[KS] A new proposal on the Romanization of Korean Surnames

don kirk kirkdon at yahoo.com
Thu Jul 4 23:06:06 EDT 2013

Are they getting rid of "Choi" for Chae or Jae? I will never forget the Korean baseball player for the LA Dodgers a few years ago surnamed "Choi" whose name was always pronounced "Choy" by sportscasters etc. when that was nowhere near the correct pronunciation.
Don Kirk
On Thu, 7/4/13, Mark Russell <mrussell at pobox.com> wrote:

 Subject: [KS]   A new proposal on the Romanization of Korean Surnames
 To: "Korean Studies Discussion List" <koreanstudies at koreanstudies.com>
 Date: Thursday, July 4, 2013, 10:40 AM
 A few years ago,
 the Busan government suggested/ordered that the nice people
 at the Pusan International Film Festival update their name
 to reflect the official spelling. So today we have the
 However PiFan, the fantasy film festival in
 Bucheon, remains unchanged.
 I do believe "Pusan Perimeter" was
 judged by the Korean government to be "too famous"
 so that it is unchanged, too.
 I don't see what is the problem with
 "eo", "eu" and the like, as all
 languages have their spelling vagaries that have to be
 learned. There's no way I ever would have known by sight
 that "oiseau" (bird) in French should be
 pronounced "wazo". (Although, personally, I really
 dislike "oe" for 외, and wish something like
 "way" had been chosen.) As a native speaker of the
 language with by far the worst spelling regime in the world
 (English), I don't much like throwing stones in my glass
 The nice thing about the current RR system is
 that it works well with the Internet. Which is probably more
 important than speaking these days. 
 - Mark
 I was indeed involved in an attempt made some
 years back to review the romanization issue, with as a
 hidden agenda the reinstatement of MR as the official
 system. It was obvious from the start that the idea was
 doomed simply because the Internet was already flooded with
 tens of millions of RR romanizations. It would be a brave
 but foolish person who would suddenly try to persuade the
 world's airlines and travel companies that Incheon no
 longer exists, an ever braver but even more foolish one who
 might then try to make them put breves over the
 "o" of Inch'on. There was a move to propose a
 small revision of RR to change the very problematic forms
 "eo" and "eu" which are positively
 misleading for people who do not know Korean. That came to
 nothing essentially because nobody has as yet put forward
 any convincing alternative. The best idea, I think, would be
 to ignore the differences and use "o" and
 "u" for both "eo" and "o"
 "eu" and "u" sounds but no Korean would
 accept that.
 The main reason why there could in fact be no return to MR
 in my opinion is that there is no way of convincing a Korean
 (or most non-Koreans) that Cheju is "right" and
 "Jeju" is wrong, when the Hangeul spelling uses
 the same consonant twice. Koreans are the people performing
 the majority of romanizations and MR does not correspond to
 the way they feel their language (unless they are academic
 linguists, I suppose). The MR rules governing the changes
 between d/t, p/b, j/ch, k/g in MR make no sense to them (or
 When RR was promulgated, it was less than fully developed,
 there being a rush to impose it on the world. The most
 troubling feature was the failure of its inventors to
 consider the need for limited word lengths and clear
 indications of syllable breaks. The dogma of "no
 diacritics" was extended to include "no hyphens or
 apostrophes" and the result is the hideous set of
 unpronounceable names containing endless strings of
 consonants: Cheongyeollu, Hyeopgyeongdang, Geoncheonggung
 are halls in Gyeongbokgung; even worse are the dreadful new
 street names: Bukbuganseondoro, Gangbyeonbukno in Seoul,
 Gyeonhwonwanggungro, Jeonjujeonseoro, Seongjeongjungangro in
 Jeonju. I believe there has been no attempt by the Korean
 authorities to develop the necessary adaptations of RR
 corresponding to the Library of Congress guide to the subtle
 detailed applications of MR. That is one of the great
 problems, since there is nowhere in Korea any coherent
 political will that might operate profound change. Indeed
 that is good, since there are a number of people here ready
 with alternative romanization systems beside which RR is
 perfectly wonderful.
 Another issue neglected in 2000 was that of exceptions.
 Originally it was (I believe) decreed that universally
 accepted roman-alphabet spellings of (say) Pusan or Inchon
 (as in "Inchon Landing" should not be changed.
 Bureaucratic enthusiasm took no account of that, although I
 think we still have the Pusan International Film Festival
 held regularly in Busan (the registered name could not be
 changed). As for family names, I believe that common sense
 was the deciding factor. No Korean, even under the strongest
 dictator, has ever been willing to be told how to write
 their name in roman letters. In passports, each person has
 always been free to use the spelling of their choice. We
 were shown examples of the huge variety of spellings that
 have resulted, 12-15 or more for a single name. I note from
 today's posting that the stubborn urge to standardize
 the spelling of family names is still not dead. One valid
 reason is the probable inclusion of romanized names in
 future citizen ID cards. Obviously there has to be a fixed
 system; at the same time, as we know, most Kims will never
 agree to be written Gim, most Pa(r)ks will revolt against
 being written Bak. In any case, today's Koreans would
 never allow the Government to tell them how to write their
 names on their business cards. With the diversity of
 spellings found in passports, grave problems have arisen in
 foreign countries when Mr. Chough has tried to obtain visas
 for Miss Joh and Mr Chou, claiming that they were his
 The romanization ball lies with Koreans, today, and since
 each of them plays the game following his/her own very
 different rules (the game is not taught in schools), there
 is very little likelihood that much consensus will occur in
 the foreseeable future.
 Brother Anthony

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