Korean Supreme Court to Increase List of Chinese Characters Permitted in Personal Names from 5,761 to 8,142

Characters Permissible for Name Use to Increase

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.

Sources:

14 comments
  1. JW said:

    Mainland China does seem to have practical limits to the characters that can be used in a name, even if not officially restricted by regulation or law. See the Language Log post, “A Limitation on Names in the PRC” ….

    Still, at over 32,000+ characters, this is a lot more than most other places.

    • 歸源 said:

      Thank you for the information. I appreciate it. I’d guess there would be some practical upper bound.

  2. Michael Tan said:

    It is a wise decision to do so for it gives families much more leeway to give the best name they want for their most precious one.

  3. Jefff said:

    Mainland China also have a list, those not on the list are not allowed. The reason is that they cannot be input electronically. Lame Excuse. Haven’t they heard of Unicode?

    • 歸源 said:

      Isn’t Unicode still limited? I’ve seen some characters online where the editor inserted a jpg/gif of it, because it did not exist in the font.

      • Jefff said:

        Yes, but those are rarer of the rare. Some are however, Cantonese characters which does not exist in standard Chinese.

  4. Michael Tan said:

    I am an avid follower of this blog. The recording of names in Chinese Characters do have its challenges. I remember during my schooling days where I am from (Singapore), our Chinese names were recorded manually, basically it was the teacher who write our names down in school records. The actual registration of the official name was in English, a romanised version of how the Chinese character would sound in pin yin, (only Mandarin Chinese pronunciation of the Chinese character was recognised). This however brought forth a dispute with the authorities as many Chinese people in Singapore belonged to a dialect group, eg. Cantonese, Hokkien,etc. Unlike a Korean person whose name would phonically sound as the name given by his parents through the use of hangul, a Chinese person in Singapore cannot be phonically transcribed as the name given to him by his parents even though the same Chinese character is used. Eg. Mr.黄 has to called Mr. Huang officially, not Mr Wee or Mr Ooi. This rule was overturned in the 1990s.

    • 歸源 said:

      Thank you for being a follower. I am not aware of any analogs in Korea. The only one I could think are Chinese-Koreans (華僑, 화교) who willingly use the Korean pronunciations of their names to fit in.

  5. Seochang said:

    The youtube channel China Uncensored had a video about name usage in China as it relates to rare characters:

    • 歸源 said:

      So many things disagreeable with that video.

      • Seochang said:

        If I’m not mistaken China Uncensored is linked to NTDTV which in turn is linked to Falun Gong, so perhaps they have an axe to grind.

  6. Jefff said:

    Though it is done tongue in the cheek way, you cannot deny the fact is that, Asian govts (other than Japan) just ram down policies to its people. Take the Singapore example, tax disincentives, no priority for parents to have their kids enrolled in their alma mater if it was their 3rd child etc. So what happened now? They have to “import” Chinese from the Mainland to boost the Chinese population to keep the govt in control. Local politics, another story…

  7. Ray said:

    I am a longtime reader of your blog and this is my first comment. Thank you for your enlightening posts.

    It seems that in China, your choice of names is also limited by what technology can handle. This is not only for given names, but for your family name as well. There is a Chinese family clan that had to change its surname because the modern computer systems couldn’t recognize it. See the following articles:

    http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2010/09/03/a-shan-by-any-other-name/
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-10982393

    • 歸源 said:

      Thank you for following. The practical limit has been mentioned in other comments here.

      I have been slow on updates recently, partly because I am currently busy and partly because the next poem I am translating is fairly long.

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