[KS] A new proposal on the Romanization Korean Surnames

Sangoak Lee sangoak2 at gmail.com
Thu Jul 4 02:46:28 EDT 2013

*On the Romanization of Korean Surnames *

Sang-Oak Lee

(Seoul National University)

The current official system of Romanization adopted by the Ministry of
Culture in 2000 states that "surnames are not required to follow the new
system." This has created a situation in which long used popular forms, the
current Ministry of Culture (MC or RR) system, and the McCune-Reischauer
(MR) system are all being used for surnames based on individual preference.
The situation has created considerable confusion and the Korean government
has asked the ‘SNU team’ to gather opinions and conduct research on the
issue with the aim of creating a reasonable system for Romanizing Korean
surnames. The issue is particularly important for Koreans who live and work
overseas and who work extensively in international fields. Further
discussion in Koreanstudies-request will help us a great deal in developing
a rationale proposal that could gain quite wide acceptance.

A questionnaire was used to survey the opinions of members of the general
public as well as participants in the ICKL Workshop. Examination of the
specific content of each question on the survey entitled “Degrees of
Preference and Dispreference for the Romanization of Korean Surnames” reveals
that the first group of items on the questionnaire were meant to confirm
the degrees of preference of the general public regarding the 27 most
prevalent Korean surnames. The method employed was to present a Romanized
form of each surname as an example, and to determine the form considered
most appropriate according to the preferences of the subjects, yet due to
length considerations the content of these first question 27 questions has
been omitted here.

 An attempt will now be made to organize the results of the questionnaire
concerning Romanized forms. The points to be focused on in this
presentation and analysis of the survey are: (1) the degrees of preference
about the style of Romanization of sounds such as the onset consonants ‘ㄱ’
and ‘ㅈ,’ the medial vowels ‘ㅓ’ and ‘ㅜ,’ and liquids; (2) the degrees of
preference about four proposals; (3) the styles of Romanization already
known to Korean and international subjects; (4) the intention of
international subjects to use a new method of Romanization; (5) the
avoidance of negative word nuance; (6) opinions in support of or against
the use of diacritics; and (7) the purposes, standards (etc.) of Korean

The degrees of preference regarding an initial ‘ㄱ’ sound indicated
approximately 54% approval for the Romanized form ‘K’ and 46% for ‘G,’
confirming a somewhat higher degree of preference for the former. For an
initial ‘ㅈ’ sound the degrees of preference stood at 79% for ‘J’ and 21%
for ‘Ch.’ However, in the case of the surname ‘조’ the degree of preference
for ‘Ch’ was relatively higher, with the spelling ‘Cho’ rated at 46% as
opposed to 54% for ‘Jo.’ This is considered to be due to the strong
influence of spelling conventions for the case of the surname ‘조,’ and
excluding this particular surname, the total degree of preference for an
initial ‘ㅈ’ sound came out at about 85% in favor of ‘J.’

For the medial vowel ‘ㅓ’ the results of the survey indicated a higher
degree of preference for the Romanized form ‘eo,’ which received
approximately 62% approval in comparison to ‘u’ at 38%. For the medial
vowel ‘ㅜ’ the form ‘oo’ was rated higher than ‘u,’ with degrees of
preference of about 55% and 45%, respectively. However, if we separate the
survey results of Korean participants from those of foreign participants
and examine them once again, it is revealed that the proportions of
preference for the Romanized form of the medial vowel ‘ㅜ’ are divided
according to nationality, with Korean participants choosing ‘oo’ over ‘u’
at a ratio of 61:39 in contrast to the ratio of 39:61 for foreigners.

Out of all the surnames included in the survey, some of the surnames (노, 유,
이, 임, etc.) involved the representation of liquid sounds, but because the
preferences regarding the Romanization of these liquid sounds differed
greatly according to particular surnames, the results must be analyzed
separately for different names. To begin with, the degree of preference for
representing the surname ‘노’ with a liquid consonant (e.g. Ro, Roh) was
quite low at 14%, while that for the surname ‘유’ was even lower, with the
Romanized form ‘Ryu’ receiving a mere 3% approval rating. In contrast, the
degrees of preference for representing the initial sounds of the surnames ‘이’
and ‘임’ with a liquid consonant were high, with the preference for ‘Lee’
indicated as 70% and that for ‘Lim’ at 46%. These results are analyzed as
being due to the influence of spelling conventions.

Regarding the proposed plan to avoid Romanized forms of Korean surnames
which share the same orthographic representation as English words with
negative meanings (e.g. Bang, Gang), responses indicating opinions of
approval took up about 68% of the total. Looking only at the responses of
Korean participants, approval for the proposal to avoid these forms rises
to roughly 72%. For the surnames ‘노’ and ‘신’ which are connected to this
problem, the Romanized forms ‘No’ and ‘Sin’ received preference ratings of
37% and 36% respectively, figures which are high in comparison to the 32%
of responses which indicated that avoidance of these orthographic
representations is unnecessary. Accordingly, these results can be analyzed
as reflecting that the degrees of preference reported above have no
connection to opinions regarding the problem of spelling avoidance.

