This might be a silly question to ask, but why do Korean Americans have both a Korean and English name? Is it to remind them they are still Korean in a dominantly English speaking country? Are Korean names their given middle name for use in the Korean home while their English name is used for outside?
It is not a silly question to ask. This is a silly question to ask.
It is true that many Korean Americans, and even Koreans in Korea nowadays, have English names. The reason is different for each Korean, but it is mostly because Americans just can’t pronounce some Korean names.
There are some tricky sounds in Korean that English speakers just can’t emulate - the verb sound eu, for example. (See this post for the way to pronounce it.) This is a problem because a syllable like seung, meaning “victory” or “rising”, is very popular in Korean names. (The Korean has total 10 nephews and nieces, and 5 of them have that syllable in their names.)
Similarly, some Korean names appear deceptively simple to pronounce, but English way of pronouncing it would make the name sound completely incorrect. This happens mostly because English is a screwed up language. An easy example is Kim Young-Sam, the name of a former Korean president. The last syllable sam is supposed to be pronounced like “psalm”, because a in Romanized Korean should sound like a in “avocado”. But of course, Americans don’t pronounce it correctly, and it sounds ridiculous. (This was the Korean’s reason why he picked up an English name.)
From a Korean’s perspective, after you told her your name, it’s really painful to see an American person struggle, or to correct her a million times to say your name right. If an American person can’t pronounce the name, she won’t remember your name either. And socially, that has a negative consequence.
In fact, because of this, we are now seeing an increasing number of Asians who simply have an English name to go by when they talk to Americans, even if those Asians speak very little English! The Korean swears that he knows a Chinese person whose English capacity is limited to saying, “Hi, my name is Jerry” in heavy accent.
One interesting variation from this reason is instead of acquiring an English name, Koreans would just drop one of the syllables in their first name, which is usually two syllables, leaving only the more pronounceable one. So for example, there are many Koreans who go by Joon, Jin, Young, Yoon, Min, etc., except no one in Korea would call them by that name.
Your other guesses are also correct. Korean American parents recognize that in order for their children to be treated like an American, they have to have an English name, if only to save their children from the hassle of idiots complimenting their English. But they give a Korean middle name in order to remind the children of their heritage. In many cases, the parents will use the Korean name at home, and let the children use the English names outside.
So what kind of American names do Korean people tend to use? There are two biggest factors driving the name selection for Korean Americans: first, Koreans Americans tend to be Christians; second, Korean American parents need to be able to pronounce their children’s names.
Therefore, a Korean American name tends to be a biblical one without such difficult sounds for Koreans as th – so you will be hard pressed to find a Jonathan Kim. For boys, names like John, James, Paul, Daniel are very popular. For girls, the popular names are Jennifer (Jenny), Julie, Christine, Grace, etc.
The real jackpot is those Korean names that coincide with English names, most notably Hannah and Eugene. The Korean knows 5 separate Hannahs and 4 separate Eugenes, all of them Korean.
Alternatively, Korean American parents would name their children with Korean names with easier syllable for Americans to read, like Nari, Minji, etc. (These apply more toward girls’ names, because boys’ names tend to follow a more rigid rule. That will be a post for another day – how many posts can the Korean possibly do on Korean names??)Got a question or comment for the Korean? Email away at email@example.com.