Daum and Kakao Are On a First Name Basis

Kakao Corp. and Daum Communications announced that they will adopt the anti-hierarchical office culture of Kakao Corp.  after their merger in October.  All workers and executives will be required to call each other by English first names:  “Some 1,600 employees currently at Daum will choose a new English name for this, and by doing so, we hope to further promote the two firms’ work ethics that prioritize openness and active participation as well as create a synergy effect between the two groups.”

From Yonhap: “Of course, it may feel weird or awkward for people to call each other by a foreign name, but we’ll see how this system settles in when business begins at the new Daum-Kakao in October,” said Kang Yukyeong, a communications official at Daum.

From Korea Times:  “All workers at Kakao call co-CEO Lee Sir-goo by his English first name Vino.”  Kakao employee Dallas said he felt “‘kind of awkward’ when he first joined Kakao about six months ago.  ‘It didn’t take so long before I became used to being called my English name and calling others by their English names. I realized we are encouraged to make active communication in the office even with CEO.'”

State-sponsored Arirang News broadcast a piece, IT companies in Korea change corporate culture to promote innovation (video starts at 9:02):  “Could the seemingly minor changes bring about real changes to Korea’s innovation potential?  A recent innovation index ranked Korea 16th out of 77 countries– higher than Japan or China.   But when it came to the so-called tolerance index, which measures how much a society tolerates different values and thoughts, Korea was ranked near the bottom at 62.”

The C- Word

News sources and quoted experts cited the move as an attempt to counter Confucian culture:

Yonhap stated in its article,”addressing employees of different ranks by their first name is uncommon in South Korea, where corporate culture is often perceived as rigid and is operated along regimented and hierarchical lines, a reflection of the country’s Confucian roots. Such hierarchy at workplaces is palpable in local companies….”

Arirang News aired a (translated) statement from Kim Jae-hee, Professor of Psychology at Chungang University, “if we look at our Confucianist culture, we were taught that there is a right answer to everything. We were never taught to look for new answers. To foster creativity, we need to learn that there isn’t just one correct answer to everything and understand there could be multiple answers.” 


Arirang posed an interesting question: “Could the seemingly minor changes bring about real changes to Korea’s innovation potential?”  

If so, how effectively and at what social or cultural cost?

I suspect that the change in some Korean major players’ corporate culture will carry over to Korean corporate culture in general.  When casual Fridays and then casual dress came into corporate culture, employees liked and perceived it as a benefit.  Employers saw casual dress as a no-cost benefit, and companies that resisted discovered how much the labor marketplace valued casual dress.  I suspect that young, professional Korean talent will similarly place a value on casual address companies.

Will this spillover into wider Korean culture and be the end to Korea’s deeply rooted hierarchical culture?  I think ‘yes’, and we are witnessing a seminal moment.

  • bumfromkorea

    Didn’t Guus Hiddink do a similar thing with the 02 team?

  • redwhitedude

    Next up force everybody to use English. :-/

    I have doubts about this approach that Daum is taking.

  • SeoulGoodman

    As a linguist, I find it very interesting (but not surprising) that they aren’t using their Korean given names instead.

  • cham

    Well, it’s not going to fix everything (or maybe anything) but hopefully it’s a sign of changing corporate culture in Korea. It’s no surprise that those who would be trying to do so are tech firms.

    Hopefully, moves that promote equity in the workplace and try to emphasize a work-life balance become more and more commonplace. The name “solution” may not really do anything, in my opinion, but the thought behind the gesture is in the right place. They just need to keep going.

  • flyingsword

    Has anyone taken Cobra Commander yet?

  • Anonymous_Joe

    I also found it interesting. I, however, wondered why they simply did not use their Korean given names instead. Why are you, as a linguist, not surprised?

  • http://gypsyscholarship.blogspot.kr/ Horace Jeffery Hodges

    Call me Ishmael.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  • dlbarch

    Gee, a Korean company requiring Koreans to take on non-Korean names, you say?

    Hmmm, if a Japanese subsidiary in Seoul pulled a stunt like that, there’d be protests in front of the building day and night.

    I’m waiting for the “Japan’s-to-blame-for-everything” brigade here on MH to express OUTRAGE, PURE OUTRAGE at this corporate mirroring of paternalistic and disrespectful anti-Korean colonial-era imperialist cultural genocide….

    Oh, crap, never mind.

    DLB

  • http://teacherpretty.blogspot.com Ana Dennison

    While it seems like a good idea to promote better communication in the workplace by using first names instead of stuffy titles, I’m not positive I agree with the decision to use English names.

    Then again, maybe using a new and different name allows the workers to separate themselves from the previous way of doing things. However, why does it have to be an English name? Also, is “Vino” even an English name? Sounds Italian if anything.

  • http://teacherpretty.blogspot.com Ana Dennison

    Considering some of the names my students have tried to get me to call them (Potato was the best, though he’s since changed his name to Apple), I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone comes up with some great stuff.

  • yuna_at_marmotshole

    This sort of news makes me even more depressed.

    What a disgusting one-dimensional backward thinking from people with not an iota of original thought, it makes me want to throw up.

