The Korean Supreme Court (大法院, 대법원) has recently announced that it will increase the list of Chinese characters permitted in Korean names (人名用漢字, 인명용한자) from 5,761 to 8,142 characters “to enhance the convenience of the people,” effective next year. The court first promulgated the list in 1991, only permitting some 2,731 characters to be used in names. Korean citizens were born after January 1 of that year could not have a Chinese character in their name that was not in that list. The explanation given was to limit the use of obscure, difficult characters and to allow for easier entry into computer databases.
The original list, unfortunately, was extremely lacking. One family clan in particular was especially affected, because its incoming generation then had the generation name (行列字, 항렬자 or 돌림) of 禝(직, Jik), a character not on the list. They filed a petition to include it, but the Supreme Court refused until now. In addition, there were many instances where parents would pick a rare character with some special meaning for their child, but only to find out that it was not on the list. There are also a number of famous figures in Korean history whose names would not have been permitted, such as the character 睟(수) in Yi Sugwang (李睟光, 이수광, 1563-1628), a famous scholar.
This is not the first time the list has expanded. It was increased to 3,079 in 2003 and then to 5,761 in 2005. (Note that there are over 40,000 characters in the Kangxi Dictionary (康熙字典, 강희자전), the vast majority of which were rarely used if only once or are no longer used.)
Some of the characters that have been added to the list include:
- 侔(모, mo) – To be uniform, even (가지런하다)
- 敉(미, mi) – To stroke or comfort (어루만지다)
- 縑(겸, gyeom) – A type of silk (비단)
- 晈(교, gyo) – Moonlight (달빛)
- 婧(정, jeong) – To be thin (날씬하다); to be chaste (정결하다)
- 夤(인, in) – To be careful (조심하다)
- 唔(오, o) – The sound of reading (글 읽는 소리)
- 氳(온, on) – Vigor, spirit (기운)
- 耦(우, u) – To travel in line (나란히 가다)
- 姺(선, seon) – To walk (걷다)
As for Korea’s neighbors, Japan has had a list of Chinese characters permitted in names since 1948. The current list only has 2,997 characters. To my knowledge, there are no such limitations in China.