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Understanding the naming conventions of other cultures is important for an investigator or for anyone wishing to certainly and correctly identify people in our diverse country. The following column is an attempt to assist the reader in correctly applying the conventions of uniquely ethnic names so identification is possible. This article should not be interpreted as indicating any unusual prevalence of any specific ethnic group toward unlawful or immoral activities, since no such intention exists. In each issue of “The John Cooke Fraud Report,” we will explore the mysteries of the naming practices of different ethnic cultures. In this issue, we look at Korean names.
Korean is the official language of North and South Korea. It is spoken by well over 50 million people. Korean speakers are concentrated in the Korean peninsula as well as in China, Japan and parts of the former Soviet Union.
Chinese has had a large influence on the Korean language. Over half of the vocabulary of Korean is said to have come from Chinese, and the earliest Korean language records are written in Chinese pictographic characters. A separate Korean alphabet was invented in A.D. 1443 by King Seo Jong. Originally the alphabet contained 11 vowels and 17 consonants. In 1730, the alphabet was simplified and four symbols were dropped.
Today the alphabet contains 10 vowels and 14 consonants.
It is often difficult to translate directly between Korean and English sounds because some do not have a direct correlation. Sounds that are distinctive in English, for example “K” and “G,” are translated by a single Korean letter which falls somewhere between the two. A separate, harder “K” sound is represented by a different Korean character. Therefore, Koreans named Kang who arrive in an English-speaking country may find their name translated as either Gang or Kang. In the same way, a “B” may be translated as either a “B” or a “P.”
Other spelling irregularities can occur when a Korean name is similar to an English name or word. For example the name Yung could be translated as Young simply because it is the recognized English spelling for that combination of sounds. In the same fashion, one of the most common Korean family names, if the sounds were properly translated into English, would be written as Bocg. However, whether because of tradition or poor translation, Koreans with the name Bocg who come to the United States most often receive an official translation of their name to Park. Other possible translations of Bocg are Pak and Paek. Other names that are often changed to fit our patterns are Su, which can become Sue, or Mo, which can become Moe.
Korean names usually consist of three one-syllable words. The first syllable is the family name. The second and third syllables are the given name. A typical Korean name might be Kim Je Young.
The majority of Korean families are named Ghim, Bocg, Jong and Rhee or Ee. When these names are translated into English, they are rarely translated exactly. Ghim becomes Kim; Bocg becomes Park, Pak or Pack; Jong becomes Chong; and Rhee becomes Yi or Lee. Other common family names are Choi or Cho, Kang or Gang, and Hong.
Korean given names consist of two one-syllable words. The names are chosen both for their meaning and for their sound combinations. Some typical given names would be Jun Mo, Uh Sook, Je Yung, Dong Ku, and Sue Min.
Possibilities for confusion exist when the two-syllable given name is forced to fit into an English mold. The two syllables are separated into the equivalent of our first and middle names and the order of the name is often changed to reflect our “first-middle-last” preferred order. A Korean named Kang Uh Sook might be listed as Kang Uh Sook ; Uh Sook; Uh Suk Gang or even Ooh Gang. Other Koreans, especially young people, may Americanize their names. Jun becomes John or Jon. Hong becomes Hank or Han. Dong becomes Don.
Claims professionals who are working with Korean names need to keep these variations in mind when submitting names for indexing. As with other nationalities that do not follow American naming traditions, it may be advisable to index under various combinations of the claimant’s name; to substitute similar sounding letters, such as “G” for “K” or “B” for “P,” or to try different spellings of the name. If your claimant’s name is Park, try Bocg, Paek or Pak. If the name is Kim Dong Ku, try those same three syllables with varying spellings and word orders. A little flexibility and creativity could pay off.
Figuring out which is the first name and which is the last name can sometimes pose problems for American investigators who are not familiar with Korean names. They are also confused when a comma separates the two names. Naming experts say that no one uses a comma in their name, but sometimes when people Romanize their names, they add a comma to distinguish their given name from their family name.
Given names are usually two characters, almost always hyphenated in Romanization. There are only a few hyphenated last names — Son-u and Nam-gung are the most common, It is usually safe to assume that the single character name is the surname and the hyphenated one is the given name. Outside of their home country, Koreans usually put their given name first. In Korea, the opposite is usually true, especially people in public life — the names you see in the newspaper.
Within the family and social hierarchies, individuals go by different titles. This reinforces one’s place in the hierarchy. For example, a girl calls her older brother, oppa, her older sister onni, but her younger brothers and sisters are called by their given names. A boy calls his older brother hyong, his older sister nuna and his younger bothers and sisters by their given names. Maternal aunts and 1111cl 11.1%, different titles from paternal mints and uncles and so on. At work, people usually go by their surname and their work title. For example, President Chang (Chang Park), Director Kim (Kim ).
The John Cooke Fraud Report would like to thank three Korean individuals who assisted in the preparation of this article, Jun Mo Gang, Dr. Samuel Park, and Michelle Paek.
If you are a new subscriber, you may be interested in obtaining back issues of The John Cooke Fraud Report. In previous issues we have covered the naming traditions of many other cultures.
© 2000 John Cooke Fraud Report