    I predict the demise of Kakaotalk in no time, like Cyworld (whatever happened to that)
    Korea! The first to actually think up stuff! The first to have it bomb and be overtaken by doing it wrong!

    I only just got a Smartphone and I prefer LINE to Kakaotalk.

    It is funny what LINE is doing. Everywhere else but Korea (especially in Japan where they don’t take to Korean products, even way before the recent souring), Naver is staying shh shh about the Koreaness of LINE and making it look completely Japanese.

    Sorry to say, this old strategy still seems to work in the rest of the world, (but for now Asia mostly) People like LINE. It is Japanese.

  • wangkon936

    DLB,

    That is a very shallow understanding of what was happening in 1939. The name change policy of Imperial Japan was a policy of cultural assimilation using a lot of direct and indirect pressure for Koreans to change their names to a Japanese or Japanese style name.

    The reason why the Japanese did it was one of among many policies to convert Koreans into Japanese citizens, not just legally, but culturally and spiritually. That’s the reason why it was so hated in Korea. If you would understand that then you would probably know that if a Japanese company wanted Koreans to have a company first name different from their real name, then it probably wouldn’t be a big deal.

    Nevermind. I don’t think any amount of explaining will help. I think your mind is permanently closed on this matter.

    I consider you a very decent human being Mr. Barch, but your inability to even attempt to understand the trauma and suffering Koreans went through during their annexation and occupation under Imperial Japan is very disappointing.

  • wangkon936

    “People like LINE. It is Japanese.”

    Uh, reality is a bit more complex:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LINE_Corporation

  • wangkon936

    Koreans are not necessarily unfamiliar with this idea. Koreans in English language classes/schools are often told to have an English first name for classroom use.

  • yuna_at_marmotshole

    Actually it makes me want to throw up.

    When I lived in Hong Kong, I hated the way they had made up English names like Suzy Wongs and the Mimi Chans.

    In Korean I was like, WTF when a guy I knew gave me his namecard with an English name Dylan on the back when his Korean name was so nice and easy to pronounce.

  • yuna_at_marmotshole

    Don’t you actually read the whole comment?

    I know what it says on wiki about LINE in three different languages because I’ve been meaning to do a post on Kakaotalk vs LINE for quite some time now.

  • fintan stack

    Yeah, the twit calls himself “Wine”. What a chump.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    because its the same reason why its easier to say sorry in English than your native language. Using English names is a half-way measure. It is simply easier to call the CEO Vinny than Sir-goo precisely because it is NOT his name. If they had the balls and used their real names, i.e. their Korean names, this could be something meaningful.

  • wangkon936

    I don’t wanna get into another fight with you but it is sufficient to say that your writing style and your paragraph organization skills makes understanding your point difficult for me sometimes. Feel free to insult my intelligence and/or reading comprehension ability if it will make you feel better.

  • yuna_at_marmotshole

    LOL.
    What a git.

    My comment said that they are “keeping shh shh”.
    The wiki in three different languages (Eng, Kor, Jap) all have completely different weighting on the origin, ownership, and sticker characters(which is one of the main defining culture of these apps)

  • http://teacherpretty.blogspot.com Ana Dennison

    In that case I feel it makes sense, since you’re learning a foreign language and so it’s kinda fun to make up a new name that fits that language.

  • http://teacherpretty.blogspot.com Ana Dennison

    What would make it more palatable, I think, is if it went both ways. Like, if a Korean person moved to America maybe they would want an English name so it would be easier on their friends, but then if an American moved to Korea they would do the same, make up a Korean name. However, I don’t see that happening much just yet…

  • dlbarch

    WK, you have NO IDEA what I think or don’t think of Japan’s imperial colonization of Korea. Your post is little more than cheap posturing and is, frankly, a boorish decent into Colonialism 101.

    The real offense here is that a Korean company is asking its Korean employees to ditch their parental- or family-given Korean names and go by some contrived English concoction. Where, exactly, is your sense of outrage about that?

    Leave your condescending tone to others. Some of us here have actually lived, studied, and worked in Korea, have a good number of Korean friends whose families suffered greatly under the Japanese, and actually do know a good deal about Japanese colonialism beyond the tired platitudes you offer above.

    As for the original post, I would add that I have worked for several Korean firms, and have generally enjoyed the experience, but if any boneheaded bujang or isa asked me to use any name other than the one my parents gave me, I would tell them in no uncertain terms to f*ck off.

    Which is precisely what Daum and Kakao’s employees should tell their clueless paymasters.

    DLB

  • yuna_at_marmotshole

    The name change was not really forced.

    It happened like most people wanted a Japanese sounding names themselves. That’s why women over the age of 50 still sport names ending with -자, because it was in fashion. Even if they were born after the liberation.

    Now, whether they wanted it during the time to integrate better or because there was discrimination (yes there was) that’s another matter.

  • yuna_at_marmotshole

    Maybe, but Hong Kong people had names for each other.

    If an American moved to Korea, the real Korean way would be for example to give him a credible title 과장님 or 교수님.

    My friend who is a young professor in Korea often complains that his students emails other Korean professors with the proper title 교수님, but refers/calls him by his first name.

