Before I even got engaged to my now husband, my mom, my grandma and I were standing in line for the Hogwarts Castle ride in Universal Studios Japan. It was our second time visiting The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The first time, we went to Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, and I was a young college student who had just completed my first year of university. In Osaka, Japan, with my family, I remember feeling just as excited to see all the shops and to ride all the rides, but I felt much more calm about my future. I knew I would soon be moving to Korea to start my new life.
My grandma and mother got curious to know more about Junkyu, now that things were more serious and we were talking about marriage. They asked me what his last name was, assuming they would need to know it once I changed mine to his. I told them, “I’m not changing my last name after we get married.” My mom was shocked and asked, “Why not?” but my grandma said, “Good for you!”
Americans do all sorts of crazy things with their names after getting married. Some people take the husband’s name, some take the wife’s name, others hyphenate or create a new, hybrid last name to incorporate both. I always thought I would change my last name once I got married, because it’s so hard to pronounce and whenever I fill out an online form, it usually tells me not to use ‘special characters’ in my name.
I’ve had it mispronounced my whole life, and everyone in our family spells it a little bit differently. It’s French, and we believe it’s connected to Charlemagne’s family line. My last name is a city in France and a city in Louisiana, so we must have been pretty important people in the past. There’s also a wine with my name on it, so I’ve come to appreciate all the perks of having an interesting last name.
I used to wish I’d marry someone with an easier last name than mine, so that I could finally stop all the crazy things I have to do to tell people how to spell or pronounce it. My husband’s last name is somewhat easy to say but strange at the same time. It’s not one of the top three Korean last names: Lee, Park, or Kim, so it distinguishes him and his family.
However, in traditional Korean culture, the man keeps his last name and passes it down only to his children. The wife usually keeps her family name, even after marriage. There was even a law stating that women were not allowed to pass on their surname to their children, which sparked a lot of controversy when a female celebrity named Choi Jin-sil decided she wanted her children to bear her last name, especially since she and her husband were divorced. She went to court and won the case, changing the law for all Korean parents who wish to do the same.
Japan has a law demanding that married couples take one last name; either the husband’s or wife’s. However, most wives end up taking their husband’s last name to keep with Japanese tradition and societal pressure.
Men and women with the same last name and same family lineage were even prohibited by law to marry, but that law was ruled unconstitutional, and now the law only prohibits those who are closely related from marrying one another.
As both my husband and I plan on living in South Korea, I decided not to change my last name. It would be strange to have his last name as a Korean wife, and it would also be a huge hassle on me. i would have to change my name on so many important documents, including my driver’s license, passport, alien registration card, etc. Seeing as I don’t live in America, it would be harder for me to fill out all the documentation needed to change my name, and I have grown to love my name for what it represents.
It’s nice knowing that our future children will know my last name and what it represents, but that they won’t have to deal with all the crazy questions I’ve gotten about it. I also feel more connected to Korean culture learning about the different traditions, and it’s a weight off my shoulders knowing I don’t have to do all that crazy paperwork. So, call me modern for keeping my name, but in Korea, know that it’s just tradition!