So I’ve decided to add a category for cultural tidbits that don’t need much explanation. Today’s Did You Know…? is one I found out about only after I goofed on our son’s first birthday cake. Here it is.
Did you know that it’s taboo in Korea to write someone’s name in red ink?
Some of you are probably thinking, “But red is the color ink that comes with a name chop so it can’t be taboo.” Well, both are true. Red ink is the color most used with a 도장 (dojang, name chop).
But when writing with ink, one should never write someone’s name in red since the color is associated with death and red ink is used to record a deceased person’s name in the family register.
So I learned this on the day of our son’s first birthday celebration (his “dol”). My husband brought in the store-bought cake with Mickey Mouse decorations and “Happy Birthday” and our son’s name in red. Our friend, who grew up in Korea and was hosting our son’s dol, gasp and explained that names should never been written in red. In fact, it bothered her so much that she recommended we not send photos of the cake to Korea.
Well, it ended up that our son didn’t like eating his store-bought cake anyway, and much preferred a Korean pear, so there wasn’t a big sentimental attachment to the cake. But it’s something that’s stuck in my mind since then, especially when ordering birthday cakes.