The Post reported that North Korea is forcing people who have the same name as leader Kim Jong-un’s daughter, Ju-ae, to change their name. There is speculation that Kim is grooming his daughter, recently seen at high-profile public events, to be his successor. No other details have emerged from the highly secretive country regarding the name change . Does it affect only names with identical hanja (Chinese characters), or all names spelled with the same hangul , the Korean phonetic alphabet? Do most North Koreans even use hanja for their names any more? We simply do not know. The name-change directive represents another similarity between Kim Jong-un’s regime and the feudal monarchies of centuries past; decreeing name changes in the general population to avoid name taboos is exactly what rulers in East Asia used to do. Like so many aspects of culture and politics in East Asia, the concept of name taboos originated in China, where it is known as bihui . There were several categories of bihui in China in ancient times, but the one that caused the most inconvenience was to do with the names of emperors . Parents were forbidden from giving their newborn children names that contained any of the characters in the emperor’s name. When a new emperor ascended to the throne, his (or her) name became taboo, and those whose names contained any characters included in the name had to change their names. Thankfully, the imperial surname was not taboo. For written texts, writers would substitute the taboo characters for another, or add or subtract a stroke to the original to keep the meaning while differentiating it slightly. Sometimes, they even left a blank space in place of the taboo character. In conversations, people replaced the taboo word with a similar sounding one or garbled it to avoid accusations of lese majesty and its associated punishments , which, in serious cases, was death. Bihui also had somewhat arbitrary applications. Apart from the emperor’s name, names of any persons that the government of the day deemed sufficiently eminent could become taboo as well. This is exactly what’s happening now in North Korea – talk about walking on eggshells. Having said that, the taboo against using, writing or saying the taboo words in ancient China wasn’t always strictly enforced. Hello China: the 4 classes of tourist in ancient times, from emperors down Taboos surrounding certain words continue to exist today in Chinese culture. These don’t involve people’s names like in the past, and using them doesn’t constitute breaking the law. The most well-known example of this is the Chinese aversion to saying unlucky words – or words that sound like unlucky words. This avoidance of bad words is deemed so important that some words with innocuous meanings have had their pronunciations changed to avoid sounding unlucky. For example, Cantonese speakers refer to the tongue as lei instead of sit because lei sounds like “profit” and sit sounds like “loss”. In property advertisements in Hong Kong, agents never use the word hung (“empty”) to denote a unit that’s available for rent, even though its meaning is appropriate. The Cantonese word for “empty” sounds exactly like the word for “ominous” or “inauspicious”. Describing a house as hung , therefore, implies the house is haunted or the scene of an unnatural death. The word gat (which sounds like “lucky”) is used instead. I’m sure we can agree it’s a good thing that imperial name taboos enforced by law are a thing of the past (unless you’re in North Korea). As for taboos to do with luck, I wouldn’t mind renting or buying a flat on the “floor of death” (the fourth floor; four, sei , sounds like “death” in Cantonese) if everything else about the property is fine, and it costs a lot less.