Before my first day teaching at Chungdahm, I fully expected I would struggle with my students’ names, but as it turns out, most students use English names when attending English Academies. This was a relief since Korean names can be really difficult to pronounce properly. In fact, all of my first term students used English monikers so I did not have to embarrass myself mispronouncing their names.
Still, I noticed that a lot of students had rather unusual English names. Elvis, for example. I figured the kid just saw the name in some name book and liked it enough to use it as his own. I also figured he probably didn’t know a thing about the famous Elvis Presley of America, who is always the first person that comes to my mind when I hear the name Elvis. It seemed very likely to me that the other kids in the class would make fun of him if they new he shared a name with an American rock icon from the 50s. So, I didn’t bother bringing it up. I figured it didn’t really matter anyway, and certainly I didn’t want cause him any embarrassment. Besides, I further figured, what were the chances the matter would ever even come up in class?
Well I’ll be damned if the last unit of the terms wasn’t “The Roots of Rock and Roll” and who did we talk about but none other than the King himself. My god, the poor kid, who was often the subject of teasing anyway, was harassed practically to death. Turns out the odds I had bet against where greater than I suspected, I guess.
Other names that I have heard and wondered about include: Jelly, Chocolate, Cream, Drac, Rooney, Jack Sparrow, June and some kid that names himself after a different letter of the alphabet each term.
Most kids choose their own names, but often enough they are given their names by English teachers who don’t want to try and pronounce their Korean names, so arbitrarily name them. Sometimes it’s kind of obvious that the kids were in a class together when they were named because you’ll see a group of kids with names like Peter, Thomas, and Paul. Or Christina 1 and Christina 2. Other times, as in the examples above, naming just seems random and thoughtless. I don’t know which was the case with Elvis.
Since my first term, I have had several students who use their Korean names and I do my best to pronounce them correctly, with some success. The most difficult time I had with names was when I had Jung Huan and Yang Hawan in the same class. The pronunciation of their respective names have subtle, but important differences, which I was only able to appreciate after much tutoring from the students. Jung Huan sounds almost like John Juan, and Yang Hawan sounds similar to Young Ha – wan. I could just about pronounce them correctly by the end of the term.
I have a few more new Korean names to learn this term, and I will probably butcher the heck out of them before I get remotely close. Fortunately, most students are patient, at least in my sight. The most surprising name so far this term, surprising in that is was unexpected rather than odd, is a girl named Eugene. I guess this is a rather common English name for Korean girls to take.
So, If anyone out there ever finds themselves in a position of giving a student an English name, I implore you to do so with consideration.
One would think Elvis would be a cool name, not so much with your students. The American rock ‘n’ roll icon doesn’t carry much weight in Korea. Such a dissapointment.
Thanks for blogging as I enjoy reading about your adventures.
As I recall, the kids preferred Pat Boone over Fats Domino too. They really prefer the mainstream and rather abhor anything that isn’t very polished, precise and clean. Well, what else would one expect from such a homogeneous society.
OMG!! I had Jung Huan just last term. He is a trip…funny little kid. I asked him if I could call him Jung and he said, “No, it’s Jung Huan!” lol
That sounds just like Jung Huan.
I will be teaching for chungdahm in may and I am kinda nervous. If you have any time to talk so I can ask a few questions I would greatly appreciate it.