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Why Koreans pointed out two 'Joes' at inauguration

The last name of the head of Biden's Secret Service detail, David Cho, is pronounced like "Jo," and Koreans had jokes.
Image: Joe Biden, Jill Biden
President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden and Secret Service agent David Cho walk to the White House during a Presidential Escort on Wednesday.Jose Luis Magana / Pool via AP

Photos of David Cho, a Korean American Secret Service agent reported to have been chosen to run President Joe Biden's protective detail, as he stood behind the president at the inauguration quickly went viral among the Korean community Wednesday.

Cho, who would be the first Asian American special agent in charge of the president's detail, had Koreans celebrating their traditional family values in a unique way. Cho, pronounced "Jo" in Korean, quickly became a pun, with some people saying there were two "Joes" in the spotlight.

"An honor for the Cho clan! Even President Biden is from the Cho family," a user on Naver, a Korean online platform similar to Google, said in a message that was reposted to Twitter and translated by NBC News.

Cho, who served under former President Donald Trump and worked his way up to second-in-command of the protective detail, was jokingly dubbed the pride of the Cho family — along with Biden.

"Eyeing the bodyguard's name ... Was he picked because he's from the 'Jo' family. Looks like America can't ignore blood ties too," a Twitter user joked in Korean.

The pun proved to be fun wordplay, but it also highlighted the country's centuries-old tradition of paying homage to one's ancestral line. Koreans have long celebrated the heritage carried by their family names, which trace roots to one's standing, clan and ancestral village.

"For many centuries in Korea, surnames were rare among anyone but royalty and the aristocracy," wrote Lorraine Murray, a former editor at Encyclopedia Britannica.

From the 10th to the 14th centuries, surnames were a favor granted by the kings in the Goryeo dynasty. By the late 18th century, commoners were adopting surnames for social and economic advantage; Kim, Lee and Park indicating lofty clans and became popular choices, explaining the surnames' prevalence today.

By the late 1800s, the practice had grown after Japanese colonizers abolished the class system and forced Koreans to take on surnames.

"The further back their family tree can be traced, the more credit society gives them," notes an article for the Korea Foundation, a public diplomacy nonprofit based in Korea. The tradition persists today, with Koreans feeling a sense of kinship if they are from the same clan of a family.

And Koreans on Twitter made that clear.

"Ah, Joe Biden's relative David Cho," one user joked in Korean.

"Joe Biden's chief guard David Cho 2021... the Cho family seizes the White House!" another tweeted.

Others simply wrote, "David Cho Biden."