The QiRanger Adventures

Teaching in Korea: The Name Game

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Teaching in Korea is a wonderful experience. What makes it special for me is the kids. I find most to be so much fun, I have to continually remind myself that I have to teach them something each lesson. But one thing that still has me confounded, even today, are the rules with names.

Sure most children in my class have English names. Hell, I have one class with four students named James. But there is an unspoken rule that no one ever tells new teachers when they start working in Korea: be careful how you write names on the board.

In the United States, a teacher can use any color write one’s name. Writing a student’s name on the board in blue or black ink is normal in Korea. However, an instructor must avoid using the dreaded red marker.

In Korean culture, among children, writing a name in red represents death. It’s as if you’re writing the name in blood and encouraging death to arrive on the student’s doorstep. I find this really odd, since official documents are all signed in red ink.

When you go to the bank to open an account, transfer money, or take out a loan, the documents are stamped with the name of the person in red ink. My immigration documents are all stamped with the official’s name in red ink that approved the form. All awards and certificates I’ve received in Korea, have the company and the president’s name stamped in red ink.

I don’t understand the disconnect between the childhood superstition and the adult practice of signing documents in red. I’m currently trying to research the issue, since I find it so puzzling, but in the meantime, teachers take note: do not write a student’s name in red!

UPDATE: Within a few hours of posting this video on YouTube, I received a pretty good answer. In times of old, red ink was only used by the King to sign official documents. Hence the use of red ink today on the stamps. When someone died, they wrote their name in red. Both symbolized death. In the first case, that you swear to the deal or oath you’re making with your blood and life. The second to signify that the person had expired. Stamping or sealing a name did not have the same connotation as writing one’s name; therefore, that’s why children react the way that they do.

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Written by Steve Miller

July 6, 2010 at 12:01 pm

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