Korean honorifics (hyung, unni, NAME-ssi...)

I’m a new Kor-Eng subtitler and wondered if there’s a standard way to subtitle these types of honorifics.

When someone is just called by the honorific, it seems pretty straightforward to sub as “So, Hyung, …”. And I’ve been subbing NAME-ssi or NAME-nim as Mr./Ms. NAME. They seem to be how these are consistently subbed, right?

But when it’s name + honorific, should it be “Yeon Hee Unni” or “Unni Yeon Hee” or just “Yeon Hee”? I think the last one (leaving it out) could potentially remove context. I’ve seen it all three ways and am not sure which one to use.

Please let me know, and if you have other subbing tips around honorifics (or in general!), please do share. Thank you!

Edit: clarity


I am a relatively new (less than a year) Kor-Eng subber and I had the same question myself. The short answer to your question is follow the rules set forth by the CE (Chief Editor) of the project you are working on. Since different CEs have differing opinions, you have to make sure to read the Team Notes for each project.


Oh I see, so there isn’t agreement on subbing when it’s name + honorific - thanks for the info.

If the CE doesn’t specify, then it’s up to the subtitler or TE?


In the end, it’s always the CE who decides, since she does the final edit. If you’re not sure, just ask her.
Most Editors would go for “Unni Yeon Hee”, though, since that is the English word order.


Ah ok. The English word order reasoning makes sense, too.

For the project in question, I haven’t seen any notes on this from the CE. I’ll go with that going forward unless something different’s specified by a project CE. Thanks, @choitrio and @mirjam_465!


You could ask your CE directly, then :smile:


What choitrio said is correct. There’s no universal Viki standard for it, but the team members in each project should agree on what they are going to do and it’s usually set by the CE.

My personal preference is “Yeonhee unni” without the space in between each character in the name. I know it’s slightly off topic, but I personally really dislike adding the unnecessary space in the middle of the first name. Although they are two different Chinese characters, the whole thing is still the first name with two syllables, not first and middle name. So you wouldn’t spell someone’s first name as Kait Lyn if the name is Kaitlyn.


Thanks for this, so it’s one name not two :grinning:!


A justification for separating the typical two syllable given name in Korean is that most Korean given names are two morphemes. (A morpheme is a unit of meaning. ) Each Sino-Korean morpheme is a whole word by itself, so the given name of two morphemes is two words. A minority of Korean given names are native Korean words which are multi-syllabic.
In actuality, back in 2011 I polled all the Korean subbers I could find and asked them what their preference was for romanization of 김민호:

Kim Min-Ho
Kim Minho
Kim Min Ho.
The majority chose Kim Min Ho. (I don’t remember the exact breakdown of the votes but the three choices were not close. And least favored was Kim Minho. So this is why I incorporated the result of the poll in the subbing guidelines I use.


Eu optei por procurar o significado e colocar entre parênteses, conservando a palavra original.
Acho que idiossincrasia (mesmo que seja do idioma) não dá pra traduzir que perde o sentido.

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That’s a good point too hahaha - thanks!


The theories behind whether to separate the first name are so interesting! And it’s my first time learning about morphemes.

I might personally lean toward keeping it together, only because in my irl experience I’ve found that people think separated first names are separate names, and s/he ends up being called by the first syllable only. But of course for subbing, I’ll follow whatever guidelines are given.

Thanks for all the new knowledge! This is the kind of stuff you never really think about/through with your languages until you start translating :grinning:


Hence, they can be addressed as singularly Heon, as in 송승헌 Song Seung Heon. I’ve heard on video, the actor answering to being called only Heon.


This is what the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has on its website.

"(4) Personal names are written by family name first, followed by a space and the given name. As a rule, syllables in given names are not separated by hyphen, but it is admitted to use a hyphen between syllables. (Transcription in ( ) is permitted.)

