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High Court Makes Name Changes Easier

Posted November. 23, 2005 08:11,   


The Supreme Court has ruled for the first time that a court should put individual opinion before possible social confusion when deciding whether to grant a name change. The court said that this was because one’s name was part of one’s right to personality and to pursue happiness.

There have not been consistent and unified standards on granting name changes. Some courts have even made the standards strict, citing social confusion.

After the recent Supreme Court ruling, petitions for name changes are expected to be granted as long as a court sees no clear problems and negative impact from it. That will no doubt increase the number of petitions for name changes.

It was found on November 22 that Supreme Court judge Lee Kang-kuk overturned the original decision made by Uijeongbu District Court on a name change petition filed by Koo (35, Koyang City, Kyeonggi Province). Koo had originally not been granted a name change, and the case was referred back to the court on November 16.

The highest court said in its ruling, “A name is a symbol of one’s personality through which individuals express themselves. One’s right to a name is the right that individuals can decide for themselves as it is part of one’s constitutional right to personality and to pursue happiness. Therefore, a court should give a high priority to individual opinion (when deciding whether to grant a name change.)”

It added, “Because names are usually given by parents and there is no room for people to express their opinion when named, people could be dissatisfied with their names or suffer from them. It is neither just nor reasonable to force them to live with the names for the rest of their lives.”

In particular, the court said, “Even large corporations are free to change their names even though they have much greater and more complicated social and economic interest than individuals. Overemphasizing a negative impact that name changes can have on society and strictly limiting it could undermine one’s right to personality and to pursue happiness.”

Kang Il-won of Ministry of Court administration under the Supreme Court analyzed the ruling, saying, “In short, the ruling recognizes that ‘I have the right to decide what I am called.’”

Another judge said, “The ruling is also meaningful in that it unifies the standard on granting name changes. I know some people moved to different areas several times as every district court has different standards.”

In the first half of this year, 28,915 people applied for name changes. Among them, 23,731 (82%) were granted name changes.

So far, courts have not approved most of the name change petitions filed for the reason of individual opinion. That may be the reason why many have not even filed a petition.

Ji-Seong Jeon verso@donga.com wiseweb@donga.com