  • wangkon936

    I didn’t use the word “forced.” I said “… a lot of direct and indirect pressure.”

  • wangkon936

    How long you and I been commenting here? Mutually five or six years? I think you have been on this blog as a commenter longer than I have.

    I’ve recognized a consistent pattern from you. Whether you know or don’t know what happened in Korea from 1910 to 1945 I can’t really say. All I can say is that irrespective of what you know, it doesn’t seem to help you understand present day realities in Korean/Japanese relations. One would think that a true appreciation for the history would translate into greater awareness of current day sensitivities and realities, but it doesn’t with you.

    I made a similar complaint here:

    http://www.rjkoehler.com/2013/11/20/japan-annoyed-by-plan-to-build-statue-of-criminal-korea-china-tell-tokyo-to-screw-off/#comment-1131396592

    In response to your comment here:

    http://www.rjkoehler.com/2013/11/20/japan-annoyed-by-plan-to-build-statue-of-criminal-korea-china-tell-tokyo-to-screw-off/#comment-1130542051

    Both occasions show a surprising lack of awareness to apply what you claim you know about the past to help you better understand and comment on present day complexities.

  • Bob Bobbs

    In Vino Veritas. And it’s not “English” merely because it’s spelled in the Roman alphabet. My Korean name is Chongsogi. Live with it.

  • Bob Bobbs

    For many years now, many (?) foreign companies operating in Korea have had the foreign (US/EU etc.) staff refer to the Korean staff as J.S. Lee or Y.S. Kim instead of having them learn their names. Isn’t that kind of the same thing? And, oh yeah, in North America it’s not Hyundai – it’s Hun Day. Christ on a cracker.

  • dlbarch

    You can cherry pick all you want, WK, and if the past is any indication, it won’t be long before you start deleting the comments of those who disagree with you. I’m ready for that, too.

    As for Japan’s colonial era, I’ll leave it to MH’s gentle readers to decide whether I’ve been fair or unfair in my comments in the past.

    Returning to the post above, I’ll simply add that out of curiosity, I just scrolled down my list of contacts on my iPhone and, lo’ and behold, an interesting pattern. Kyopos aside, NOT A SINGLE ONE of my Korean friends who were actually born in Korea uses an English name. To their credit, every single one uses the same Korean name given to them at birth.

    To which I say, “Mansei”!

    DLB

  • bumfromkorea

    Apparently Daum has been requiring people to call each other by [name]님 while KakaoTalk has been requiring people to get an English name. Former sounds much more convenient and sensible.

    I don’t think there’s much crossovers between KakaoTalk’s policy and 창씨개명 though – it sounds and feels more like getting a French name for your French class than… you know, what the Empire of Japan did.

    My classmates had to call me Thomas (도마) in my old French class. And yes. I thought it was clever.

  • A Korean

    A Korean company decides to address their employees by bogus “English” names, and dlcharch rant on about Japan something or other.

  • wangkon936

    “… it won’t be long before you start deleting the comments of those who disagree with you.”

    I’ve never done that. You would merely be wasting your time to prepare for something that I’ve never done or plan to do. You are basing that comment on a misinterpretation (likely willful on your end) of my moderating goals and duties.

  • yuna_at_marmotshole

    This is more facepalm than watching that same Samsung ajossi washisname give presentation in some sleazy Jazzy venue every time they roll out a new handset.
    BTW Why doesn’t Lee Jaeyong do it?

  • yuna_at_marmotshole

    Sorry, but what exactly is Sir goo?
    Is it a character in some BBC children’s clay animation?

  • Aja Aja

    Because Koreans would be very reluctant and very uncomfortable calling their bosses with Korean given names. This is even if they try hard. It’s simply nurture. Calling your boss by their Korean given name would sound horrifying to many Koreans. So if Koreans were to go along with this, and you are my CEO boss, I could never call you “Jae-Sung”. But calling you “Joe” sound OK, because Koreans don’t have the same hangups with English names. It is really difficult to explain unless you were born to the culture.

  • A Korean

    They could simply use the suffix “ssi” to their name, instead of random “Enligsh” names which is comical to say the least.

  • Aja Aja

    No. He banned the words “sunbae” and “hoobae”.

  • Aja Aja

    That defeats the purpose, because it’s still honorific. But I do agree that’s a little bit better than calling each other last names + rank title.

  • yuna_at_marmotshole

    Yeah, Sir GOO!
    He’s been knighted and all!

  • A Korean

    Wrong. If everyone refers everyone with “ssi” suffix, it does away with title/address hierarchy, which is the purported rationale for the English name nonsense.

  • MikeinGyeonggi

    Hahahaha… In Vino Veritas. Didn’t think about that. Kinda reinstates the workplace hierarchy, doesn’t it?

  • MikeinGyeonggi

    If everyone always used “ssi” it could mask the hierarchy. But I don’t think older/higher employees would be very consistent about addressing younger/lower workers as “ssi,” especially when they’re angry or in disagreement.

  • A Korean

    And English name policy addresses that problem how?

  • MikeinGyeonggi

    With “ssi” names, it’s very easy to just drop the “ssi” suffix to show disrespect. You’re still calling the person by their name, but just dropping the respectful ending.

