Korean Names: An Explanation
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
There has been some confusion in the media and elsewhere about just how to say the name of the Virginia Tech shooter. Here's an explanation from DAY TO DAY producer and Korean-American, Ki-Min Sung.
KI-MIN SUNG: Is it Cho Seung Hui or Seung Hui Cho? What do we call the person who's responsible for the worst shooting rampage in American history? Cho was born in South Korea, so many in the media have gone with the traditional Asian way, putting last name first. But Seung Hui grew up in the United States, where first name comes first. News organizations say he Americanized his name by putting Seung Hui before Cho. But there's nothing Americanized about putting your first name first when living in the States. If he changed his name to Mike or George or something an American would have no problem pronouncing, okay, I'd say he Americanized his name. But to call him Cho Seung Hui casts him as a foreigner. Asian or American? It's a gray area a lot of Asian immigrants like me have had to navigate. Because Seung Hui Cho grew up here, he is, in fact, a Korean-American of the 1.5 generation.
Unlike European-Americans that came to Ellis Island long ago, a first generation Asian immigrant is the first generation to immigrate to the States. The second generation is American-born. But then there's us, an in-between generation that came to America as kids. We don't have the customs of the old country, but we never forget we weren't born here. Sometimes we don't feel at home in America and we can also feel out of place when we go back to visit Asia. Most of us have assimilated to American culture too well. That's why we add the .5 to our first generation status. Seung Hui came to the United States when he was eight years old. He may not have been an American citizen, but he grew up here, and that's why his name should be given the American treatment.
BRAND: That's DAY TO DAY producer Ki-Min Sung. And a note to listeners while some news organizations are referring to him as Cho Seung Hui: NPR is using the name on his driver's license and in his writings - that is, Seung Hui Cho.
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