LEARN THE PROPER KOREAN APPELLATIONS TO AVOID SOCIALLY AWKWARD MOMENTS!
In Korean workplace dramas like Misaeng: Incomplete Life 미생 (2014, tvN), everybody addresses each other using their titles, like 김 과장 (kim gwajang) Section Manager Kim, 최 부장 (choi bujang), General Manager Choi, instead of their names. Is this a corporation’s wicked plan to stifle individuality? If so, the TV series would have been a different genre, like a thriller. Along with jondaetmal and banmal, appellations were another way Koreans used to maintain social hierarchies in the spoken language. In the traditional yugyo-based Korean society, it was considered impolite to call each other by name, not to mention that a younger person calling an older person by name was a huge taboo. For this reason, older people also showed respect towards the younger adult males by addressing them with jane 자네 (a formal form of “you”).
And many adult males, especially scholars, had a ho 호, a pen name or alias used in place of a given name. For female adults, daek 댁, a suffix used to indicate a married woman who comes from that region, or buin 부인, also a suffix indicating whom (which family) she is married to, was used. You might have seen in Korean dramas that Korean people, although not related at all, call each other using familial terms like hyung 형 (older brother), nuna 누나 (older sister), samchon 삼촌 (uncle), imo 이모 (aunt), leaving many non-Korean viewers wondering if all Koreans are related to each other. It’s just a way Koreans show affection and get along with each other. Now, the tradition has been handed down, and titles serve an important role for Koreans who need to quickly assess and properly situate the people they meet. In the era of globalization, some companies adopted the English-name-for-everyone policy to convert the hierarchical “vertical corporate culture” to “horizontal corporate culture.” Below is a handy table of some of the most common Korean appellations you will hear in Korean dramas.