    With English names, you’d actually have to call your coworker a completely different name to be disrespectful.

  • A Korean

    야 마이크 임마!

    :)

  • WMunny

    Sir-goo took the slightly less male stripper-sounding name “Vino”. And then his employee said “Fuck it, I’m Dallas”, lol.

  • MikeinGyeonggi

    야 아코리안, 난 알았어! :)

  • MikeinGyeonggi

    A bit silly and tedious? Yes. A small step toward workplace equality? Probably.

    I would love to work in an office where everyone is on a first name basis. I don’t care what language, so long as I don’t have to remember everyone’s rank before I address them.

    As an English teacher at university, I hate the title 교수님. It’s not accurate (I’m not tenure-track), so to me it just sounds silly. I encourage students to call me by my first name. It doesn’t diminish any respect. I earn respect in the classroom as opposed to demanding it through a title.

  • A Korean

    얻다대고 소지질러 이 XXXX 아. 뒤통수 조심해라.

    Korean is a fun language.

  • sobang

    Don’t you think that giving orders to employees about how they should call each other is just another example of a highly hierarchical, Confucianist structure?

    I fail to see how this could promote innovation. Innovation results from many factors: national spirit, company internal structure, etc.. But you may call your boss Albert or Leonardo, that will not make him a genius; he will still remain your boss, you will still have to obey him and you will still be back home at 10:00pm.

    Forcing people to use first names looks a little hypocritical to me. Sometimes I don’t want to call my boss by his first name; pretending to be a friend may be a way for the boss to avoid his responsibilities while keeping his power.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    Apparently thats the guy’s name.

    “All workers at Kakao call co-CEO Lee Sir-goo by his English first name Vino.”

    How is that even written in Korean? 실구?

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    whats the difference? Both seem to me to be simply chat programs.

  • Anonymous_Joe

    sobang: “Don’t you think that giving orders to employees about how they should call each other is just another example of a highly hierarchical, Confucianist structure?”

    I love the sense of irony.

    In Korea, however, the hierarchical Confucian structure is so tightly embedded in the language, business culture, and culture at large that in the wise words of those three sages of the north, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

    “I fail to see how this could promote innovation. Innovation results from many factors: national spirit, company internal structure, etc.. But you may call your boss Albert or Leonardo, that will not make him a genius”

    I think you missed it here. The point of the change of Koreans calling their bosses by their first names is that in breaking a structural barrier embedded in the communication, employees will be able to more freely express opinions and make suggestions.

    Years ago, I worked at a small (50 employees) tech company. Everyone was on a first name basis except the owner. I spoke very freely to everyone and at times passionately (even with a hint of professional derision) to my boss. I also knew that I was better at my job (his former job) than he was, and that he often did not know the best way. I always knew that he was my boss and he had the ultimate say. I rarely spoke to Mr. Owner beyond politely. In fact, I don’t recall ever conveying anything of meaning to him even at meetings. He wanted to be “Mr. Boss”, and we treated him, for better or worse, that way.

  • http://gypsyscholarship.blogspot.kr/ Horace Jeffery Hodges

    Your student should consider “Pomme de Terre” – he can then be either a common French Potato or a noble English Apple that has gone native sometime since 1066 (and all that)!

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

  • BSDetector

    I see the English name requirement as somewhat undermining to the intent. Why do they have to use English names? I think it puts a “Let pretend! Ha ha ha…” aspect to it. There’s no reason you couldn’t be just as open and active a participant as a Young Hwa as you could be as a Pat.

    I however am probably biased as I abhor fake English names and refuse to use them. If Koreans keep using them I’m going to start using my “McLovin” ID card…

  • I AM IN ODE

    just call a person what they want to be called

  • Tapp

    I’m not sure if you caught this or not, but Kakao has actually been doing it for a while now. There was also an article a few months back about Starbucks doing the same thing.

    I dl’d LINE, but nobody ever uses it here. I got rid of it after a few months.

  • Tapp

    Americans are taught the same thing in Spanish classes. It’s been a hallmark of foreign language teaching for many years.

  • Tapp

    I once named a troublemaker “Broccoli” because I really, really hated him.

  • jfpower

    Exactly. It doesn’t mean anything in English. It would actually be revolutionary if it was Koreans addressing each other in their actual names. It doesn’t destroy the hierarchy at all, just avoids the question.

  • codfilet

    In HK, they have those English names, so you know they are “real” Hong Kongers, whose ancestors got there in 1949 or so, so you don’t think they are some hillbilly Mainlander .

  • bumfromkorea

    난, 알아요! 이밤이 흐르고 흐르면 누군가가 나를 떠나 버려야 한다는 그 사실을 그 이유를 이제는 나도 알 수가, 알 수가 있어요!

    … No?

  • Anonymous_Joe

    I don’t think this is a change in culture analogous to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color line in 1947, which foreran the Civil Rights Act. This is more analogous to the perforce integration of the US military for D-Day because of the troop shortage, which put a crack in segregation that led to Jackie Robinson.

