[FOUNTAIN]Name game may affect all

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[FOUNTAIN]Name game may affect all

Korean people prefer to use the third-person “uri,” or we, than the first-person “na,” or I. Koreans say “our family,” not “my family.” You would hear a lot more “us” than “me” in conversations. Reflecting this unique characteristic in speech, Dr. Lee Hui-seung defined “uri” to designate “oneself or a group that includes oneself” in his authoritative Korean dictionary. In Korean, “uri” can be used to refer to both singular and plural nouns. “Our country” would mean the homeland of a speaker, but when a Korean says “our country,” it would refer to the Republic of Korea.
Woori (pronounced as “uri”) Bank successfully exploited this habit of Koreans. Insiders in the banking sector still criticize the birth of Woori Bank. They argue that the name could confuse the consumers if Woori Bank monopolizes the commonly used term because many clerks would refer to their own bank as “woori” bank to clients.
In fact, the first bank to try using the name was Hana Bank. When the Korea Investment and Finance Co. became a bank in 1991, it attempted to name itself “Woori Bank.” But the financial authority did not allow the name on the grounds of potential confusion when using a pronoun as a proper noun. When Commercial Bank and Hail Bank merged in 1998, it chose “Woori Bank” to represent the new company, but had to name itself Hanvit Bank because its case was rejected for the same reason.
Then a breakthrough came in 2001 when the government allowed a new merger of Hanvit Bank, Gwangju Bank and Gyeongnam Bank to become Woori Financial Holdings. The company argued that the name fit them best because they were made up purely of domestic capital with an infusion of public funds when Korea First Bank and others were sold to foreign investors. Woori Financial Holdings named its subsidiaries Woori Bank and Woori Card. Bankers claim that Woori was able to have the name because the government was the major shareholder. Some even joke that Woori Bank is Worry Bank.
The new party took Our Open Party as its full name, and often refers to itself just as Our Party, or Uri-dang in Korean. If it weren’t for the precedent set by Woori Bank, the party might not have chosen such an aggressive name. The society may become flooded with uri this and uri that.

by Lee Se-jung

The writer is a deputy business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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