My Name in Korea[n]

A few responses have come in for my post about Names That Ain’t Workin’ so I figured I’d add something about my name, the use of “foreign” names, and more.

First, the last issue. I don’t really see the point in taking on a foreign name. Sure, it would give Koreans something to call me that would be easy for them to pronounce, and avoid them mangling my real name. (Which they sometimes do.) But I like to think human beings, languages, and cultures are flexible things. I like to think I could live in another culture and keep my own name.

To do this, though, you need a certain flexibility of your own. You need to be ready to see your name spelled “wrong,” and take it with a certain grace and amusement. For example, the name credit for the first story of mine translated into Korean (in this book) is spelled “고드 셀라.”  In fact, I have also seen it spelled other ways, like “고든 셀랄” (which ignores that I go by Gord, not Gordon, and which adds another L where there should be an R).

In fact, I spell my name in Hangeul this way: 고드 셀러. It’s a compromise, the ㄹ러 at the end meaning the “R” is swallowed, but then, it often is anyway when some Anglophones say it (and that’s how my father pronounced it all his life).

I can’t call such a thing “name discrimination” (as I’ve seen it called elsewhere) because, well, it seems too overblown to me, for my own experience with this kind of thing. It’s just people getting a name wrong. Not a big deal. Maybe because at least I could expect people would get it close to right for most of my childhood. (Even if, thanks to a famous hockey player, lots of people wanted to call me “Gordy” or “Gordie” — which, like my father before me: he was another “Gordon” — I absolutely hate. Calling me Gordie is a good way to experience pain very quickly.) Even if I got teased because suddenly it stopped being a Scottish name and became an alien name… ah, yes, Alf, who, like me, played the saxophone. Er…actually, I think it’s just a the way the image from the season 3-4 intro stuck in everyone’s heads, but:

Anyway, my point isn’t that I was victimized. I pretty much think it’s amusing, funny, no big deal. It’s life. At least, that’s the attitude I expect an adult to have about these things.

I get people’s names wrong sometimes too. Or forget them. Er, sorry, in advance, if I forget your name. I don’t even mean just Korean names. Sometimes I remember a face, but not a name. (By sometimes, I mean often.)

Some people suck at names, too. That’s also just a part of life.

8 thoughts on “My Name in Korea[n]

  1. So no “고르드 셀러르” for you? Heh.

    I think a lot of the Korean ambivalence about how to treat final “-er” or “-ar” sounds stems from the mixed history of British and North American English taught on the peninsula.


  2. Kevin,

    Well, I find letting the last “ar” drop off sounds better than adding a whole syllable. The extra “eu” is off-putting to me.

    I figure it’d be an issue anyway — you have to make a choice, either drop the “-er/-ar” or add a whole extra syllable, that’s just how Korean works.

    One interesting thing I heard a student suggest is that the Korean alphabet needs more characters now, so that sounds like “cl” or “er” (not 르, but “-er”) could be represented in Hangeul. He argued that, after all, more and more words are being ported over from English anyway, and more and more Koreans are actually able to pronounce them correctly, so maybe widening the phonemic scope of Hangeul would be a good way to help facilitate that for more people. Not sure what I think of it, though I know it would never fly here… but it is an interesting idea in itself, anyway.

  3. I ran into something very much like this with Russian. My name is spelled (and pronounced) Брюс, with a ю where I would have always expected a у. A native Russian speaking friend tells me that “брус” means “beam”, so maybe it was a deliberate disambiguation. But it still sounds and looks weird to me. ;)

  4. Yeah, I’ve heard some folks talk about increasing the size and scope of hangeul, but more in the spirit of “Let’s return to the original 훈민정음, since it covered almost every sound possible.” However, I’m not sure that Sejong’s original alphabet covered things like “f,” “v,” and voiced/voiceless “th,” so it’s not obvious that returning to the 1440s-era writing system would solve modern transliteration problems.

  5. Ha, “almost every sound possible”… I can’t wait to see how they use Hangeul to write down the beeps and clicks of an insectile cyborg refugee species from across the galaxy.

    Meaning, someone’s definition of “every sound possible” is just a bit narrow. Hell, even for human languages. !Kung tongue clicks being only the easiest and most obvious example.

    Anytime I hear of anyone suggesting we “return to the original” anything, I get suspicious. It’s like those lunatics (there’s one such blogger in Korea, even) who suggest that the metric system is somehow inhumane or oppressive, seemingly mostly because it’s not imperial or some other form of “traditional” measurement.

    (I, on the other hand, am grateful for the usefulness of a measure system that is clear and precise, nearly universal, and inherently allows for working effectively with decimals instead of fractions. The pyeong measurement was never self-evidently meaningful anyway, as the height of the ceiling, size of parking space, and other factors are also part of it… not just how many spread-eagled average “chaps” a space could hold… not that people have stopped using pyeong in Korea, and not that the newer measurement would be any more meaningfully separated from parking space or ceiling height, I guess…)

  6. Actually, the (theoretical pronunciation of) ㆄ/f would be lovely to have . . . if only modern Koreans could pronounce it! That’s the problem with reintroducing obselete letters like ㆄ; even if you bring them back, the pronunciation is no longer possible, and would also have to be re-learned. While I’d really love it if more Koreans could pronounce the “f”s in my name, bringing back obselete hangeul is much more complicated than it sounds.

  7. Gomushin Girl,

    Sure, and all kinds of other characters could be made up, but with the same caveat — people would have to learn the sounds.

    The student’s point was that those sounds have been learned by a small part of the population, and would be useful in English education, since it’d help people to recognize that there are different phonemes for them to be shooting for.

    It’s not a terrible argument: I certainly found my pronunuciation of Korean had improved once I learned what the various romanization systems were actually representing by mastering (modern) Hangeul.

    But the problem is the majority of people would still have no way of pronouncing any of the new stuff and would keep saying it the old way, muddying the meaning of those new characters. Well, and also, I have the a feeling you’d have to stretch Hangeul pretty freaking hard to make it actually represent certain phonemic combinations. I might be wrong, but I think you would.

    I wonder what that Indonesian community that selected Hangeul did with those “foreign” phonemes — I assume there were some at least.

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