    I suspect other unintended consequences such as that more English names will be given to Korean babies as Koreans get used to and decide that they like certain names. That the coworkers will use the names socially among themselves and might not even know their coworkers real names. That Koreans who have near English names or one syllable English sounding names will adapt their Korean names as their English names. Finally, that the policy at these adopter companies will become “use your Korean name if you want to.”

    All of this will take time, I guess nearly a generation as the old and stodgy retire or die off and the young ones who experienced this take over.

  • bigmamat

    This is what it takes to get people to communicate. That’s a shame. So how did Korea do all it’s done so far if everyone is paralyzed by the social structure?

  • yuna_at_marmotshole

    That just highlights the need to bring (back) the better, proper old romanizition.

    이석우.

    I guess he tried to make it sound as close to his name as possible, rahter than SeokWoo or something, which would have resulted in the usual C-옥워우 attempts from English readers. I would have written it Lee Sogu. Close enough. Simple.

    https://www.google.de/search?q=%EC%B9%B4%EC%B9%B4%EC%98%A4%ED%86%A1+%EC%9D%B4%EC%84%9D%EC%9A%B0&rlz=1C1RNDN_enDE440DE440&espv=2&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=cbr9U83_FaGP0AWFvYGoAQ&ved=0CC0QsAQ&biw=1245&bih=666

    He still does look like a clay animation.

  • yuna_at_marmotshole

    I don’t think it would simply be a question of “English names” given to babies, but rather, more 한글-based and simpler and (prettier to my ears) which has been happening anyway. Much less 영, 현, 석.

    e.g. 사랑, 하늘, 소라 etc.

    Also, 작명, or naming babies used to be the domain of some older people in the family or professional “namers” all who would use some hocus pocus Chinese character based magic (rather than the sonority to one’s ears) to give names to the babies and not the domain of the doting young parents.

    On Superman returns, one guy (actor 송일국) has a triplet boys and he’s called them 대한, 민국, 만세.

    Also related to this, there was a time in modern Korean history where the admiration for English names resulted in all the pet dogs getting English and foreign sounding names. So if it had been 바둑이 or 누렁이 before for example, suddenly 워리 or 캐리 or 쫑, became the name-du-jour for pet dogs (especially the breeds that started to be imported).
    I think now it’s done a full circle and gone back, so it’s fashionable to give Korean names or some humorous names, (or serious names). Globally, it’s become the trend to just name pets with normal (human) first names. I think it’s to do with the elevation of status of animals as companions and family.

  • yuna_at_marmotshole

    And what about 존대말? Are they going to get rid of that and use 반말 to everybody?

    야, 사장, 아니, 비노, 오늘 회식비는 비노가 쏘냐? 회식문화 자체도 없앤다고? 에라이!

    No? Just speak English?

  • yuna_at_marmotshole

    OK, how about saying rather than everybody should have an “English name” simply say that they should have a “UserID” within the company.
    I could kind of swallow that. It’s in tune with the culture of the app/Daum.
    If they could just get around the problem of LeeYounghee23 or LeeYounghee24 LeeYounghee25 in some innovative way to give themselves some good userID that would be a start.
    Starting with the 사장, go with “Sogu”, ditch the “Vino”.

  • Aja Aja

    Didn’t you already hear about this? It’s all American money, help, aid, and management, that built up Korea, but it’s the Koreans all frittering it away.

  • Aja Aja

    How about requiring workers to work only 35-40 hours per week, no overtime required, no after hour drinking sessions required, allow workers to go on normal 2-3 weeks holidays per year without giving guilt feelings, allow workers to enjoy their extra times with their families, allow the workers enough time to pursue their own hobbies. Stop running the corporations like military boot camps. Get rid of the corporate rank titles and seniority system. Reward/promote workers based on productivity and performance, not on seniority. Instead of the fancy titles that impresses outsiders, use generic job descriptions – everyone should be considered on the equal level rank. Get rid of the stifling dress codes, with clean cut casuals. Stop giving shit to people who come up with ‘dumb’ ideals. Complaints should be heard, not discouraged. Treat people like humans, not robots.

  • A Korean

    어휴 쪽팔려…

  • bigmamat

    So even with help there was a great deal of effort on the their part. It’s not like elves came in during the night and did all the work. Even with investment and other kinds of support the Koreans had to do most of this on their own.

  • A Korean

    얻다대고 반말이야 이 XXXX ….

    So it goes. There is hierarchy embedded in the rest of language as well as formal/informal social protocol.

    I’m liking the “씨” idea. Not only are the real name used, but it nudges you to display a minimal level of mutual respect regardless relative positions in the hierarchy.

  • http://www.xlgames.com/ Avaast

    It will be interesting to see what happens, for sure. I was most recently working in the video game industry down in Pangyo, and our company initially encouraged us to refer to each other by our in-game avatar names, which were in Korean or English (I had to delete Petalbreath, my elven sorcerer, to save face – this was replaced by 굿바이키티, which is obviously far more sophisticated). This system was never received all that well except among the upper executives (meetings could become quite surreal when you asked someone if they’ve talked to ‘Nihilism’ and ‘Sexygrrl’ in Programming). It then devolved into a system where we referred to more senior staff members as 형/누나 (I actually preferred this to my previous company, where we simply used -님). After another few months, people started to revert to 대리/과장/팀장 etc, although HR insisted that we maintain our avatar names and other nicknames on our company intranet page (a nice little time-waster, that).

