[imText1]Some North Korean people were forced to change their names in the 70’s.
If one was named after a member of Kim Il Sung family such as Kim Jong Sook (Kim Jong Il’s mother), Kim Hyung Jik (Kim Il Sung’s father), Kang Ban Suck (Kim Il Sung’s mother), etc., s/he had to change her/his name. No North Korean is called Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il now except Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il themselves.
In the 70’s Kim Il Sung’s personality cult was rooted, and Kim Jong Il was guaranteed the succession to Kim Il Sung. To support the Kim Il Sung unitarianism, Kim Jong Il commanded that North Koreans change inappropriate names. Thus if one was called Kim Il Sung or Kim Jong Il, that was considered as lese majesty. People were also banned from using some particular Chinese characters that were remindful of the U.S.A, and capitalism in naming their children.
Among people born before Korean independence, names like Kim Sung Ju (Kim Il Sung’s previous name), Kim Jong Il, and Kim Jong Sook were frequently found. As Korea became independent and Kim Il Sung came into power in the northern part of the Korean peninsular, North Koreans became careful not to name their children after Kim Il Sung, but names like Kim Jong Sook and Kim Jong Il were still used because they had yet to be recognized.
Because of the Social Safety Agency’s notice on changing inadequate names, some people had to think about new names.
My next door old lady, born in 1913, had originally been named Kim Jong Sook. In those days when Kim Jong Sook (Kim Jong Il’s mother) was being idolized, she renamed herself Kim Yun Sook. Another neighbor named Kim Sung Joo also changed his name to Kim Myung Joo.
Names must Represent Classes
It is well-known that you cannot refer to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il without honorific decorations in North Korea. When the unitarianism was firmly founded, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il were absolutely deified. They thought it absurd for deities to share names with humans.
Honorific decorations in making reference to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are beyond imagination. For example, Kim Il Sung could be referred to as “our great leader of the Party and people, and affectionate father, dear chieftain comrade Kim Il Sung.” You may hear referring to Kim Jong Il as “our Party and people’s great leader, the dear Chairman of the National Defense Committee, general Kim Jong Il.” Kim Jong Sook was referred to as “the invincible fighter for the communist revolution, honorable Kim Jong Sook.”
Since some time in the 70’s, some organizations of the Party and labor unions had held the so-called General Education Lectures everyday, where they had propagated that landlords and capitalists had been the exploiting class. People thus came to have hatreds for them.
Chinese characters are not written on the documents of the Social Safety Agency. Hence some residents complained by saying that they use Ja(子) meaning ‘son’ in their names not Ja(資) meaning ‘capital,’ which is remindful of capitalism. But their complaints were never taken into consideration.
As for Mee(美) which was assumed to be remindful of the U.S., some people had to rename their daughters with first names such as Mee Ja, Mee Soon, Jang Mee, and so on. They also complained that Mee in their daughters’ names was not the same as Mee(米)meaning ‘rice’; it meant ‘beauty’ while Mee in Mee Kook(the U.S), the North Korean way of calling the U.S., means ‘rice.’ Their complaint was not accepted either.
Postmen experienced great difficulty because of this crazy order. Mail delivery had to be suspended in many post offices, and many mails went to wrong persons.
Even though some people had their names changed, their family and friends still called them by their previous names. In the 90’s Mee could be used again to name children because government intervention regarding it decreased thanks to the Geneva Agreement with the U.S. Names with Mee such as Mee Hyang, Mee Sun, and Hyang Mee were very popular because they sounded pretty to North Koreans.
However, naming for Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and their family is still strictly prohibited.