The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

North Korea ordered citizens named Kim Jong Un to change their names, says new report

This undated picture released by North Korea's official news agency on Nov. 28 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, inspecting a flight drill at an undisclosed location. (Korean Central News Agency via Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)
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Kim Jong Un, North Korea's young dictator, sits at the top of a nation that for decades has enshrined the ruling Kim dynasty as demigods. The personality cult that surrounds the hermit kingdom's leadership is one of the strange realities of this pariah state, spawning eerie totalitarian spectacles and the most vigorous displays of clapping the world has ever seen.

It also leads to whole ranks of the population having to surrender their names.

According to a new report on a South Korean TV station, North Korean authorities issued a directive in 2011 — when Kim Jong Un came to power after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il — to reject birth certificates of newborns named Kim Jong Un and to revise the official documentation and identity cards of those who still had that name.

“All party organs and public security authorities should make a list of residents named Kim Jong Un … and train them to voluntarily change their names,” read the document, which was revealed by the KBS TV station on Tuesday.

“Authorities should make sure that there is no one making unnecessary complaints or spreading gossip … regarding this project,” it said.

The document had been obtained by a North Korean defector who reached South Korea in 2008. As is often the case with these sorts of revelations, its authenticity cannot be independently confirmed.

But the order, if true, should not come as a surprise. Both Kim's father and grandfather Kim Il Sung instituted the same vanity project, insisting on being the first and last holders of their names. The practice has echoes in the deep history of East Asian kingdoms but, like much else in North Korea, really ought not have a place in the 21st century.