Why is the skater Kim Yona in Japanese?

… being キムヨナ in katakana.

It’s a deliberate attempt to piss off a great sporting foe by misspelling her name.

Only joking!

As is often the case with foreign pronunciations, the Japanese are ahead of English speakers on this one. According to modern romanization of hangeul (Korean script), her name would be spelt Kim Yeona, being the same sound as Seoul and somewhere between the O of hope and the ER of computer. Given its indeterminate pronunciation in English, that vowel sound is fairly often spelt with a U in Korean names, e.g. in the famous company Samsung, which should actually be Samseong. Confusingly, there are two other vowel sounds in Korean that are also often romanized as U, but that’s a whole other story…

With names, Koreans choose and stick to one particular romanization, which I think might even be something official nowadays. At least this one is fairly close to the real pronunciation, unlike Lee, which is also sometimes spelt Yi, but is actually somewhere between the vowel sounds in sEE and lIck.

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2 Comments

  1. February 26, 2010 at 9:03 pm

    Alex, are you a non-rhotic English speaker, making that an “uh” sound in your “computer” ER example? I’m always confused when people use “er” examples to represent sounds because I have to guess whether they speak a rhotic or non-rhotic dialect of English. ;) I mean, clearly you don’t mean for there to be an /r/ sound in her name at any rate.

    Anyway, thanks for the post–I was getting the idea that pronouncing her name like the Japanese name Yuna wasn’t right, but I wasn’t sure what the correct way was.

  2. April 15, 2010 at 3:50 am

    Most likely the Japanese looked at her name written in Hangul to figure out how to syllablize it. I know I would. In the case of what the other commenter is talking about, I believe they are talking about ‘umlautization’ common in Germanic languages.


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