In North Korea, No One Can Take the Leader’s Name, in Vain or Otherwise
By CHOE SANG-HUNDEC. 3, 2014 NYT
SEOUL, South Korea — There is plenty that is off-limits to North Koreans. Televisions that receive anything other than government broadcasts. Traveling outside their hometowns without official permission. And Bibles.
Add the name Jong-un to the list.
The given name of North Korea’s young and capricious leader, Kim Jong-un, now appears to be reserved only for him — carrying on a tradition started by his grandfather, the founder of one of the world’s most brutal police states. If that does not seem otherworldly enough, consider this: those North Koreans unlucky enough to have had the name when the young Mr. Kim came to power in 2011 have had to give up them up.
Such is the well-honed cult of personality in North Korea, where the leader is something of a godlike figure and where critics of Mr. Kim can find themselves in the nation’s notorious gulags. For a time, early in Mr. Kim’s rule, outside analysts and foreign diplomats held out hope that he might be more modern and open than his father and grandfather, the country’s first two leaders.
But Mr. Kim, 31, has proved to be no soft touch: He had his uncle — and longtime mentor — executed by firing squad when, it appears, he began accruing too much power. And he has thumbed his nose not only at the United States and South Korea, the country’s longtime nemeses, but also at his Chinese benefactors who have pleaded for less provocative behavior following nuclear weapon and missile tests.
Keeping a name sacrosanct adds to the other outsize shows of respect for the Kim dynasty. Homes and offices must be adorned with portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, Mr. Kim’s grandfather and father. Statues of the two men are landmarks in all major cities, and North Koreans wear lapel pins bearing their images. The country celebrates their birthdays as national holidays.
It is unclear just how many people had to change their name to comply with the new rules, but in South Korea, Jong-un is a common name for both men and women.
South Korean officials have long suspected that a new naming convention was in force once Mr. Kim was publicly introduced as the expected heir to his father in 2010, given the family’s history of hoarding names. But as with so much in North Korea, with its tight control on information, it was difficult to confirm.
Then, on Tuesday, the South Korean national broadcaster KBS reported that it now had what it called an internal North Korean government document, dated Jan. 5, 2011, in which officials of the governing Workers’ Party and of internal security agencies were instructed to ensure that the decree against other Jong-uns was enforced.
A South Korean government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity confirmed the decree, saying “It’s true that in North Korea, they now allow only one Jong-un.”
One other dynastic naming tradition also lives on: the showering of Mr. Kim with a host of titles preceding his given name that are meant to show he is adored by his people. Among those titles is the one that had been used for his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, the original Great Leader.