Branding and Identity: Hyongkeun’s problem

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I have a Korean acquaintance with a UX (user experience) problem. His name is Hyongkeun.

When he introduces himself, he is met with blank stares. It’s a stumbling block. The name is incomprehensible to Americans and leaves a big hole in his attempts at introductions. Since the sounds do not fit easily into Americans’ expectations, they are not easily recalled. The lasting impression tends towards confusion and awkwardness.

Over drinks one day we tackle this handicap as a design challenge.

The design problem: How can we rebrand Hyongkeun so that his name is comprehensible and memorable?

Let’s break it down. What exactly is the problem? People don’t hear it, he says, they don’t hear the sounds. “Hyong” is hard enough, people already glaze over, but then when it is followed by “keun” they just give up. Since the sounds don’t fit into familiar, expected patterns, it is like being hit with a wall of noise. It goes in one ear and out the other.

So, his idea is to go with just the first syllable, “Hyong.” It is a reasonable compromise. “Keun” is an unnecessary complication, so jettison the second syllable. Limit the number of new sounds Americans need to comprehend.

But Hyong is still a problem, still not getting through.

What about a Western name? Sean? I ask. Make it something familiar and expected, problem solved.

No, this is not an acceptable compromise, he says. Sean is not distinctive. Besides, he, a Korean, is speaking in English, is it too much to ask Americans to learn one word in Korean?

So in addition to a brand that is comprehensible and memorable, he also wants to retain his Korean identity.

“Hyong” it will be, but how to bring this into American understanding? The H-Y is an unfamiliar consonant elision. To American ears it is a shock, the part that gives pause. As the brain is trying to figure out the “H-Y,” the rest of the word slides by unnoticed, leaving a gap. You are starting out with something unexpected and difficult to comprehend so the whole word is missed.

The “Yong” part, on the other hand, is not so difficult to American ears. “Young,” he says, “As in a young man.”

So that’s the trick. We’ll spell it out for the listener: “My name is Hyong, young with an H.” And if that doesn’t compute, add, “Young, like a young man, then add an H at the beginning: Hyong.” And then he can repeat the tagline, “Young with an H.”

And there you have it, a brand and a tagline that makes Hyong comprehensible and memorable to American ears while remaining distinctively Korean.

The design solution: “I am Hyong. Young with an H.”

One Response

  1. Our last name is confusing to English speakers because in most English words that begin with KN, the K is silent — knife, knight, know, and the like. So I tell people to pronounce our name like a Native American boat with a TH on the end: canoe-th. It usually brings a light of comprehension to their eyes.

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