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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 9, 2006

Korean names reflect immigrants' history

By Jeff Chung

The new series "Love & Ambition," a remake of a popular 1980s K-drama, begins Wednesday at 7:50 p.m.

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When I tell people my name is Jeff Chung, I am often asked if I am Chinese. Names in Hawai'i can be confusing since the Western spelling of family names have evolved beyond recognition.

Chung, pronounced "Choong," would be Chinese. To make it Korean, you have to say "Jung." Another name mistakenly used is Choi. When pronounced "Choy," the name is Chinese, whereas "Chae" is more accurately Korean.

Why is there such confusion?

A theory: When our ancestors came to the United States, we may assume their English was not proficient. So at the port of entry, they did their best to fill out applications spelling their last names as phonetically correct as they could.

You don't see Kim misspelled, but others are warped. For example, Lee is common for Koreans and Chinese but in the modern Korean alphabet, there is no "L." The last name Lee, also spelled Rhee or Yi, most accurately reflects the name pronunciation in Korean.

In Korean, Chang sounds more like "Jang." Even a common name like Park is really pronounced "bak."

I have a friend whose last name is Pai. And when he told me he was Korean, I was stumped, since there is no Korean surname resembling Pai. It was Bae, as in Bae Yong Joon the drama star. Coincidentally, the Baes are all from one province, so all the Pais and Baes in the world are related, however distantly.

The South Korean government addressed the mismatching sounds and spelling. The result: English spellings of names have changed to reflect Korean pronunciation.

For example, what was once Cheju, is now Jeju, the island off the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula. Busan, the second largest city in Korea, used to be spelled Pusan. But the city's film festival has kept its recognizable moniker, so what by all rights should be BIFF, remains PIFF.

I was a victim of cross-gender phonetics. Through childhood, until I graduated from high school, my Korean name was June Ho Chung. Thanks to my father thinking Jun should have an "e" at the end, I was a girl on paper.

The extra vowel made the name phonetically correct, but every year in school, all the boys would sit on one side and all the girls would sit on the other side. When roll call started, I saw it coming the teacher would look to the girl's side of the class and ask, "June Chung?"

Ho was part of my first name, but without a hyphen it became my middle name by default. Had University of Hawai'i football coach June Jones been around back then, my life may have been a little easier.

To put the icing on the cake, soon after being elected student body president in my senior year, I received a letter from Miss Teen USA to apply. So I did weight 175, height 5-feet-10, and varsity football.

I didn't hear back.




Tonight at 7: Jung-woo is happy when he sees the room Hae-sun has prepared for him. Sung-mi and Kang-jae officially begin their courtship. Sung-jae is completely over Yeo-jin and goes back to Hee-sook. Sung-min finds out Hae-sun is gravely ill.

Tonight at 8: Hae-sun asks Sung-mi to keep her illness a secret. Sung-kyu finally approves of Kang-jae and Sung-mi. Hae-sun decides to go through with her cancer treatment, and starts to prepare for her last days.



Monday at 7:50 p.m.: Gong-chan can't answer when Yoo-rin asks him to remain cousins with her for life. Yoo-rin comes up with a ridiculous condition to leave the Sul family. Grandpa Sul's effort to get Yoo-rin married to Jung-woo continues. Gong-chan tells Se-hyun he doesn't love her, but she hangs on to him.

Tuesday at 7:50 p.m.: Gong-chan is stunned when Jung-woo tells him he'd propose to Yoo-rin. Jung-woo tells Grandpa Sul he wants to date Yoo-rin. Jung-woo rents out an entire restaurant to propose to Yoo-rin.



This remake of a wildly popular 1980s K-drama is written by Kim Soo-hyun, who also penned "Letters to the Parents," among others. It takes place in the post-Korean War era, when the impoverished country was in turmoil. Park Tae-joon is a smart, cool-headed law student with big plans for his future. Tae-soo is his hot-tempered younger brother. Then there is Mi-ja, the town beauty who's dying to escape from her drunkard father and her sorry small-town life. It stars Jo Min-ki, Yi Hoon, Han Go-eun, Yi Min-young.

Wednesday at 7:50 p.m.: It's 1960 and Tae-soo is coming home after finishing his military duty. Tae-joon, Tae-soo's older brother, comes home from Seoul for his father's birthday, but girlfriend Mi-ja is waiting for him with bad news.

Thursday at 7:50 p.m.: Tae-soo finds out his family is about to lose their house. Tae-soo and Tae-joon try to come up with a way to save the house. Tae-soo gets beat up by the wrong crowd. Tae-joon goes to see Mr. Koh, the loan shark, only to find out Mi-ja is involved in Mr. Koh's scheme to foreclose on his house.



Friday at 7:50 p.m.: Alone and bored in the palace after Shin left for Thailand, Chae-kyong gets a scolding when she crashes the car the empress dowager gives her. Upset over what the kids are saying in school, she asks Yool to take her away someplace. Hyo-rin follows Shin to Thailand. The palace is turned upside down when Chae-kyong disappears without a word.

Saturday at 7:50 p.m.: Shin makes it to the press conference after dropping Hyo-rin off at the airport. Chae-kyong and Yool are chastised for leaving the palace without permission. Yool asks his mother to make him emperor. Chae-kyong successfully plays the hostess during Prince William's visit with Yool's help.

Jeff Chung is general manager of KBFD, the first channel to air K-dramas locally. If you have a question or comment, call KBFD at 521-8066 or reach him at jeffchung@kbfd.com.