Public Divided over New Surname Rule

      April 30, 2021 14:07

      Conservatives are up in arms after the government announced that children will no longer automatically have to take their father's surname.

      The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family is scrapping a law requiring children to be given their father's surname whether the mother agrees or not.

      Proponents say the law simply expands the legal definition of a family by taking account of changing times and the growing number of single mothers, but opponents say the country is not ready for what they feel is the thin end of a wedge driven into the very fabric of the country's traditional clan structure.

      The elderly are most alarmed. Chung Kyung-mo (71) from Seoul said, "It might work in unavoidable cases like single mothers, but I can't accept children of the same family having different surnames. It would blur the boundaries between the father and mother's sides of a family and the basic family structure could end up breaking apart."

      Minister of Gender Equality and Family Chung Young-ai speaks at a press briefing in Seoul on Tuesday. /Newsis

      But younger Koreans welcomed the change. One 26-year-old office worker said, "Until now, children were only allowed to take their father's surnames, but I'd like to have my children take mine. If my future husband insists on having our children take his surname, I'll try and have one use his surname and the other mine. I won't marry a man who doesn't agree to that."

      Moon Gwang-sup (74) of the Nampyeong Moon clan said, "The surname and clan symbolize a stable family structure, but if genealogy becomes blurred, the very root of our society will be shaken." Another person said, "We could end up facing complications when we have to divide our wealth to pass on to our children."

      The rift runs along generational and gender lines in cyberspace as well. One chat room frequented by men was filled with opponents. "Why should we change a custom that our country has observed for 5,000 years?" wrote one. But women's chat rooms were abuzz with praise. "It's strange to fixate on the man's surname," wrote one poster. "It's only natural to follow the mother's surname, since she's the one who went through painful labor to have the child," wrote another.

      Song Hyo-jean at the Korea Women's Development Institute said, "It's good that the ruling party is seeking to legally guarantee the right of women that has not been exercised until now, and the change will enable a wider range of families to become liberated from discrimination." But Song Jae-ryong, a sociologist at Kyunghee University, said, "The selection of a surname does not concern just two people. We could end up encountering conflict when it comes to inheritance and opposition from other family members."

      Under the current law, children can only take their mother's surname if both parents agree at the time of marriage, which is often done when an affluent family that only had daughters adopt a son-in-law to continue the family name. But in future parents can decide at the time of registering the birth.

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