By Mona Malacane
Did you receive a sheet of paper with some cool looking squiggly lines and letters in your mailbox recently? Those cards are your name in Korean, written by MinJi Kim (MJ) for Hanguel Day – Korean Alphabet Day – on October 9th. The day marks the anniversary of the creation of the Korean alphabet in 1443. MJ explained that the anniversary used to be celebrated as a holiday and students would get the day off, but in more recent years this hasn’t been the case. (If you’re interested in some of the history, MJ recommended this website and this website)
Because she couldn’t celebrate with her Korean friends and family, MJ wanted to share some of her culture with us by writing our names in Korean. She wrote the names by syllable so that you can see the individual characters (or letters) that create the sounds. She explained that consonants were written such that they mimic the shape one’s mouth makes when pronouncing the sound. For example, in the picture below, the sound for “n” is created in the middle of your throat, in a semi-L shape and the character for “n” looks like an L. The same is true for the letter “m”, which looks like a box. The vowels are equally as cool. “The Korean alphabet system uses the ‘world.’ The king wanted to add the virtue of the world, so there is sun or heaven, and earth, and human,” she explained while pointing to the different lines (see picture below). The symbol for sun/heaven is a circle, a horizontal line for earth, and a vertical line for human.
There were some names that presented a challenge though … For example, the Korean alphabet doesn’t have a character for “th” sounds, so MJ had to improvise with Anthony and Keith’s names. Another issue is with the letter R, which shares the same consonant as L; so technically, Robby could be read as “Lobby” or “Robby.”
While writing friends’ names isn’t part of any particular tradition, MJ thought it would be an interesting way of sharing her culture, acquainting us to her language, and also just getting to know people. It took her an entire evening to work on all of the names. She very much wanted all of us to have them! Most of the graduate students received the cards in their mailboxes but MJ preferred to personally deliver cards she wrote for professors in person. So if you’re waiting for your name, she has probably been by your office but didn’t catch you!