Embracing Liminal Identity : Uncovering Hidden Diversity : Celebrating Cultural Mobility

Asian Name Structure Part I.


Asian names are structured family name and given name. Western names are structured given name and family name.

Asian names are structured by family name first, then given name.Western names are structured by given name first then family name.

Of all the things to ponder in a day, it’s doubtful our names would make the list.  But, as often happens with culture, sometimes it’s the little things that spark attention.

When reading the article  “Kim Jung Un’s Swiss school days revealed,” by Allan Hall of The Sunday Times, an obvious, yet curious mistake arose. One that many Westerners would neither notice nor understand.

The story referred to Kim Jung Un (more formally known as the supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) was referred several times as Un, instead of Kim. From an Asian person’s point of view, “Un” is just a part of the first name “Jung Un;” while “Kim” is the last name. Therefore “Kim” would be the proper referral.

The mistake would be equivalent to referring president Barack Obama as “Ack” instead of Obama.

In countries like China, Korea and Japan, one’s name usually consists of a last/family/surname name structure, followed by a first/given name structure. No middle names are given.

For example, my original name is Suh WonSeop  (서원섭), Suh is my family name, WonSeop the first name (Seop is not a middle name).

The reason for this is because of the difference in cultural values.

Asian culture possess a huge priority and respect for origins and ancestors, therefore family names come first. On the other hand, Western culture is more individualistic, therefore an individual’s first name comes before the family name.

There is a lot more the Asian name structure, so look forward to Asian name structure Part II, coming next week.

By: Won Suh

WonSeop Suh or Won is a South Korean national and recent Journalism graduate from Colorado State University. All his life Suh lived a nomadic life style as a Third Culture Kid - he grew up in Incheon, South Korea and also lived in countries like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and the United States. Suh has worked for the Republic of Korea Air Force as Military Police, Seoul Nuclear Security Summit 2012 as a multilingual presidential security interpreter. He brings his wealth of experience and unique global view and understanding of Third Culture Kids to Culturs.