    Ultimately, I think it was a nice idea to try and make everyone feel more comfortable in interacting up and down the hierarchy chart, but it made certain types of inter-departmental co-operation a little problematic. The gaming industry is definitely a lot less stuffy than others, but there are still quite a few serious types among the nerds!

  • BSDetector

    I want to be called The Big Daddy Sugar Bear of Honey Love.

  • BSDetector

    There is a company in Korea that does pretty much all of that, they’re called USFK,

  • djson1

    After reading a lot of the comments on here about this company using avatar names….I just started to think: why should we give a sht about what some company does internally? Why is this even a topic that has 77+ comments? Oh crap..I’m adding to it too now!

  • wangkon936

    Wine Truth?

  • wangkon936

    I too see some possibility of abuse here. One time a Chinese American was asked by his Chinese co-workers to give them all English names. To one guy he didn’t especially like he named him Judas, you know, the guy who betrayed Jesus. However, the Chinese guy didn’t know the back story and proudly mouthed “Judas” all throughout the halls.

  • Arghaeri

    Since when, wherever I worked the co-workers themselves offered that up.

  • Arghaeri

    I didn’t use the word force I just said a lot of direct and indirect uhm what’s a good synonym for force… Ah got it …. Pressure……

  • Arghaeri

    Well it is English slang for wine, is that enough?

  • Arghaeri

    Who isn’t in French class I had a French name, this however is totally different.

  • Arghaeri

    In wine there is the truth,

    People are more frank when drunk hence it’s importance in Some Asian business culture

  • Arghaeri

    Christian in HK and in Korea for that matter often use both “Christian name (western) and Chinese given name from birth, not made up names later in life

  • yuna_at_marmotshole

    Catholics, to be more precise. Yeah, I know these, but that’s not what I meant.

  • Tapp

    Just as a comparison, you still see this a lot in historical dramas with African Americans following up every answer with “boss” or “sir”. “Please don’t call me sir.” Answered promptly with a “yessir”. Ex-military also have a tendency to continue on with sir and mam. I consider it polite today, but in the past it was very much used as a show of power. At this point, “boss” or “boss man” is only used sarcastically or to show that you feel you’re being mistreated. It has become an insult of sorts, similar to calling someone a slavedriver.

  • http://teacherpretty.blogspot.com Ana Dennison

    One of my students calls his friend broccoli because he has kinda curly/frizzy hair. I actually respect the creativity, even if it’s not so nice…

  • Sumo294

    You could do that if the workers suddenly became ten times more productive per hour overnight. If you reward inefficient unproductive workers with a European work schedule you end up with lazy European style workers who basically cannot be fired under Korea’s labor laws. The reason why Koreans get little pay and work long hours is because they prefer a secure job versus the constant fear of being fired the next day. It works for the majority of the wager earners here.

  • Bob Bobbs
  • Bob Bobbs

    Whether it is a top-down or bottom-up creation, I think it is, perhaps, similar. That’s all.

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    I think you are wrong. I think the fact that they are going with English names is precisely the OPPOSITE of what you are suggesting:

    1. No one is actually DITCHING Korean names. They are adopting monikers, nicknames, for their office life only. They keep their real, given, Korean names. I am sure their employment agreeements sport their Korean names, as all other documentation at work and outside of it. Has anyone been forced to go change their name at the Gu office? Or even “directly and indirectly pressured” to do it? No.

    2. By taking their Korea names out of the game, and using English nicknames, they are in fact ASSERTING THE IMPORTANCE OF both their real names and the Confucian system. That they are not using their real names indicates that their real names have further levels of meaning to them, and company is HONORING this by letting them off the hook. Essentially, its a cop out. If the company was truly guilty of what you are saying, of something akin to the Japanese cultural war during colonialism, it would make them use their real names instead.

    You’re an idiot

  • dlbarch

    I think you’re right about No. 1 but wrong about No. 2. Of course, no one is completely “ditching” their Korean names…at least outside the office.

    The real point, completely lost on the WKs of the MH world, is the spectacular irony of Korean workers being asked to forgo their parental-given names for the sake of a manufactured corporate culture. To me, that’s obscene.

    I also suspect there’s a basic disconnect here on MH by those like me, who wouldn’t in a bazillion years take on a foreign name, and those on MH who already hide behind pseudonyms and for whom pride in one’s given name is, well, pretty tepid.

    The news links above imply but do not expressly say whether the English name scheme is required or simply encouraged, but if the former, then it’s even more offensive. Either way, this is an idea only a clueless business “consultant” could have come up with.

    Let me ask you, though, SiS, since I genuinely enjoy your comments here on MH, if push came to shove, would you ever allow an employer to tell you to stop using your given name and adopt a foreign one? ‘Cause I can’t think of very many things more humiliating and degrading than that.

    Cheers,
    DLB

  • felddog13

    Geddy, Alex, and Neil?

