[KS] Re: WSJ article

otfried at cs.ust.hk otfried at cs.ust.hk
Tue Dec 14 08:16:10 EST 1999

 >     The answer at which the reporter hints is that the standardization 
 > would actually result from greater government enforcement.  He writes 
 > "Fearful of unleashing even more linguistic chaos, the government will
 > allow some exceptions in the spelling of personal and company names."
 > Wow!
 >     Nobody now considers that Hyundai, Samsung, and Daewoo, or for that
 > matter the Kookmin and Hanvit Banks, not to mention Shim Jae-kee, spell
 > their names at government sufferance.  It's a free country!
 >     My question to the list:  Is this just bad reporting, or is there an
 > Orthographic Big Brother aspect to the reromanization proposal?  Perhaps
 > I just need to get over reading an article about Quebec's language 
 > police.

Actually, in most countries citizens are not free to spell their name
anyway they like, at least not in official documents.  (It would
certainly take me quite some time, hassle, and money, to get the name
changed in my passport.)

As far as I know, when citizens apply for a passport in Hong Kong,
most of China, or Japan, the government makes up the romanized form of
the name by standard rules.  I don't know about other countries, but
would be very interested to learn about, for instance, Russia, Israel,
or the Arabic-writing world.

I believe that Korea is actually rather an exception in giving
citizens much freedom in selecting the spelling of their own name on
official documents.  Koreans do exploit this freedom---for instance,
after getting a poor performance in an academic test such as the GRE,
they will request a new passport with a differently spelled name to
disconnect the test record from their application to school in the US.

It is not quite clear to me how far the freedom actually goes.  Can a
Korean with last name /Cho^ng/ request a passport issued on the name
"Miller", explaining that it is pronounced /Cho^ng/?  I seem to
remember having seen Korean passports of women married to foreigners
where the woman carries the husband's last name.  This would be such a
case, since the woman's name in Korean records has not changed at all.
Does anybody have some reliable information on the government's rules
in allowing personal names?

So, I wouldn't consider it bad reporting at all, on the contrary,
useful information for an international audience.

Otfried Cheong

ps. Could you please turn off HTML while posting messages to the list?
It would be much appreciated.


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