Thursday, December 17, 2009

Romanization of Korean Family Names

Korean family names often have a variety of spellings when they are romanized. This is due to a number of reasons. One is the spelling reform which changed the romanization of Korean and another is the inherent difficulties of representing family names with a different writing system. Also, many people prefer to keep the traditional spelling and thus have no desire to change it.

The three most common Korean family names are Kim, Park and Lee. In Korean they are 김, 박 and 이. The surname "Lee" is traditionally spelt with these three letters but in fact, the Korean pronunciation of the name is equivalent to "ee". It consists of a single vowel. However, the spelling "Ee" is never used for the surname.

The surname "Kim" is pronounced with an unaspirated velar plosive. Under the latest spelling reform, unaspirated velar plosives are now represented by a "g". As a result, the revised spelling of this name is "Gim". However, this spelling is not common. Without question, the traditional spelling dominates.

The surname "Park" can be spelt in many ways. The spelling "Park" is closest to the Korean pronunciation when it is pronounced with a non-rhotic accent because there is no liquid in the pronunciation of this name. Other spellings include "Pak", "Bark" and "Bak".

The surname "Lee" also has a variety of spellings. Other possible spellings of this common name are "Rhee" and "Yi". However, the traditional spelling "Lee" remains the most common. In fact, this family name is also very common in Chinese.

Other Korean family names can also be spelt in a number of ways. Here is a list of Korean family names with different possible spellings:

Kwon, Gwon, Kweon, Kwan
Jang, Chang
Jeong, Chung, Jung, Joung, Cheong
Yu, Yoo, You

The latest spelling reform changed the spelling of the "u" with the sound of the "u" in "up" to "eo". Traditionally, this sound was also represented by the letters "ou" as in "young". However, the traditional spelling of Korean family names remains popular.

Korean family names often have a variety of spellings in the Roman alphabet. In many cases a traditional spelling exists alongside a revised spelling. In other cases, the variety is due to the different possible ways of representing Korean pronunciation in Roman letters. However, it appears that the traditional spelling remains more popular than the revised one.

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