What’s in a name? Ask the commentators …


The OneAsia Media team provide a welcome explanation on some often confusing local naming conventions

By OneAsia Media

CHEONAN, Korea, October 16 – Spare a thought for the commentators at this week’s Kolon Korea Open as they try to identify individuals from a field in which nearly half the players share just three surnames.

Some 114 players will start the U.S. $1 million OneAsia tournament on Thursday, and 27 of them are named Kim, 16 Lee and 12 Park.

Korean nomenclature is unique — there are only around 250 different surnames in both the North and South — and Kim, Park and Lee are the most common, shared by over half the population.

That percentage grows even more when taking into account the Westernised variations of what are effectively the same name.  Lee, for example, is sometimes translated as Yi, Rhee, Rhie, Yie or Ee, but is written the same in Korea’s Hangul script, ?.

Matters aren’t made any easier for foreigners by the fact that family members from the same generation usually share part of the same given name. One of Korea’s best-known horror movies, The Two Sisters, features protagonists named Bae Su-mi and Bae Su-yeon.

OneAsia commentators Alan Wilkins and Grant Dodd are old hands at mastering complex monikers that leave mere mortals tongue-tied. Thai golfers, for example, often have complex multi-syllable names, such as Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Wisut Artjanawat, Namchok Tantipokakul and Somsat Kraopratum.

“When you come from a city in Wales that can be called Cardiff or Caerdydd, and when you are born in a place called Rhiwbina, or Rhiwbeina and when “llangyfarchiadau” means congratulations, then some of the pronunciations of Korean, Japanese and Chinese names can actually be quite straightforward,” said Wilkins.

But when all the names are the same, it poses different challenges, as match four from Thursday’s first round neatly highlights. All three players in the 7.17 am flight are named Kim — Jun-Kyum, Woo-chan and Hong-taek — and they are preceded by two Kims and followed by another.

It gets even more complicated. Two of the Kims playing regularly on tour share the same given name, Do-hoon, and as their Official World Golf Ranking numbers don’t help distinguish them, they are known instead by their hometowns of Daegu (752, above) and Busan (753, below) respectively.

So how can the commentators tell them apart, particularly from afar?

Before the start of play, a member of the TV team will take detailed notes of what every player is wearing, from the colour of their pants to the style of their hat, and this is passed on to the commentators.

Some commentators in the United States famously don’t make the effort to master foreign names, and so when Korean players show up to challenge on the Web.com or PGA Tours, they are frequently given nicknames or abbreviations. Major winner Y.E. Yang, for example, is always known as Yang Yong-eun in his home country, while K.J. Choi is Kyung-ju.

Members of the younger generation, however, are given these days to assuming Western nicknames — frequently whimsical, often fanciful.

None probably can match the sheer appropriateness of Kim Ju-yun’s adopted name.

The Korean LPGA star, winner of the women’s U.S. Open in 2005, changed her first name a year earlier to distinguish herself from the many other Kims playing on tour and is now listed in all official records as “Birdie Kim”.


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