Korean names are some of he strangest in the world. If you learn a Spanish name, often it is similar to an English name and all you have to do is slightly change the pronunciation, and you have an English name. If you learn a Romanian name, they are like Spanish names, Any time an English speaker learns the name of someone who has a name from a European country, we know they aren’t English, but remembering them doesn’t seem in surmountable. When I went to Japan, Japanese words and names are not to bad to try to remember. It helps a lot that for every consonant sound you year, there is a vowel sound after it, many girl’s names end in “ko,” and all their names have some meaning. , inn Nigeria, many of them had Bible names. However, when I began trying to learn the names of large groups of students in Korea, the task just seemed insurmountable. Many foreign teachers never learn Korean’s names, but I have, and this is how I did it.
To begin with, the Koreans know their names are hard for foreigners, and they try to help you. The like to choose what they call their English “nickname.” Many Koreans have chosen an English nickname, and I have never learned their actual Korean name. There are problems with this, though. Koreans like Bible names. There are many Christians in Korea, and they know the Bible characters and like to name themselves after their favorite Bible characters. That means that many of the boys have the same name: David. David was supposed to be a king, a good soldier, good looking, and musically talented. It is an extremely popular name in Korea. The girls really like the name Esther. Esther was a beautiful, brave queen in the Old Testament who saved her people. they love her, and many of them name themselves after her. Again, names like Grace are also popular. The meaning is beautiful, and they would all like to be called Grace. There are several Bible names that the Koreans all like, and sometimes you feel like half the people you know have the same name unless they have chosen a name the others haven’t like my Korean son in law did. He named himself after a wise man in the old Testament. And that brings me to another point about these nicknames. Unless you know them well, you get dependent on these nicknames and never learn their real names. I didn’t know my son in law’s real name until after he and my daughter were married, and I still don’t know his brother’s real name even though I have known his brother longer than I have known him.
The other problem with those nick names is that when you are teaching a whole class of Korean students, when you begin to call the roll, that is not the name on the roll. If you don’t learn the name on the roll, students have a tendency to try to trick teachers, so if they were trying to get away with cutting class and sent someone in their place, you may not recognize that they are gone, especially in the classes of fifty or 80 students like they sometimes gave me. Besides this, students feel closer to a teacher if the teacher knows who they are. They like to be recognized and not jus a name in the crowd, and if they are, they respond better to the teacher and learn more. This brings you back to the question of how to remember those complicated names. The answer is to uncomplicate them, but still learn them.
How can you learn such complicated names? First, you need to understand two things about Korean names. First of all, the last names come first when you see them written and there are several very common last names that many of them have in common that are only one syllable. The second thing you need to remember is that many of their names have meanings just as the Japanese names do. Some very common Korean family names are names like Kim, Lee (In Korean, they see “ee”), Han, Choi (pronounced Chay), Moon, Jo, Park, etc. Kim is probably the most popular one. about 50% of the people you meet could be called Kim. Now, you have just learned a name you can call about 50% of the people you meet in Korea. I call them “Mr. Kim” or “Mrs. Kim,” or “Miss Kim.” You can also find large groups of people with the other last names. I had a student who told me that in the town where he was from, all the people named “Jo” settled, and sure enough, everyone I have met from that town are named “Jo.” “Han” is the name of Korea. In Korean, Korea is “Hangook.” The language is “Hangul,” and the “Han River” runs through Seoul. I have called many students Mr. Han or Miss Han.
Once you learn their last names, the other part comes easier. A thing that makes the other names easier is that they all have meanings. If you speak a little Korean, the other part of the name gets easier. Either that, if you try to learn the other part of their names, your Korean vocabulary gets bigger. You learn things like “Hanul” means sky, “Somang” means hope, “Yong” means dragon, “Hamin” means God’s person, Cheol” means iron. I knew Korean guy who told me his Korean name meant “iron” or “steel,” so we joked and I called him “Superman,” the man of steel. He liked it so much that he began wearing Superman shirts and telling everyone to call him Superman. In one of my classes, there were two boys named “Yong,” dragon, so I asked them how I was going to tell them apart since we had decided that I should just call them by one of their Korean names. One boy said the translation of “Yong” into English was dragon, so I should just call him Dragon, and the other students loved it! He was a freshman, and he became known from the time he was a freshman until he graduated as “Dragon” among all the students. Girls heard his name and decided he must be cool and tried to get to know him. Joking really helps. One guy’s name is actually “Om,” but he tells everyone to call him “Um” because he knows that is what English speakers say when they can’t remember. If you just learn part of their names to begin with, eventually, the rest of it will come if you know them long enough, and everyone wants to feel they are important enough for you to remember their name.
If I still couldn’t get a name for them in my head, there was something else I did that made them happy. One of my students had been in California, and that is what I always remembered about him, so I began calling him Mr. California, and the students loved it. Many of the students also called him Mr. California. One girl had been in India, so I called her Miss India. One boy was always studying his Bible and ended up going for a Theology major after he finished his English major, and everyone began calling him “the Holy Man.” However, I remembered his name and didn’t need that designation, but for some, it helped. The point is, each student and each person is unique, and they want to be recognized as being unique. Professors meet more people than anyone in the world with several large groups of students coming into their classrooms year after years. They all know who the professor is, and they all want to think the professor knows them as an individual separate from all the others. If they feel special, they are more likely to listen to a professor, and I know each of my students are individuals and want to be recognized separately. I put in the effort, and it has made a big difference These are just some suggestions of how I did it in Korea. Maybe they will help you remember the next Korean person’s name that you meet.