Thursday, 16 February 2012

What's in a name? Part II

In my last post I promised you the gripping tale of 'How Ms. Amused and I got our Korean names.'
So here we go:

As most of you probably know by now, all of my students have English names as well as their own Korean ones.  So it seemed perfectly logical to them that Kate Teacher would also have both an English and a Korean name.  Every five or six weeks (which seems to be their short term memory span) they would ask for my Korean name.  Usually I just distracted them by announcing that I already have two names, an English one and an Irish one.  Cue eyes bugging out in surprise and five minutes of hilarity as I taught them how to pronounce 'Cait ni Grada'.

Then one day in October, during a class with two of my nine year olds, I was asked once again for my Korean name.  Only this time they impressed the hell out of me first by remembering my Irish name AND PRONOUNCING IT CORRECTLY!!!
In a moment of whimsy I said, "I don't have a Korean name.  You guys think of one for me!"
They were slightly taken aback by this but rallied quickly and after trying out a few suggestions settled on
이수현 (Lee Su Hyun).  Lacking any frame of reference whatsoever, all I could think was that it sounded like a very pretty name, and leave it at that.

Skip forward six weeks to a Thursday evening in November.  I got a text from Sister Dearest excitedly announcing: "My kids gave me a Korean name, 이수진 (Lee Su Jin)! Isn't it pretty?!"
I was gobsmacked! I called her immediately to squeal that by some gigantic fluke, our two different sets of students had somehow managed to give us sister names!  아싸!  (Woohoo!)
'Lee' is the family name, 'Su' is our common sibling name and 'Hyun' and 'Jin' are just for us.

We hit the internet to hunt down some translations but this proved to be a tricky business.  This is because what your name means, depends on how it is written in Hanja, Chinese characters.
For example, the Chinese name Lin Do Jong, depending on how it is written, can mean either 'Long held wish' or 'Long held grudge'. Bit of a difference!
Ms.Amused and I haven't even seen our names in their various Hanja forms, much less chosen one!
Instead we rather arbitrarily picked the first translations that we liked.
Therefore we landed on 'Perfect Virtue' for Su Hyun, (yours truly) and 'Perfect Truth' for Su Jin (Ms.Amused).
My name feels delightfully apropriate to me because my English name, 'Katherine' means 'pure'.  It seems to me that purity and virtue make pretty good companions.

So nowadays, when my kids ask me my Korean name, I get the infinite pleasure of watching them grin and giggle when I answer:
제 한국 이름은 이수현 입니다!  (My Korean name is Lee Su Hyun!)

Next post:  Why King Sejeon is the cat's pyjamas!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

What's in a name? Part I

Shakespeare had it bang to rights when he said that "...a rose by any other name would smell as sweet!", but there is no denying that a pleasing moniker does no harm either.
Since arriving here in 'The Land of the Morning Calm', I have been provided with plenty of food for thought on the topic of names.
Their meanings, the importance of choosing utterly rubbish I am at remembering them....

I have never been very good at remembering names in English and oh Lordy but how that disability was exacerbated when I had to deal with unfamiliar Korean names!  In my first few months here, when the Korean language was all shiny, new and unequivocally unfathomable to me, people's names were just a random mouthing of syllables.
Having nothing familiar to 'hang' the memories on, I sometimes achieved levels of amnesia which were practically Zen!
One lovely guy from our Taekwondo class is a prime example.  I have asked him his name on three seperate occassions - though admittedly making the mistake of asking him at 3am after several hours drinking and singing with our entire class at a Noraebang (karaoke room)!- and each time it felt as if I had somehow managed to forget his name......BEFORE HE SAID IT!!

To this day I refer to the poor man as Doctor 씨 (Doctor Shee) which is simply calling him 'Mr. Doctor'.

Now, if I was that bad at remembering the names of people I actually socialise with, take a moment to imagine how mindbogglingly useless I must have been at remembering the names of celebrities.

In Korea, every male citizen does two years of military service sometime between the ages of 18 and 30.  Over the past few months I have had to bid farewell to three actors as they departed Celeb Land for their two year tour of duty.  Their leaving had me seriously miffed.

Perhaps because I would miss their acting talents in the next twentyfour months one might assume? Would I pine for their pretty faces?
......well,....maybe a little.

You have to admit, they are quite pretty!

(Left to Right: Hyun Bin, Kim Jae Wook and Bi)

Actually, I was mostly in a snit because these guys were the first three celebrities whose names I had managed to memorise.  I was well disgruntled at having to start all over again with a new batch!

On the bright side, now that I am actively learning to speak Korean and I can comfortably read Hangeul (May King Sejeon's name be praised forever!), the impression of having random syllables spouted at me is fading.
Nowadays, when I am introduced to someone new, as long as I can write their name in hangeul there's a very good chance I'll remember it. And hey, even if I forget it, at least it's written down! ;)

At the top of this post I admitted to being fairly rubbish at remembering names in any language. 
As with every rule, there is of course an exception.  In my case the exceptions are my delightful kindergarten students.
Who on earth could forget cute little five year olds sporting names like 'Ace', 'Tiger' and 'Speeder'?!

What is even odder than these unusual names is how eerily apropriate some of them are. In three of my classes I have a boy called 'Ace' and in each instance they are indeed ace, i.e: the best. They are my brightest, kindest and funniest students.  'Speeder' is in fact my fastest thinking four year old and 'Felix' does actually lounge across his desk like a somnolent cat!

Then there's my darling girl, Julie, who tries on names the way most of us try on coats. I'm hoping that Julie will stick with her current moniker, as it is a vast improvement on her previous choices, two of which were 'Dill' and 'Pinky'.
The fascinating thing is that as I started writing about my students and reflecting over the past year, I realised that every time Julie chose a new name, it corelated with an increased level of her participation in class.  Almost as if the new name was an expression of a more confident persona.
Hmmm, I'll talk this over with Ms. Amused, she is the shrink in the family after all.

Just as some of my students have English names that are a perfect fit, Ms. Amused and I had the wonderful fortune to be given Korean names which are perfect for us.

But that is a story for another post............
(and I'll also tell you why King Sejeon is my new favourite hero!)

My favourite totem pole!  Top to bottom: Jays, Ace and Robin.
Robin is every bit as bright and cheeky as his name-sake bird.