Editorial Notes

Awkward English names don't help: The Korean Herald

South Korean President Park Geun-hye speaks during a meeting with g global health experts at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea
South Korean President Park Geun-hye speaks during a meeting with g global health experts at the presidential Blue House in Seoul, South KoreaPHOTO: REUTERS

In its editorial on September 11, 2015, The Korea Herald urges the government to find suitable names for key ministries

What should be considered first in naming an institution - especially a government organisation - may well be how the name helps ordinary people understand its function easily and clearly. It is better if the name is simple and easy to comprehend.

These guidelines need to be taken into more careful consideration in choosing the English names of Korean institutions.

To our regret, it has to be admitted that Koreans are largely insensitive to and inept at using accurate English terminology. In this respect, government agencies seem even worse than private-sector organizations.

It has long been noted that the English names of many government ministries sound awkward and fail to deliver an exact meaning to foreigners. It is against this backdrop that the government early this year undertook work on changing the English names of ministries and affiliated organisations to more appropriate ones.

Last week, the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs announced a plan to change its English name to the Ministry of the Interior.

The ministry said in a press release that it adopted a name commonly used by foreign countries so foreigners could easily understand its identity and function as a Cabinet branch in charge of general and home affairs.

Some other ministries are said to be considering altering their English names in line with opinions collected from a group of advisory experts and foreigners.

Among the English ministry names that seem most perplexing to foreigners is the Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning. It may be too much to expect ordinary foreigners to understand that ICT stands for information and communications technologies.

Furthermore, it is awkward to put an acronym in the official name of an organisation.

The long and insensible ministry name is likely to be changed into a simpler and clearer one.

But the Ministry of Strategy and Finance has been adamant in its objection to a proposal to replace "strategy" with "planning," arguing the proposed name gives an impression that Korea still remains a developing country.

The ministry was created in 2008 by merging the Ministry of Finance and Economy with the Ministry of Planning and Budget.

Officials at the ministry may believe that the word "strategy" sounds more plausible and sophisticated. For many foreigners, however, the word seems to evoke military rather than economic connotations.

The awkward English names certainly show the inaccurate understanding of the language.

But they may also reflect Koreans' reluctance to put themselves in other's shoes and view their positions in an objective way. This attitude needs to be abandoned in a global era.

Finding more appropriate English names for government offices may be a small but significant step toward making this positive change.