My name is 권창현 in the Korean alphabet, or Hangul. In Korea, the given name is placed after the family name. My family name is Kwon, or 권, and my given name is Changhyun or 창현: Chang for 창, hyun for 현. To hear how my name sounds, go here and press the ‘Listen’ button on the left, Korean side.

In many cases, I just go by the first syllable of my given name, Chang, to avoid complication. It just sounds like Chang in P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, not as pronounced in American English, but as it would sound in British English. I’m not a big fan of P.F. Chang’s foods, by the way.

The Korean alphabet works quite interestingly. Unlike many other alphabets, Korean alphabets are stacked. For example, the breakdown of my last name ‘Kwon’ is as follows, very roughly:

  • K = ㄱ
  • w = ㅜ
  • o = ㅓ
  • n = ㄴ

Instead of writing ‘ㄱ ㅜ ㅓ ㄴ’, we write ‘권’. Similarly, instead of ‘ㅊ ㅏ ㅇ’, we write ‘창’; and instead of ‘ㅎ ㅕ ㄴ’, we write’현’. It’s like building a Lego block.

Interestingly, most Korean names can also be written in Chinese scripts, more precisely, Hanja, which refers to the Chinese characters used in Korean. Hanja characters are almost identical to Traditional Chinese characters. In East Asia—Korea, Japan, Vietnam, especially—the Chinese characters had played a role of Latin to many European languages, in my view.

Hanja has been an essential part of the Korean writing system, but less and less it becomes so. When I was young, Korean newspapers used a mix of Hanja and Hangul actively, but you will find Hanja in today’s newspapers very rare. Young generations are more familiar with English (and Latin Alphabet) than Hanja.

My name in Hanja is written as 權昶賢. This is equivalent to the Simplified Chinese characters, 权昶贤, which would be pronounced Quán Chǎng xián.

Writing system Family Name Given Name
Latin Kwon Chang hyun