PYEONGCHANG: When North Korea’s chef de mission at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in the South visited an athletes’ village fitness centre he made a point of cheerily greeting each volunteer by name, reading them off their badges.
But Won Gil-U came to a screeching halt when he met a young woman called Ko Jong-Un, a report said.
Her forename matches that of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, and Won – who is also Pyongyang’s vice sports minister – was stunned into silence.
After some moments he found his voice.
“When he turned to me, he stared at my name tag and froze for a few seconds without a word,” Ko was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency.
“Then, he said: ‘I wouldn’t dare to pronounce your name’. We all broke into hearty laughter.”
The ruling Kim dynasty is revered within North Korea, where Kim Jong-Un is normally referred to as “Supreme Leader” or “Respected Marshal”.
North Korean children are taught from an early age about the exploits of his father Kim Jong-Il and grandfather Kim Il-Sung, the North’s founder, and the two predecessors’ portraits are on display in every home and on propaganda billboards throughout the country.
Like some other Korean forenames, Jong-Un can be used for both men and women – although it is predominantly female.
Another North Korean official asked Ko about her job. She told him she is a student majoring in American culture at Sogang University in Seoul.
“Then he responded: ‘All Yankees must be punched’,” she said.
“This sparked more laughter.”