Wednesday, 22 January 2014

My Korean Name: 이상구 異想俱

From very early on in Korea I chose as my Korean name 이상구 (pronounced Ee Sang-goo), romanized as Lee Sang-gu, based on the Chinese characters 異想俱.

My Korean name wasn't given to me by anybody, nor did I really choose it. In a manner of speaking it was just the most obvious name for me. Nearly every time I introduce myself to a Korean person they would repeat my name as Sang-gu, and ask me if that is my Korean name, where upon I have to repeat my name, emphasizing the correct pronunciation, and explain that I am from South Africa and that I have an African name which just sounds similar to the Korean name Sang-gu. Since this happens so often I just decided that this will be my Korean name. I chose the surname Lee because it too has some phonetic similarities to my actual surname. As far as Korean names go, the name is rather old fashioned. It sounds more appropriate for people of one or two generation older than myself. I've even been told that it sounds like I'm from a rural area. I can live with that. After all, I grew up on a farm, so living with a farm boy name is okay with me. Also, one of the first Korean people I've ever met happened to be the famous natural health practitioner, Dr. Sang Lee, who visited South Africa, I think around 2001 or 2002, where he gave a series of lectures on natural health. His teachings impacted me a lot. Only later did I find out that his full name is Sang-gu Lee. I don't mind sharing his name.

While I have had the Korean name 이상구 (or Sang-gu Lee) for quite some time, I haven't for a long time chosen a meaning for my name. Korean names are usually based on Chinese pictograms, called Hanja in Korean, which have particular meanings. I've looked up some meanings for Sang and Gu before, but I have now finally chosen meanings that I think befit me. For Sang 상 I've chosen the character 想, which means “to think”. For Gu 구 I chose the hanja 俱 that means “all”. In other words, 想俱 might be interpreted as thinking about everything. I'm very much a philosophically minded person, so I think the name is quite apt. As for the surname Lee, there are three Chinese characters for this surname; they are 李, 伊, 異 respectively. I chose the last one because apart from being the surname Lee, it can also mean “foreign” or “different”, and since I am not a Korean, but a “foreigner”, I thought that it is quite appropriate. I am the foreigner that likes to think about many things.

For a while I was tempted to use the surname Ryu since the first time I came to Korea my Hapkido instructed rendered my surname to Ryu since in Korean the “R” and “L” sound is quite similar. In fact, my name in the Hapkido school was Sang Gu Ryu (상구류) and it is still up on their wall as such and some of them still call me by that name. Honestly, I like the sound of Ryu Sang-gu better than Lee Sang-gu; however, the family name Ryu is North Korean and therefore the name is not a comfortably recognizable name in South Korea. In South Korea it is rendered Yu and I don't like the sound of Yu Sang-gu. If I were to move to a Chinese country (I've thought about living in Hong Kong), then I might take the name Ryu (rendered Liu) using the Chinese character 劉.

But for now, I will stay with 이상구, Sang-gu Lee, the foreigner that thinks too much.

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