Thursday, April 23, 2020

Korean Names

Korean Writing (Hungul) for South Korea
A while back I watched Parasite, the Korean film that won the best picture Oscar. And it reminded me of something I don't understand, at least not since I studied the Korean language in the military. And that is when certain names in Korean are anglicized, we add letters and sounds to them.

In their anglicized form, the three most common (by far) Korean surnames are Kim, Park, and Lee.

Now "Kim" we don't mess with. But Park and Lee are not how they are pronounced in Korean.

Park is actually "Pak" with a short "a." Sort of like a Bostonian saying "Park." The middle vowel sound is like "ahhh." So why, when it is anglicized, do we add an "r" and pronounce it "Park"? Is "Pak" too hard for English speakers to say? I doubt it.

In my novel Hammer of Thor, my hero meets (and falls in love with) a Korean woman named Pak Me-young. Not understanding that Koreans (and most Asian cultures) put the family or surname first, he thinks her first name is Pak. Which he changes to "Peg" because he can't understand why a beautiful woman would be named "Pak." Yeah, he's an idiot. Part of his character arc.

The other name that is changed when anglicized is "Lee" which is also sometimes anglicized as Ree or Rhee. It is actually pronounced in Korean as "Ee." That is just a long "e" sound. Not Lee. Or Rhee. Or Ree. But why? Can't English speakers say "Ee"?

I was watching a M*A*S*H rerun a while back, and they called someone "Mr. Pak." I was impressed. It's one of the few times I've heard that name pronounced correctly in popular culture by Americans.

If you have any idea why this is done, let me know in the comments below. If you have an opinion on this, let me know in the comments below.

And the Korean Hangul writing above is pronounced "Hankook." It means "Korea."

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