If you’ve been binge-watching the latest K-drama hit “Doctor Cha” on Netflix, you might have noticed something interesting about how the main character, Cha Jung-sook, and her husband, Seo In-ho, refer to each other. They call each other “Jung-min’s mom” and “Jung-min’s dad” instead of using their actual names.
Non-Korean speakers wouldn’t normally notice this in most K-dramas, but towards the end of Episode 2 of Doctor Cha, Seo In-ho tries to call Cha Jung-sook, and the subtitles clearly show that his wife is listed in his phone contacts as “Jung-min’s mom.”
To the average western viewer that’s not familiar with Korean culture, this probably looks really weird. Is this just these two, or do all married couples in Korea do this?
It might seem like this peculiar way of addressing each other is because Cha Jung-sook and Seo In-ho have a really strained relationship. After all, she is on a journey of self-discovery, while he is portrayed as an unsupportive husband secretly having an affair. There’s actually more to this than meets the eye, though. Let’s dive into this fascinating cultural practice that goes beyond the world of K-dramas.
How Korean parents refer to each other
In Korean culture, it’s common for married couples to refer to each other by their children’s names, particularly when they become parents. This practice is rooted in the importance of family values and the Confucian tradition that has shaped Korean society for centuries. Confucianism emphasizes respect for one’s elders, and addressing someone by their name can be seen as a sign of disrespect or lack of closeness (in some ways the opposite of how personal names are used in Europe and North America).
When couples become parents, they often adopt this way of addressing each other as a sign of respect and to emphasize their new roles as mothers and fathers. By referring to each other by their children’s names, they are highlighting the importance of their children in their lives and acknowledging their shared responsibility in raising them.
Of course, not all married couples in Korea follow this tradition, but it is still quite prevalent, especially among the older generation. In K-dramas like “Doctor Cha,” you’ll see this practice used to give the characters and their relationships a sense of authenticity and connection to Korean culture (just check it out of Netflix if you want to see for yourself).
So, next time you’re watching a K-drama and the married characters refer to each other by their children’s names, you’ll know it’s not just a quirky detail or a sign of a troubled relationship. It’s a fascinating cultural practice that reflects the importance of family in Korean society.