In the last twelve months, I’ve written stories in three settings: 19th Century New England, Cultural Revolution China, and Joseon-era Korea. Something that each project required was suitable character names, but each of those searches sent me to very different places.
Thanks to the movie selection during an Asian flight, my husband learned about Admiral Yi Sun-Sin, a Korean hero celebrated for repelling the Japanese during Korea’s Joseon era. His story was so inspiring that after my husband told me about it, I decided to write a story based on one of Admiral Yi’s most famous battles.
Researching Yi was a little difficult because there’s not much English language material about the Joseon era and I can’t read Korean. Fortunately, I was able to access a number of books at Stanford University (although I could not check them out), which provided the names of the key characters. For side characters, however, I turned to a different source.
TV and Movies
If you’ve had any exposure to Korean dramas, you’ll know that they are highly addictive and that historical dramas comprise a huge part of that market. Pretty much every royal person of note has at least made an appearance in a K-drama. Admiral Yi isn’t a royal, but his exploits have been the subject of one movie and at least one drama.
So I asked a Korean-American friend of mine to pluck names out of Joseon-era dramas (including The Admiral: Roaring Currents, the film my husband saw on his flight). While picking names out of a TV and film might not be the most scholarly method, these entertainment media were released in South Korea, and I figure if the names are good enough for a native Korean audience, they’ll be good enough for my story.
Table 1: Character Names from Various Historical Korean dramas
|돌쇠 Dol Swe||언연 Uhn Yuhn|
|준사 Joon Sa||숙 Sook|
|수봉 Soo Bong||순이 Soonee|
|오죽이 Oh Jookee||숙자 Sook Ja|
|달래 Dal Rae|
|소사 So Sa|
|육순이 Yook Soonee|
My friend graciously gleaned the names listed on Table 1 above. In addition to that, she sent the following screenshot.
For those (like me!) who can’t read Korean, it shows a naming scheme. Apparently, way back during the Joseon era, Koreans would make up names by matching the month and day of their birth. For instance, if your birthday was on the fifth day of the fifth month, then your name would be Yong Nom. Pretty interesting!
I’ve included a translation of the table below. So if you’re writing a Joseon-era story and need some names, perhaps this will be handy for you.
Table 2: Joseon Era Naming Scheme
|1: Oong||1: Shik|
|2: Swe||2: Gu|
|3: Dol||3: Sam|
|4: Mahn||4: Suk|
|5: Yong||5: Nom|
|6: Yook||6: Nyun|
|7: Chil||7: Ggot|
|8: Ssang||8: Dol|
|9: Sam||9: Min|
|10: Uhn||10: Guht|
|11: Gae||11: Dol|
|12: Soon||12: Bok|