When Ki Hoon (played by Chun Jung Myung) called out “Eun Jo-yah” to Moon Geun Young’s character in Cinderella’s Sister (MBC, 2010), Eun Jo kept repeating to herself, “He called me Eun Jo-yah. He called me Eun Jo-yah.” And like that, female viewers squealed with delighted as they too repeated, “OMG, he called her Eun Jo-yah! He called her Eun Jo-yah!”
In fact, the Korean practice of adding “yah” or “ah” at the end of a name is the single most misunderstood and misused concept among international K-drama fans. Specifically, I often see two separate conceptual misunderstandings surrounding the use. The first will be discussed here. The second will be discussed in Part 2.
Confusion #1: What’s the difference in meaning between adding “yah” and “ah” at the end of a name? Is one or the other used to indicate gender, age, or something else?
Answer: There is no difference! Both “yah” (야) and “ah” (아) serve the same grammatical function (which will be discussed in a separate post). The only difference is that “yah” is added to names that end with a vowel sound, and “ah” to names that end with a consonant sound.
Note that I specified “sound,” and not “letter”. That’s due to the difference in the way Korean words get romanized into English. If you’re familiar with the Korean alphabet, however, the rule is simply that “yah” is used for names ending with a mo-eum (모음) and “ah” for names ending with a ja-eum (자음).
The use of “yah”
Example 1. Eun Jo’s name ends with the long “o” vowel sound (pronounced “oh”), and thus, Ki Hoon was correct in calling her “Eun Jo-yah.”
Example 2. Actor Park Yong Woo’s name ends with the short “u” vowel sound, pronounced like the “u” in the word “dude”. Thus, “ya” would be used in Park Yong Woo’s name as well. (Yong Woo-yah)
Example 3. Actress Park Shin Hye’s name ends with the short “e” vowel sound (pronounced “eh”), and thus, “ya” should be used. (Shin Hye-yah)
Example 4. Although Shin Min Ah’s name ends with a consonant “h” as commonly spelled/romanized in English, the final sound is in fact a short “a” vowel sound (pronounced “ah”), and thus, “ya” would be the correct choice. (Min Ah-yah)
The use of “ah”
Example 1. In contrast, Ki Hoon’s name ends with the “n” consonant sound, and thus, “ah” would be used at the end of his name. (Ki Hoon-ah)
Example 2. Fans of My Girlfriend is a Gumiho are already familiar with Miho’s favorite word to shout out. No, not “meat”, but “Dae Woong-ah”, of course! Dae Woong’s name ends with the “ng” consonant sound, so Miho was correct in calling him “Dae Woong-ah.” Miho was indeed a smart gumiho!
Example 3. Veteran actress Go Doo Shim’s name ends with the “m” consonant sound, and thus, “ah” would be the appropriate choice for her name. (Doo Shim-ah)
Pretty straightforward, right? Part 2 will discuss what exactly are “yah” and “ah,” why they are used, and whether they hold any significance like many fans believe them to be.