Would a mass murderer who placed his surname after the given be less sweet? The question hangs thick, as a traumatized populace woke up today to learn that the man we knew and loved as Cho Seung(-)Hui is in fact Seung-Hui Cho. From Editor & Publisher's artfully titled "Killer in Reverse":
BLACKSBURG, VA In a statement to the Associated Press today, the family of the student responsible for the Virginia Tech shootings says his name is Seung-Hui Cho not Cho Seung-Hui as first reported to the media by police and school officials.
The Asian American Journalists Association notes that while Korean names are traditionally written with the surname first, many families adopt the western order of surname last when they emigrate to the United States.
After the jump, WaPo's soul-searching editor's note on the topic and sundry other reactions as the press comes to terms with a super-tragedy that involves Facebook, text messages, and now immigrant name flip-flopping.In today's Times front-pager on gun laws by Michael Luo (Luo Michael?), the killer goes by the westernized Seung-Hui Cho. For comparison's sake, yesterday's typically overlong Bill Carter account of those videos sent to NBC News, went with Cho Seung-Hui. So somebody got the memo. But you don't have to be Yao Ming to know where the Times really stands on the issue: over at the Times Topics page for the shootings, all articles are still tagged with "Cho Seung-Hui."
Confused? This is why every paper should constantly explain themselves like the Washington Post, if only to avoid seeming at all insensitive to people whose sensitivity-boundaries we're not quite sure about:
Cho was an immigrant from South Korea, where family surnames are written first, followed by two-syllable given names. The given names are sometimes hyphenated. Many East Asian immigrants shift the order of the names as part of their adaptation to life in the United States.
The Post's policy is to defer, when possible, to the individual's or the family's preference on whether the surname is written first or last. In this instance, Cho himself appears to have written his name both ways, and the family had not stated a preference. The Post therefore had followed the practice of Virginia Tech and Virginia State Police, which have consistently put the family name first in references to Cho.
Ahh, if only he'd settle on a name order, Cho's "adaptation to life in the United States" might have worked out a whole lot less terroristically. Of course, Society Must Be Defended, and there's a limit to deference:
Yesterday, however, the Associated Press reported that the Cho family, which issued a statement regarding the tragedy, said its preference was to give the name as Seung Hui Cho. The Post thus will now place the surname at the end. The Post's style is not to hyphenate the given names.
As usual, a house style means never having to give an explanation, so you, dear reader, can try to figure out what's wrong with hyphens. Meanwhile, over at the less stylish rags, USA Today is going with a wire-constructed piece titled "Gunman's Family Feels Hopeless." As well they should, considering their son's Cho Seung Hui there, lacking both the hyphen and the preferred word order.
And finally, the Post (of New York, which doesn't do editor's notes, and barely does editors) sticks with old reliable Cho Seung-Hui today, dying wishes be damned. Unfortunately, they don't tidy up the AP reports piped onto their website, so some Post readers will also be getting Seung-Hui Cho, quickly becoming the new standard. So wait, there were how many shooters?