  • dlbarch

    I’d say the difference is threefold:

    First, I think referring to someone’s Korean initials is actually more respectful than asking them to completely change their name. Calling “Chulsu” by the initials “C.S.” seems to me much more respectful than asking him to go by the name “John” or some other manufactured nickname.

    Second, I think context is important. A company like Daum asking its Korean employees to use foreign names with OTHER Korean employees seems to me completely artificial, and very different than a situation where foreign (US or EU) employees may have a hard time learning a roster of Korean names with which they are unaccustomed.

    (I once worked at a Korean firm where, after the first week, some boneheaded daeri asked me, quite sincerely actually, why it was that while all the Koreans in the firm knew my name, I had not yet learned the names of each and every one of my 100+ Korean co-workers! Simple mathematics,)

    Finally, I’d add there is a world of difference between asking someone to use a nickname and requiring them to do so. ‘Nuff said.

    DLB

  • SalarymaninSeoul

    I don’t think there would ever be a need for me to adopt a different name. Remember this is being done for a reason: to get away from a Confucian system of hierarchy and the only way to do that is to drop the use of Korean names. As was discussed below, DLB, the reason why they are using English names is because they are unable to go all the way with this idea. Its a way of eating their cake and having it, too. For me, I am already outside of the Confucian system by virtue of being a foreigner. If I were working back home, this wouldn’t be an issue in the first place.

  • dlbarch

    Well, nice try skirting the question, but the challenge put to you was pretty simple, so I’ll ask it again:

    Would you ever allow an employer to tell you to stop using your given name and adopt a foreign one?

    DLB

  • http://www.bcarr.com/ Brendon Carr

    The real offense here is that a Korean company is asking its Korean employees to ditch their parental- or family-given Korean names and go by some contrived English concoction. Where, exactly, is your sense of outrage about that?

    Spot on. This is, by the way, one of the main obstacles to me naturalizing as a citizen of Korea — the fact that Korea, even after the experience of being forced by the Japanese to abandon Korean names in favor of Japanese names — requires that foreigners naturalizing in Korea to disavow their ancestors by becoming known by a Korean name. It’s offensive and hypocritical in the extreme.

  • http://www.bcarr.com/ Brendon Carr

    We have a lawyer here at my firm who now goes by a different name, but his Korean name is 허범, which is basically an impossible challenge. How to romanize that name? Heo Bum? Huh Bum? Her Bum? Can’t have that. Bum’s a tough one. So for years he went by Burm Hur (we actually worked together at another firm, 15 years ago), which is a little bit ridiculous and completely misleading as a pronunciation guide.

    He went abroad for a period and while living overseas, he adopted an English name for the convenience of everyone. The name he chose? Ben. Ben Hur. What a conversation-starter!

  • Anonymous_Joe

    dlbarch: “I also suspect there’s a basic disconnect here on MH by those like me, who wouldn’t in a bazillion years take on a foreign name, and those on MH who already hide behind pseudonyms and for whom pride in one’s given name is, well, pretty tepid.”

    You are saying that while sitting in the land of the free speech where one need not be so brave.

    The worst posts I’ve made at MH have been critical and sometimes satirically so of Korea, and for those posts I’m a frequent target of the fefafasdfasdf serial killer or wanted for poster-ization by another.

    I chose with a chuckle the most anonymous name I cold think of. Well, second most. I decided to pass on Anonymous_John for other reasons.

  • Pete Duggan

    Keep in mind that by Korean values, it is impolite to speak your parents name directly, and preferable to spell the name out e.g. Kim Yong-sam.. as Kim ja, Yong ja Sam ja. BTW Mothers often do not know their kids friends parents names, and only use the kids name with Omma attached e.g. Yea-mini and Yea-mini Omma. There’s a lot of baggage attached to the use of ones Korean name.

    Its no big deal. Koreans usually adopt an ‘english name’ for English classes growing up and although it may be a token change, it could be a catalyst for a flatter organisational structure.

  • yuna_at_marmotshole

    The name of the famous footballer 차범근 was apparently a great delight for those snot-nosed pre-teen boys in Europe collecting football stickers. They thought Bum-Kum was a great name,

    Korean men have problems with names that adopt the character that Gook, Suk and Bum,

    Kuk, Sok, and (maybe) Pum sound closer to the original sound.

  • yuna_at_marmotshole

    Who’s talking about parents? Homer didn’t teach Bart to call him Homer either.
    It’s simply that these people want some sort of flatter structure, no need to bring in such twee horrible method. Maybe they want the company to just turn into an English 학원 atmosphere then. Very innovative.

  • ChuckRamone

    My dad had some problems with his name which has parts that look like they should be pronounced “Kill” and “Bum” when romanized. You’re a real killer! You’re a bum? You’re a bum killer?

  • Bob Bobbs

    I said it reminded me of it, and that it was similar. You have pointed out the differences quite nicely.

  • wangkon936

    Although the change in culture at Daum and Kakao is interesting, what should be more interesting (and kinda gets lost in the post) is that the two large Korean internet companies have MERGED.

    http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20140827000878

    There is a number of reasons why this is being done, but the main one is to build a larger company to battle regional competitors, chiefly the Naver/Line combination.

