Kim), 이 (Lee) and 박 (Park), but you'll see the same names over and over again. When women marry, they keep their fathers' family names, though the children will take their husbands' names. Koreans with the same family name cannot wed, even if they are not related (although there was one year where they lifted this ban in the 70s or 80s and apparently craploads of forbidden lovers got married so they had to revoke it the next year).

You usually don't call someone by their given name unless they are younger than you or very close somehow and even then there are usually titles attached. For example, in Korean I call Se Jin "세진언니" which means "Se Jin Older Sister." In English, I refer to her as Jiny. It's very complicated.

Legal variances over the years have governed the giving of Korean names with and without hanja characters (the Korean adapted Chinese characters) associated with them (at times it's been illegal to name children without hanja, other years have been more liberal). The Kwons are a rather academic lot (her father was a principal for many years and their house has more books in hanja than I've seen in my entire life), so I kind of wanted a name with hanja characters associated.

Yesterday, Se Jin gave me three choices for my name her father came up with. Her family name, Kwon, was in all three. I chose the one that sounded a bit like my name in English, but it also sounded nicest in Korean and has a cool meaning.

Korean: 권 다 인

Hanja: 權 多 仁

Hanja conversion: 권세권 많을다 어질인

English "transliteration": Kwon Da In

"Da" here means "a lot" or (if we're being poetic about these things) "plentiful" and "In" means "wisdom."

Now I need to practice writing my name's hanja. Kwon is especially tricky, so it'll take some time. I've been adopted. Who knew?


  1. kwon is so much cooler than ekelman.

  2. We have the same 다/多 character. :)

    And it's the only one I can write!


    (BTW...your comments are acting up!)

  3. Diana,

    다인 is a great name. FYI, 인 doesn't mean wisdom. It closer to humane and benevolent. The dictionary entry in naver.com shows the following:

    인(仁) perfectvirtue; selflessness; humanity;humaneness;love;benevolence;charity
    인의예지신(仁義禮知信) benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom and sincerity
    자기를 희생하여 인을 이루다 sacrifice oneself for the good of others.

    Another info on Korean naming covention:

    Out of two given names, one of them is a generation name, predetermined by the family clan Council(종친회)

    Good luck & enjoy your stay!

  4. two people with the same last name can marry, as long as their ancestry is not the same.

  5. William,

    I agree. I've been itching to ditch the last name "Ekelman" for my whole life. (I love ya, Dad, but seriously, the name in German means "disgusting" and it sounds like it means that...). Do you think people would buy it if I just started calling myself Diana Kwon? Or Dain Kwon? I doubt it...


    Yeah... I'm working on it.


    Thanks for the extra info. When Se Jin told me the translation of "In" she gave me a huge long explanation that I summarized as "wisdom" 'cause she does that. Hee hee.


    Apparently, as of 1997, you're right: Article 809

    I guess that's good news for my friend Christina Kim back in the states who married another Kim last year. ;-) Not that the U.S. cares about these things in the same way...

  6. i already replaced ekeleman with kwon in my cellphonebook.



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