Chung Hyeon, or Hyeon Chung

The Australian Open tennis tournament is currently being played in Melbourne. I’m not particularly a tennis fan, but the tournament, players, matches, results, future matches and extreme weather conditions are in the news.

Last night my wife came home with the news that a South Korean player Chung Hyeon, or Hyeon Chung had beaten former champion and world number one Novak Djokovich.

Korean names are given family-name first. Chung’s family name is Chung. Korean given names are usually two syllables, but one or three are not unknown. In fact, Wikipedia reports that there is a law requiring given names to be no longer than five syllables. I have never encountered a Korean with a five-syllable given name, or even a three syllable one. In one class at a Korean high school, I had one student with a three syllable given name and another with a one syllable name. (There are also a handful of two-syllable surnames.)

Chung’s name in hangeul is 정현. 정 is transliterated Jeong in Revised Romanization and Chŏng in McCune-Reischauer. Other transliterations are Chong, Cheong Choung, Jung and Joung. It is the fourth most common Korean surname. 현 is transliterated Hyeon in R-R, Hyŏn in McC-R and Hyun, Hyon and Hyeon. The transliteration of Chung’s name, therefore, represents a mix of transliterations. Most importantly, both names have equivalent vowels ㅓ and ㅕ. In my perception, this is closer to /ɒ/ (as in on) and /jɒ/, but several sources, Wikipedia among them, give it as /ʌ/ (as in un) and /jʌ/. If I saw the name Chung with no context, I would assume /ʊ/ (as in good). If I knew the person was Korean, I would assume that the hangeul was 충, but that is not a Korean surname, and would next try 청, but that isn’t, either. [PS I asked my wife to pronounce his name, and she definitely said /ɒ/ and /jɒ/, but then pronounced her own name with a vowel halfway between /jɒ/ and /jʌ/. The second syllable of her given name is 영, which might be transliterated ‘yeong’, but she spells it ‘young’, which English speakers are almost inevitably going to pronounce /jʌŋ/. (Except one medical specialist and a relative from New Zealand didn’t.)]

The Australian media is referring to him as Hyeon Chung. Wikipedia’s page is titled Chung Hyeon, with a note about Korean name order. He is now the first Korean player to reach the quarter-final of a grand slam tournament, where he plays the appropriately named Tennys Sandgren of Tenn(i)ssee, USA, whose name has already attracted comment elsewhere (seek and ye shall find). I spotted the name on a tv at the gym on Friday, and thought about writing about it, but found that so many other people already have. He is named after a great-grandfather, but I can’t find out which country he came from or the derivation of the name (?related to Dennis).

[PPS After I posted this, I realised that I have a friend in Korea with the given name which he transliterates as Jeong-Hyun. (I know him by his English ‘Christian’ name, so didn’t immediately think of him. I can’t see his name written in hangeul on his Facebook page, so I asked my wife if his name was the same as Chung’s, and she said yes (allowing for the fact that Chung’s is a one-syllable surname plus a one-syllable given name and my friend’s is a two-syllable given name. They may very well be based on different Chinese characters, though.]


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