A Different Arrangement For Family Names

Yesterday was my daughter and Korean son in law’s anniversary, and when I was blogging, I realized that their name situation would be interesting to a lot of people, and then I thought there are many interesting things about names in every country. I thought about blogging about all the name situations I have heard, but there are two many for one blog, so I decided just to write about family names in this blog and perhaps give you other information later.

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As for the Koreans, the wife doesn’t take the husband’s name when they get married. Only the children carry the name of the father. The mother keeps her name she had when she got married.  The name a girl grows up with in English is called her “maiden name.”  My Korean son in law felt it really strange when my daughter wanted to take his name. She is American, and American women usually take their husband’s family name when they get married unless they are some modern thinking independent woman.  Or in the case of one of my teacher friends who married a German, and she knew the students couldn’t even begin to try to pronounce her husband’s last name, so she goes by her maiden name for her student’s sake.  Korean men don’t expect their wives to want to wear their family name.  My daughter felt really slighted when he didn’t want her to carry his last name because he felt it was strange, but a Korean woman feels it is normal not to carry their husband’s name. However, the longer they are married, he is getting more used to the idea of her wearing his last name at times, and she is getting used to using her maiden name while they are in Korea even though she know she is married.

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I have a Romanian friend married to a Korean, and they visited Romania and came back telling a funny story about her not taking his name.  He rented a car to use while they were in Romania. She was driving the car and got stopped by the police.  When the police checked the documents, they thought she had stolen the car because her name wasn’t on the rental agreement.  She tried to explain to them that her husband was Korean, that he rented the car, and that in Korea the wife doesn’t take the last name of the husband.  The police thought she was lying. They had never heard of a wife not taking her husband’s last name.  It took quite a bit of work on her part to extricate herself from their suspicions.

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In my associations with Mexico, I also learned they have an interesting situation in Mexico with family names that other countries don’t have. Most countries I have been to are used to the wife taking the husband’s name except Korea.  In America as in many other countries,  the wife usually replaces her family name with that of her husband because they become a family.  When I first got married, I used to write my first name, my middle name, my maiden name, and then my married name on my documents. I did that until I was sure that people were used to the fact that I was married, and then I just dropped my maiden name and just wrote my first name, my middle name, and my new family name, my husband’s name.  When my kids were born, each one only received my husband’s family name. However, in Mexico, the children receive both their parent’s family names.  I had a friend names Estella Almaguer Rodriquez, and she explained to me that she got one of her family names from her mother and the other from her father. Mexicans don’t just carry their father’s family name, but also their mother’s last name.  When she told me her name, she didn’t include her other name that Americans call their middle name.  At times, if you hear a Mexican say their whole name that includes their first name, their middle name, and both parent’s family names, you may feel like, “Wow! What a name! That thing is long! How can I remember it all?”

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When they began the census in America and wanted to document everyone, they thought everyone should have a family name. However, the American Indians didn’t have family names.  They had no idea what to do, so the American government told them all to choose a family name.  They could just make one up or they could choose one from a white man they had met that they liked.  I have a friend with the family name “Whitehead,” and I recognize it as an Indian name.  Indian names often describe the person, and his ancestor who had to take a family name probably had white hair. He told me that he was Cherokee (the name of an Indian tribe). One of our family stories tells about a great grandfather who was Indian and didn’t have a family name, but needed one, so he used his wife’s family name. She was from Ireland, so he was an Indian carrying an Irish family name. The story says he actually had two names. one name he used around the Indians, and the other name around the white men. Indians had to adapt to white men invading their country.

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From what I understand the American blacks also didn’t have family names when they originally came from Africa. However, after the Civil War, they were in America and needed a family name.  Many blacks felt very close to the white families they served as slaves.  You have heard so many stories from he abolitionists about the evils of slavery, and there were evils, but there were also good things for the slaves.  They were secure. They didn’t have to worry about where they lived or what they would eat. They were taken care of by their masters, and many became so close to the masters they felt like family.  Many slave owners and slaves had good relationships, not just bad relationships like many people try to make it out to be.  How a slave was treated was different from situation to situation according to the kind of people who were the masters. When the Civil War took place, the slaves who had a good relationship with their masters didn’t mind taking the names of their masters because they were their families. Probably the slaves who were abused didn’t take the names of their masters, and no one can blame them.

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This girl looks Mexican. She may have a string of names a mile long.//Photo by Matheus Henrin on Pexels.com

As you can see, we often don’t realize what is happening or has happened in the rest of the world with family names.  It is good for the rest of the world to understand that Korean women don’t take their husband’s family names.  It is easy in America if we meet the husband and learn his name. When we meet the wife, we just use his name and call her Mrs., but it doesn’t work in Korea. We have to learn another name when we meet the wife.   In fact, sometimes, in America, a wife is called Mrs., and then they use the husband’s given and family names as hers with “Mrs.” in front of it sometimes. There was a time that no one had family names.  If you see the name “McDonald,” it means either in Scotland “the son of Donald.”  That “Mc” means “son.”  There was a time that we tried to identify people according to their families, but there were no family names, but family names evolved in Europe.  When Europeans encountered other cultures, they thought they should have family names too, so everyone got family names to classify which family they took part in.  However, in the east, these cultures are independent of European ways, and they do thing their own way like the Korean wife keeping her family name when she marries.

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