Approximately 72% of participants indicated opposition to the use of
diacritics (e.g. breves, apostrophes). Furthermore, regarding the degrees
of preference for the four different forms of Romanization, the 2001
proposal of the National Institute of the Korean Language (presented as
Proposal #1 on the survey) received approval from about 39% of the surveyed
participants, a higher degree of support than for any of the other
proposals. This proposal allows for the use of popular forms for some
surnames (e.g. Kim, Lee) along with the systematically prescribed forms
(e.g. Gim, Yi), and if these points are reflected in the results of the
above survey, we can come to the conclusion that the recommended proposal
will discourage the use of diacritics while encouraging the appropriate use
of popularized Romanized forms for some Korean surnames.

For the survey question regarding the four different forms of Romanization,
the most preferred proposal by foreign participants (at 33%) was Proposal
#4, which grafts together the MR (McCune-Reischauer) and MC (Ministry of
Culture) proposals. However, when asked whether they would consider it
acceptable if the Korean government chose a new and somewhat unstructured
system of Romanization, based on popular forms and differing from the four
presented proposals, it was revealed that only about 54% of foreign
participants expressed an intention to use such a system. If this result is
taken into account, it can be determined that the recommended proposal for
the Romanization of Korean surnames can become widely applied both
domestically and internationally only if it espouses a form of Romanization
which is both systematic and appropriately in harmony with the existing
form of orthographic representation.

When asked which forms of Romanized Korean they were already familiar with,
54% of Korean and foreign participants indicated that they were not
familiar with any specific form, while the remaining participants indicated
the highest degrees of recognition for the MC, MR and MY (Martin-Yale)
proposals, in that order. Despite the relatively short history of the
existing proposal, which was established in the year 2000, the fact that it
received the highest degree of recognition (at 29%) suggests that the
government’s policy has had a correspondingly large degree of influence.

Although this question did not appear on the survey administered to foreign
participants, when Korean participants were asked about the purpose and
standards upon which their opinions regarding the Romanization of Korean
names were based, the most popular response was ‘passport issuance’ at 40%,
followed by ‘school instruction’ at 35%. Since these are both connected to
activities within the public sphere, it can be taken as a basis for
concluding that the government’s policy to propagate a system of
Romanization has had a powerful influence. However, it is impossible to say
in reality that the government has displayed strong control over the
situation based solely on the spread of their system for Romanizing Korean
surnames. This is because, as the points referred to below indicate,
surnames exist in a domain which is intimately connected to the
characteristics and identity of individuals. Thus, if a method of
Romanization for surnames is to be established, it cannot be concluded in
advance that this method of orthographic representation can be smoothly and
easily propagated merely according to the will of the government.

The following proposal has been prepared based on the above survey. It is
hoped that this proposal will pass through a public hearing and be
officially announced by the Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

*The Romanization of Surnames (Recommended Proposal)*

In the Romanization method which has been in effect since the year 2000,
the following stipulations regarding the principles for the Romanization of
names should be inserted after the section entitled ‘Item 4 (2) The
Romanization of surnames will be set separately.’

(A) The characters ‘ㄱ’ and ‘ㅂ’ will be represented as ‘K’ and ‘B,’
respectively (with the sole exception of Park/박, for which ‘P’ can be
used), and the names ‘이’ and ‘조’ can be standardized as ‘Lee’ and ‘Jo.’ The
vowels ‘ㅓ’ and ‘우’ can be partially represented as ‘u’ and ‘oo,’
respectively, and popularized forms such as Noh, Lim, Shin, Shim, Ah, Oh,
Woo, Woon, Choi will be permitted. [Refer to the *Surname Inventory* below
for details.]

(B) Other allowed proposals will be shown parenthetically, with the
selected proposal listed first as the main form, and secondarily in
parentheses the form represented according to the system of Romanization
used prior to the year 2000 (or another representation), so that the
relationship between the existing proposal and the popularized
representation can be seen. For example: 노무석 No Mu-seok (No Mu-sǒk) or Noh
Mu-seok (Ro Moo-suk).

(C) Sound changes that occur in Korean pronunciation will not be reflected
in the Romanized forms. For example, even though the actual Korean
pronunciation of the name ‘박명일’ can be represented more accurately as ‘Bang
Myeong-il,’ the unchanged popularized form of the surname ‘Park’ will be
used. Incidentally, a rule has already been previously established to
prevent the mispronunciation of the name ‘명일’ as ‘Myeon-gil’ instead of
‘Myeong-il’ by means of an inserted hyphen.
(D) With the exception of the cases presented above, any problems that may
arise regarding the Romanization of surnames will be settled according to
the current system of Romanization.
김 *KIM   노 **RO or NO   *문 *MOON or MUN   박**PARK*
이(李) *LEE    *이(異) *YI      *임(林) *LIM   *임(任)*  IM*
**정 *JUNG or JEONG  *조 *JO  *초 *CHO *


이상억 Sang-Oak Lee/www.sangoak.com
Prof. Emeritus, Dep't of Korean
College of Humanities, Seoul Nat'l Univ.
Seoul 151-745, Korea
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