[KS] RR romanization rules and conventions

Richard McBride rick_mcbride17 at hotmail.com
Tue Jul 2 19:26:33 EDT 2013

Dear Colleagues

I do not read I for 이 (李)  as being 
stipulated by the Korean government. The document says: "Proper names 
such as personal names and those of companies may continue to be written
 as they have been previously" (see 
http://www.korean.go.kr/eng/roman/roman.jsp).  To me this means that the
 RR system does not enforce one kind of romanization on people's names 
and they are free to choose what they want.  Therefore, Samsung 삼성 does not have to change its name to Samseong, Doosan 두산 does not have to be Dusan, KIA 기아 does not have to be  GIA, and Hanwha 한화 does not have to be Hanhwa.  To me this statement is a conscious choice to ambiguous because _I_ looks awful as a surname and would probably be pronouced as _ai_ rather than as _ee_.

One of first journals to embrace the Revised Romanization (RR) first promulgated by the Ministry of Culture and Sports (now the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism) is the Korea Journal.

Back in 2005 I published an article in the journal and was informed regarding the basic rules regarding the romanization of names using the RR system:  The first rule is that if individuals have selected their own romanization, this should be used instead of the RR system.  So, Syngman Rhee, Lee Myung Bak, Park Chung Hee are the official romanizations of these political leaders, just as Lee Ki-baik, Lee Kidong, Kim Jung Bae, Choe Kwang Sik, Noh Tae Don, and Lee Jong-Wook are the official romanizations of these Korean historians.

For people who don't have an official romanization of their name, my understanding at the time was that the RR system approved Lee for 이 , Park for 박, and Kim for 김, not withstanding the fact that according to the RR system 이 (李) should be I, 박 (朴) should be Bak, 김 (金) should be Gim, and 최 (崔) should be Choi.  All other surnames that might pose a problem, such as 강 (姜) follow the RR system and hence in this case is romanized as Gang.  The explanation that was given was that Lee, Park, Kim, and Choi are so well established that they are acceptable.  At least, that is what the editors forced me to accept in 2005.  I wish I had it documented because I remember looking at a website that presented this kind of information.

I have colleagues and friends who work for government organizations that romanize their surnames as they want and not according to the RR system.  Nobody uses Gim to romanize 김 if they have a choice.  In fact, just looking at my business cards of scholars shows that few people (if any) follow the RR system as it is explained.  People tend to adopt _eo_ or _eu_ in some cases, but not all.  Of course, these two elements existed long before the RR system.

However, the fact is that most people do not really understand the RR system.  It is not taught to students in Korea, and even in the most recent issues of the Korea Journal, we see Yi as a romanization for 이 (李).  This basic confusion regarding how to properly romanize names--which as has been pointed out is one of the primary uses for a romanization system--is one of the primary weak points of the RR system.    

Furthermore, the RR system has been forced to be more accommodating because, frankly speaking, it is just as bad in helping people pronounce Korean words as pinyin is for Chinese words.  For instance, Koguryo has been made an official romanization for 고구려, probably because most people (who do not already know Korean) cannot come close to the proper pronunciation with Goguryeo.  At best I get "Go-gu-ray-o."

My experience has been that for students who do not already know Korean they do not know what to do with _eo_ and _eu_.  Most non-Koreans separate the vowels when they read a word written in RR.

Can anyone else confirm my experience with the transliteration of Korean surnames using Lee, Park, Kim, Choi, and so forth?

Rick McBride
Department of History
Brigham Young University-Hawaii

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://koreanstudies.com/pipermail/koreanstudies_koreanstudies.com/attachments/20130702/5ab2638d/attachment.html>

More information about the Koreanstudies mailing list