Mind your Ps and Qs!

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[Mind-boggling post from Pinyin News (12/8/22)]

"North Korea cracking down on wussy given names that don’t end in consonants"

North Korea is a scary, scary, scary place. Fortunately, at least for those of us not living in that People’s Paradise, every so often the country also provides important linguistic tips, which I am duty-bound to pass along to you.

For example, did you know that names without final consonants are “anti-socialist”? The wise authorities in North Korea have reportedly come to that conclusion and are presently dedicated to the task of cleansing that evil. Since October, “notices have been constantly issued at the neighborhood-watch unit’s residents’ meeting to correct all names without final consonants. People with names that don’t have a final consonant have until the end of the year to add political meanings to their name to meet revolutionary standards,” a resident of North Korea’s North Hamgyong told Radio Free Asia.

In meetings and public notices, officials have gone so far as to instruct adults and children to change their names if they are deemed too soft or simple …, another source said….

The government has threatened to fine anyone who does not use names with political meanings, a resident in the northern province of Ryanggang told RFA on condition of anonymity to speak freely.

Naturally, it would be unwise to adopt any sort of name that reminds the government authorities of names in South Korea or elsewhere.

In the past, North Koreans were encouraged to give their children patriotic names that held some ideological or even militaristic meaning, such as Chung Sim (loyalty), Chong Il (gun), Pok Il (bomb) or Ui Song (satellite).

In recent years, though, as the county has become more open to the outside world, North Koreans have been naming their children gentler, more uplifting names that are easier to say, such as A Ri (loved one), So Ra (conch shell) and Su Mi (super beauty), sources inside the country say.

Instead of names that end on harder sounding consonants, children are being given names that end in softer vowels, which is more like names given to children in South Korea.

But recently, North Korean authorities are clamping down on this trend, requiring citizens with the softer names to change to more ideological ones, and even their children’s names, if they aren’t “revolutionary” enough, the sources say.

source: North Korea forcing citizens to change their names to sound more ideological, Radio Free Asia, November 30, 2022

Related article in Korean: “남한식 이름 불가” 북, 혁명적 개명 강요 (“South Korean names are not allowed.” North Forces Revolutionary Name Changes), Radio Free Asia, November 28, 2022

Further reading: “북 채택 예고한 ‘평양문화어보호법’, 사상·정신적 이완 방지 조치” (North Korea to adopt Pyongyang Cultural Language Protection Act to prevent ideological and mental relaxation), Radio Free Asia, December 7, 2022.


Selected readings


  1. Andreas Johansson said,

    December 21, 2022 @ 8:50 am

    I take it that "Chung Sim", "A Ri", etc. are single names despite the middle space? If not, "Ui Song", despite it's revolutionarily appropriate meaning, would seem to fall foul of the final consonant rule.

  2. Michael Watts said,

    December 25, 2022 @ 7:56 am

    I take it that "Chung Sim", "A Ri", etc. are single names despite the middle space?

    I can't really speak to the answer in a Korean context, but in China this would be a fairly tricky question. The space won't mean much other than indicating a syllable break.

    Whether a two-character Chinese name should be considered one name or two depends on who you ask and the particular qualities of the name. "Chung Sim" appears to be the word 忠心,so it might not make much sense to think of the person as being primarily named 心. But it's very common for Chinese people to be called by (a diminutive form of) the second syllable of their two-syllable name. I had a tutor who was very firmly of the opinion that her full Chinese name took the form of a family name, an unused middle name, and a personal name, exactly like an Anglophone's three names but in the opposite order.

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