We here at FBLA realize the Olympics are old news by now, but, if you’ll bear with us, something has been bugging us that we just had to get off our chests.
Throughout the Olympics, arguably the most stunning, engaging and compelling performer was figureskater Kim Yu-na. She was graceful, dynamic, and completely dominant — winning a figure skating gold medal with a record high score. She also happens to be South Korean, which is why we found it rather strange that throughout their coverage of the Olympics, the LA Times seemed determined to make her sound like a white debutante from Georgia — by referring to her as “Kim Yuna.”
No other paper in the country (outside of the Tribune Company) spelled her name in this highly anglicized fashion and we couldn’t figure out why. As it turns out, the executive decision to use the spelling “Yuna” was make by the writer covering the figure skating events, Philip Hersh, who blogged about how he made the choice on the Chicago Tribune’s website.
I called the Korean consulate in Chicago to check on the correct way to write Kim’s given name, and this is what Lee Eun (who signed her email Eun Lee) told me:
“According to her official website, the preferred spelling of her name is ‘Yuna.’ Your reader was correct in pointing out the subtle differences between ‘Kim Yu-Na’ and ‘Kim Yun-A’ (or ‘Yeon-A’) because her Korean name is pronounced ‘Gim Yuhn Ah.’”
(That pronunciation has a hard “G,” like “gimmick,” and a short “u,” like “un.”)
“Having said that,” Ms. Lee’s email continued, “Ms. Kim is a world-class athlete who is competing on an international level and may have made a conscious choice to make her name. . .easier for foreigners to understand and remember. The ISU lists her name as “Yu-Na Kim” and so does NBC. I doubt it would have been written as such without the consent of her team.”
The same could apply to the order of the names, Ms. Lee said, suggesting it might be better to avoid confusion by putting the given name first.
So what would Ms. Lee’s personal choice be for English use of her countrywoman’s name?
Okay by me.
Really? An official at the Korean consulate in Chicago is the final arbiter of how to spell an athlete’s name? And you didn’t even really listen to her recommendations. She told you Yuna Kim. She also told you the name was pronounced “Gim Yuhn Ah” — which isn’t even close to the spelling you ultimately decided on.
We asked former LA Weekly copy chief David Caplan if we were completely out of line in our protest.
Caplan said he didn’t find the decision to use “Yuna” wildly unacceptable, “but it is a little questionable to use a formulation that doesn’t seem to be supported as much as the other more common formulations.”
He also agreed that, “talking to the consulate is kinda odd, unless attempts to contact the individual or her representatives somehow failed.”
One point of note: Kim Yu-na’s official website refers to the skater as both “Kim Yu-Na” and “Yu-Na Kim,” even “Yuna Kim,” but never “Kim Yuna.”
When the skater uses a Western signature, she signs it “YunA Kim.”