Family Trees With Shin Hye Sun

I watched Shin Hye Sun in a couple of shows this last year that took me off on a tangent with the Korean language. Have you ever noticed the subtitles not matching the names the characters are saying? Come and see what I noticed about how Koreans address each other, and then, if you have more information, please comment! (We have tried hard to find the correct word usage and romanization of the Korean words. Meaning, we scoured the internet and picked the brains of our members who are learning Korean. That said, we know we may have a few mistakes here, so let us know if you see something so we can use the correct term. -Clkytta)

Thirty But Seventeen

In Thirty But Seventeen Shin Hye Sun plays Seo Ri, who comes out of a thirteen-year coma and tries to restart her life. She goes looking for her house but it is now owned by Woo Jin’s family. According to the subtitles, he had told the housekeeper, Jennifer, that his nephew was coming. Why does Jennifer let her in? That’s what I wanted to know.

To find out I looked up a few things and listened again. Woo Jin actually said joka, the Korean term for nephew. When Seo Ri tells Jennifer that she is the niece of that family, she also says joka. Jennifer accepts this and lets her in.

Woo Jin’s sister had asked him to take charge of her son while she and her husband were gone for a while. He is her dongsaeng, meaning a younger sibling of either gender. It appears that joka doesn’t specify a gender either. It seems odd to us, but the English word cousin is used the same way.

Woo Jin calls his sister noona, which tells us she is an older sister. In talking to him, she refers to her husband as his maehyung, meaning a brother-in-law who is your older sister’s husband. There are lots of terms for older relatives, and they all depend on who is older than who, or if they are on your mother’s or your father’s side of the family! I’ll be talking about the ones I notice the most.

A girl calls an older sister eonnie. Family titles are often extended to others, and Seo Ri calls the nurses eonnie while she is in the hospital recovering from the coma.

Woo Jin’s nephew, Chan, calls him samchon or we-samchon when he doesn’t call him Mr. Gong. Samchon is the most usual name I hear used for an uncle in dramas. It is typically a name for your mother’s brother or your father’s younger brother who isn’t married, and we refers to your mother’s family. Chan calls his mother Eomma, which is like saying Mom rather than the more formal Eomeoni. He is pretty smitten with Seo Ri and gets his uncle to let her stay in the house while she looks for her uncle and finds a job.

Just like Chan, Seo Ri calls her uncle we-samchon, indicating that he is her mother’s brother. This checks out because he has the same family name as her mom. She calls her uncle’s wife sungmo, as an aunt-by-marriage. Here we see them cheering her on at a violin recital before the accident and coma.

Five Children

While waiting for episodes of Thirty But Seventeen to come out I watched Five Children, which has a lot more relatives in it! It’s about a widower with two children marrying a divorcee with three, and trying to blend their families. In this show, Shin Hye Sun plays the younger sister of the widower, and they have another brother in between them in age. Her character here is Yeon Tae, and that’s the only name we will worry about remembering from this show. See if you can find her in the picture!

Although Yeon Tae usually calls both of her brothers oppa, she often calls the younger one “younger oppa.” This is interesting because oppa means “older brother” so we have “younger older brother” here. I found that the older one is keun oppa, and the younger one is jageun oppa. Boys use different terms, however and the younger of her brothers calls the older one hyung.

To avoid spoilers, I’ll just tell you that these two are brothers who are involved in the story with Yeon Tae and her sister-in-law. Since this is a Korean drama after all, we are not surprised to get a sort of tangled love story. Just that, knowing the custom of extending family titles, it is natural to call a boyfriend oppa.

This sister-in-law is actually Yeon Tae’s brother’s sister-in-law. (She’s the sister of his wife who died – he’s a widower, remember.) His children call her imo, since she is their mother’s sister. They call Yeon Tae gomo, since she is their father’s sister. Yeon Tae and the sister-in-law call each other sadon, which seems to be what you can call any in-law. Yeon Tae’s second brother eventually marries and his wife calls her agassi, and Yeon Tae calls her sae-eonnie.

Here we have Yeon Tae’s parents (in blue) and her oldest brother with his in-laws (in red). Since his family name is Lee, as their son-in-law they call him Lee seobang. The fathers call each other sadon, but the mothers have a different term and call each other an-sadon. This could come in handy next time I see my son’s in-laws!

The whole family had a hard time accepting the remarriage. The first half of the show was very funny, with a lot of craziness, and then there were a few episodes that were difficult to get through because of all the hard feelings. However, the end was good again, as we watch Yeon Tae’s brother and his new wife thoughtfully working it through and learning to call each other yeobo.

We can’t end without showing the other three kids and the grandma, who everyone calls halmeoni. This little boy is one of the best child actors I have seen. Here the kids are talking to their dad, who they think is away working in the US. You’ll have to watch the show to find out why – it’s part of the craziness.

This is Yeon Tae’s dad, who is the sweetest ever, and became my favorite Kdrama dad ever! Father in Korean is abeoji, but she calls him appa, which you have to keep straight from oppa!

Both of these shows are heartwarming, fun to watch, and well acted. Thirty But Seventeen has a lot of misunderstandings, and Five Children has annoying characters who mostly mature and become favorites. The mama bears get tough only when their cubs are in trouble, and the papa bears are complete softies. I hope you enjoy them!


Dramas With a Side of Kimchi

One thought on “Family Trees With Shin Hye Sun

  1. Ooooh I love that you did this post! Once upon a time, I was an anthropologist of kinship (but not focused on Korea), so I pretty much love learning the terms and the relationships that go with them. There’s so much you can learn about a culture if you dig into kinship. And like you, I also got interested in the Korean language through sorting out names in the subtitles (it helps you figure out sentence order too, once you know the kin terms that people use).

    I don’t have much to add, since you’ve figured out basically all the same stuff as me, except maybe that learning these terms can add a lot to the drama-watching experience because it helps keep the relationships straight and just in general, the more terms and phrases you know, the less fast you have to use the subtitles.

    Oh, and I learned this recently: there is a way to specify younger sisters and brothers… basically you add “nam” (male) or “yeo” (female) to dongsaeng = namdongsaeng and yeodongsang. It’s not used much in dramas, but I have noticed it a few times since I learned it when people are being specific.

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