Once, a long time ago, the Sanchon Hunjang met a Korean gentleman who had a unique name. I mean there are unusual names, like 박초롱초롱빛나리
, and then there are singularly unique
names. This man had a singularly unique name.
His name didn't sound
But it was.
You see, his grandfather had invented a brand new Chinese character for use in his name. Since this all happened in Korea, perhaps the expression "Chinese character" doesn't quite fit in this case..."Chinese-esque character"? At any rate, there it was--a new invention for him alone. Being an invented character, of course it's not included in computer character sets for Chinese characters
, not even in the monstrous Unicode set
, so the Sanchon Hunjang can't type it here for your perusal. But this gentleman had one. All for himself.
To a naive Sanchon Hunjang, it all sounded like cheating. Rather like cheapening the veritable institution that is Chinese characters. That was before I knew that newly minted Chinese characters have been rolling off the line since the dawn of time, and things haven't stopped in modern times.
Some characters created recently in China include those for chemical elements
, such as "氩 argon," and funky contractions of multiple characters into one like "do not 不" and "need 用" come together to form "甭 do not need".
But surely the heyday of inventing wild new Chinese characters was during the extremely short-lived second Zhou dynasty, when Empress Wu 武則天
, ruled the land. Court officials convinced her to come up with complex and interesting new ways to write some dozen or two words that already had serviceable ways to write them. These are called 則天文字 (측천문자)
. The new writing included cosmologically aligned ways to pen 國 state (☞圀), 星 star (☞ ○), 地 (☞埊) earth and her personal name 照 (☞曌), all detailed in 卷七十六 of the New History of the Tang 新唐書
. Wikipedia links to an intriguing page
(that could be even more interesting with more detail) which reviews these characters.
In 1991, the Korean government got wise to grandfather-made Chinese-esque characters and the like and decided to put a stop to these shenanigans once and for all. They swooped in like Superman to the rescue and drafted list of "人名用漢字 characters for use in human names
," which was added to the Family Register Law
(originally 2,731 characters were listed, but there have been numerous additions since then and the current tally is some 5,151 characters
). If there should be some twisted individual should get it into his black heart to subvert this piece of legislation that is single-handedly keeping the forces of chaos at bay, that individual would find himself unable to register the name in question. All legal names must now be made up of only the listed characters.
Unfortunately the law was not made retroactive, so there is still at least one misguided soul out there with a name that now can't be written legally. I sure hope he comes to his senses soon and has that abomination changed. If only the Korean high court could have gotten its hands on Empress Wu--surely such brazen Chinese character madness would have called for capital punishment.