    For those of you who are interested (and can directly buy) Korean stocks, it is estimated that the Kakao/Daum combined stock will rise from $150/share to over $200/share in 12 months.

  • Tapp

    I thought the Korean stock market had been opened to foreign investors at this point. Is their some type of limit in place or is it an outright ban for non-Koreans?

  • redwhitedude
  • Tapp

    You could also just ban numbers all together under that same scenario. The only downside to calling it a UserID might be the tendency to use an unprofessional name. As long as the company reiterates that this is the name you will also be using with clients, there shouldn’t be a problem. You could even have HR approve all names. As long as it’s not a “boss” approving the name, the general reason for the policy would not be lost.

  • tatertot

    What I think is crazy is that the (relatively) new company Kakao is MERGING with Daum. Kakao has become so large that they aren’t just being bought by Daum.

  • RElgin

    A different scenario or thought that no one has expressed – political leaders were often former generals or professional politicians; areas that saw the growth of leaders by example or consensus. Ahn Cheol-soo was a different leader from the technical sector.

    Considering the very large social pool of users of Kakao Talk, ideally, wouldn’t this environment be a good place for a political leader to launch a career?

    IMHO, the next unexpected source of political leaders will be of this entrepreneur elk and source since their mindset must be far more than the black-and-white sort of non-thinking avarice.

  • yuna_at_marmotshole

    Yeah, I know. As I was writing that comment I remembered seeing an email address of a reporter on one of the Korean news publication at the bottom of the article:
    foolsdie@koreatimes.com
    I mean, somebody is not doing the job right there.

  • Arghaeri

    Being called a merger doesn’t make it a merger

  • wangkon936

    Brendon? Seriously?

    What can I say to mention all the levels of wrong with your quote?

    Okay, let’s start with the obvious. IMHO there is nothing wrongwith a nation wanting certain things from people who want to be naturalized citizens. In the U.S. in order to be a naturalized citizen you need to know a minimum of the English language and pass a political, cultural and historical test. No biggie. In both Japan and Korea you need to change your name to a certain convention. No biggie in my book as well. If you willfully volunteer to be a citizen of a country, then you should follow the rules, right?

    However, the 1910 annexation of Korea isn’t the same as 20 some odd million Koreans wanting to be citizens (or “quasi” citizens) of the Japanese Empire. It is very different than you or I going to Japan, saying that it’s a cool place, wanting it to be Japanese person and then making the name change because you want to be Japanese. If given the choice, for the most part the Korean people didn’t want to be Japanese. They didn’t want the names either.

    The Japanese do say that the Koreans didn’t have to change their names. Technically that’s true. However, because every organ of the government that administered Korea was controlled by the Japanese (there are no Korean lead government institutions protected by a Korean elected legislative body as the colonial holding of Chōsen had no representatives in the Imperial Diet) you can, for example, forget about getting a license to practice law in the country. You can also forget about getting a passport or a consistent supply of ration tickets… that is unless you get a Japanese styled name!

  • wangkon936

    “… because there was discrimination (yes there was) that’s another matter.”

    Interesting. Let’s play with our food here a little. According to Kazuko Suzuki, Sociology professor at Texas A&M:

    http://ccis.ucsd.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/wrkg69.pdf

    Sōshi kaimei means to “create family names and change one’s given name.” This name-changing program was very much of a coercive nature and forced Koreans to change their original names into Japanese ones within six months…. Those who refused to change their names or failed to register on time encountered overt discrimination as denied entrance of their children to school and advancement in higher education, and deprivation of job opportunities.

    […]

    In implementing sōshi kaimei, Japanese authorities argued that these Korean surnames were clan names (sei) rather than family names (shi) and therefore they must ‘create’ Japanese family names…. [S]…ome Koreans simply used Japanese readings for their own bonkwan (ancestral land) as their new surname. Another strategy sometimes adopted was to choose a Japanese name that included a reference to the tribal history recorded in the chokbo. This was a form of resistance by Koreans, though it was passive.

  • wangkon936

    Arghari,

    Good to see you pop your head. You do so infrequently nowadays.

    Any ways, please refer to here:

    http://www.rjkoehler.com/2014/08/27/daum-kakao-on-a-first-name-basis/#comment-1571004034

    … and also here:

    http://www.rjkoehler.com/2014/08/27/daum-kakao-on-a-first-name-basis/#comment-1570938975

    Where I address your gratuitously undisguised sly comment.

  • http://www.bcarr.com/ Brendon Carr

    Maybe it is you who is confused.

  • wangkon936

    How I’m I “confused?”

    It’s pretty simple obviously. Your analogy is severely flawed. Just man up and admit it.

  • wangkon936

    Brendon, question:

    Is it entirely possible to not be a citizen of Korea (i.e. permanent resident) and to exercise your trade (law or what have you) and make a pretty good living without the Korean bureaucracy bothering you too much?

    That’s not the choice that Koreans during the colonial era had. They had to adopt a Japanese style family name or face many restrictions on their education, profession, livelihood, etc. from the Japanese bureaucracy.