Why the variations in spelling of Korean names?

I’ve noticed a lot of times if I google an actor from a show I’m watching, that depending on the website, the name can have quite dramatic spelling differences at times and I wondered why? I always took it that the actual show they were starring in would have their correct spelling, but then you find their Instagram/Twitter page and see a variation in spelling? This doesn’t happen in the West to my knowledge? Other than something like spelling Steven instead of Stephen for example?


Its the Hangul(romanization) of Korean. The same name can be spelled in multiple ways… and sometimes the celebrity prefers one over the other.

The actual show they were starring in… were you reading subtitles? It could depend on the subber.
Eg. Lee Joon Gi prefers his name spelled the way I just spelled it. But the same thing could be romanized as Yi Jun Ki.
G and K have the same consonant “ㄱ”
“Lee” is actually pronounced “Ee”, the older romanization was “Yi”.

Jung Hae In can also be spelled Jeong Hye In
“eo” is the official romanization of “어” which sounds like the “o” in the word “on”. However, lots of people like their names spelled with a “u” instead of “eo”. The “Jeong” in Kim Se Jeong has the same spelling in Korean.

Then there’s the vowel 우. Sounds like “oo”. But people like using “u” instead. Like Oh Se Hun has the same “Hun” as Sung Hoon.


I think you mean this phenomenon?

As an example. Well, well, …
ajumma2 tried to explain it once


@vivi_1485 wow! thank you so much for that explanation.

Does that mean you gets lots of instances where you give your name and are then asked how you spell it?

I keep wanting to learn Korean, but then I read posts like yours and think “oh boy, that’s hard!”


Depends. If you give your name to a Korean, the korean spelling is the same. With romanization, it doesn’t really matter if someone spells it wrong(same pronunciation), but certain people may favor one spelling over the other. Because of such romanization problems, Korean language learners are advised to study the Korean alphabet(Hangul) instead of romanization :smile: Hangul is really easy… there are only 24 characters to memorize. Not hard at all. The hard part comes with formality levels, grammar, and conjugation :sweat_smile:


There are surnames which to my untrained ear sound exactly the same, but have a different hangul spelling: Chae and Choi. (채 vs. 최)


Chae is just “ae” but Choi has a “wae” sound


Exactly! That’s what I hear, too. I even transliterate it to Devanagari this way. I feel Korean diphthongs are really similar to Hindi sandhi. Remember देव+ईश = देवेश :joy:

That’s the same with these diphthongs too (probably?)
ㅗ + ㅣ becomes ㅚ [o + i = oe]
Two vowels together become another vowel.


When I really stretch my ear, I can hear it. But otherwise the difference is too soft for me.


With my language background (no vowel change EVER), I would read that as oi. Or… in English Oy! :joy:


I thinks it’s the same for all the double vowels. I too learned Hangul, and i have difficulty in reading double vowels.


Interesting topic :grinning:

I’m someone who only knows a smidgen of Korean so I might be wrong. As I understand it, the reason that there are so many different English spellings of Korean words is because when it comes to transliterating the Korean script into the English script, there have been a number of Romanization methods used over the years. The most common of these are the Revised Romanization (the present system adopted by the South Korean government) and the McCune–Reischauer system developed in 1930s. Many Korean names still use the McCune-Reischauer (MR) system: for example, 김 = Kim in MR and Gim in Revised Romanization.

But there are also other systems. The above Wikipedia article compares how the Korean vowels and consonants are converted into the English alphabet using five different systems.

Note for anyone who reads this and does not know that Korean consonants can sound slightly different depending on their placement in a syllable… When two options are given for a single Korean letter—e.g. ㄷ is d/t (in McCune–Reischauer [MR]) and t/d (in Revised Romanization [RR])—the first option is used if the consonant occurs at the beginning of a syllable, and the second option is if it occurs at the end of a syllable.

The use of “Jun” versus “Joon” is not explained by RR versus any of the other scripts. According to the article below, it seems to be more a family’s choice of representation and is related to Hanja rather than Hangul. (This is just my understanding. I’d love someone more knowledgeable than I to provide greater insight.) To me, this variation seems a bit like the Anglo-Saxon character “ff” used in some British surnames such as ffoulkes, ffarington and ffolliott. This is a choice that some people make and it stems from a historical context; it indicates that a family has deep roots in Medieval English history.

As an aside… I wonder how many people who saw the name “Mr. ffitch” in a subtitle would change it to “Mr. Fitch”? While it might be meant to be "“Fitch,” it could also correctly be “ffitch” or “Ffitch”. If the subtitle was related to the British peerage, it’s quite likely that one of the two-f spellings is more appropriate.


Yes! All the double vowel sounds are just mixes of the original two vowel sounds.

@bozoli i think the problem with english is that we name the letters and then study the phonetics separately. Eg. K’s name sounds like “kay” but when it’s in a word, we use the phonetic - the k(ㅋ)-sound

Whereas with Korean and my own native languages, the sound of the letter mostly stays the same no matter where it is.

It’s a little confusing at first, but if you disregard the romanization completely and focus on the hangul pronunciation, it becomes easy.
Eg “왜” - wae
Say the first sound “oh” and the second sound “ae”. If you pronounce the two vowels fast enough, it’ll sound like “wae” - and that’s the correct pronunciation

This is why i switched from romanization to using hindi(hindization? Devanagirization? :joy:) while learning Korean in the beginning.


This has turned out to be way more fascinating (and complicated!) than I ever imagined. Thanks to all who have contributed so far :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:


The current system mandated in Korea is called the Revised Romanization System and it went into effect in 1995. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revised_Romanization_of_Korean
An important aspect of the system is that it does NOT apply to personal names. The government left it up to the individual as to how to romanize one’s own name. That is why you see so much variation in actor’s names. The system is mandatory for place names in Korea so that there would be uniformity on signs on streets and highways and through the mail system.


In the Balkan Slavic languages one sound is one letter. With some exceptions which ironically are not composed of any vowels. Lj (read as Spanish ll) and nj (read as Spanish ñ). Which is why my brain struggles understanding by what voodoo math…


These things just need to be learned. There’s nothing instinctive here for me.


Wow… engaging in Discussions here makes me realize how different we all are.
Good luck with your Korean learning!