민용하 Min Yongha (Min Yong-ha) 송나리 Song Nari (Song Na-ri)

Assimilated sound changes between syllables in given names are not transcribed

한복남 Han Boknam (Han Bok-nam) 홍빛나 Hong Bitna (Hong Bit-na)"

As a Kor-Eng. translator, I am puzzled as to why the Viki editors can’t just adopt the rules set forth by both the National Institute of Korean Language, and Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.


Although that’s true, Koreans don’t usually dwell on the fact that their first name is made up of two morphemes, but rather think of both characters as one name. The only time they would think of the underlying meaning of each character (syllable) is if someone specifically asks you the meaning of your name characters.

With all due respect, the majority of Ko-En subbers back in 2011 were actually non-Koreans who were not very fluent in Korean language and did know know Korean culture as well, either. There were extremely few (ethnically) Korean subbers who were fluent in Korean back then. If you look at early dramas that are 10 years or older, you can easily see how much subbing quality has improved since then, as well as noting cultural references in present days.

Exactly! People automatically think that the second character of your first name is your middle name if there is a space in between, when in reality, there is no middle name in Korean names.

Some people in Korea use the 2nd character/syllable of their first name as their nickname. So someone named Jooyoung can be called Young (-ah), instead of Jooyoung (-ah). Not everyone does that though. But no one in Korea ever goes by only their first character of their first name, unless your full first name is actually a single character name.

I agree. I think it’s time to update some of the old guidelines.


I get what you are saying. Even to me it would sound funny :smile:


I’m not Korean so I won’t speak as if I was. Instead, I’d like to share the opinion of a foreign viewer (in this case someone who speaks Portuguese and happens to be learning Korean).

When I didn’t know 한글 or anything, I came across the romanization for 최민호 (Choi Minho) as the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism says on its website and I can tell you that I completely mispronounce the name because in my language the letters “nh” together have a unique sound similar to “ñ” in Spanish. I know Korean romanization was made for English speakers to understand, but I think we have to take in account that what the KR-EN subbers choose to use for the names’ romanization in their subtitles is what might be taken into other languages’subtitles once translators aren’t obligated to know Korean in order to translate Korean content into their laguages.

I’m not saying this to attack the Ministry or something, I’m just sharing my preference in romanizing like 3 separate words like Choi Min Ho (or even Choi MinHo so there’s no problem with assuming there’s a middle name) because, even though the pronounciation won’t be ever correct, I feel like it is way more clear and maybe more effective since there’s no one in the dramas to explain how to say the name like there is when you meet a Korean person in real life. But ofc this is just my opinion, y’all can have yours :blush:

It’s always intresting to have this kind of discussions and although the way you guys translate into English won’t make such a big of a difference to me anymore I think that maybe it’ll do for other people.


Little bit off topic:

What we have to come up with all by ourselves:
“The popular Hepburn Romanization of Japanese (and others, too - sp) is an example of a transcriptive romanization designed for English speakers.” from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanization#Phonemic

I’m more used to this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanization#Phonetic It is way difficult but clearer.

As long as someone doesn’t get the idea that something might be wrong, we will forever mispronounce Hyundai :wink::
“Die korrekte Aussprache von Hyundai lautet [hjə́ːndɛ] … In Deutschland geläufig ist aber auch die Aussprache ['jʊndaɪ̯].”
from: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyundai_Motor_Company

The Revised Rules of Romanization essentially said Koreans were free to Romanize their own names any way they pleased. This is why the surname 이 is written Lee, Li, Yi, and Rhee by different Korean people, even though under the RRR it should be I.
It is interesting to note that viki personnel usually Romanize two syllable given names of the Korean cast on Korean drama as two syllables separated by a space on the channel page. However, the viki staff did not ever recommend one or another method of Romanization to the volunteers.

@leerla73 I think the actor was being polite to a foreigner who was being inadvertently rude.
" * It is considered very impolite to address a Korean with his or her given name. Address Koreans using appropriate professional titles until specifically invited by your host or colleagues to use their given names."