Korean Personae in the Society for Creative Anachronism
or, 떡 본 김에 제사 지낸다

Since you've seen the rice cake, you should spend time on ancestral rites.
(If you've done one thing, you'd may as well do something related.)

By Ásfríðr Ulfvíðardóttir/ Rebecca Lucas.

Researching, and re-creating medieval things from East Asia can be a touchy issue in the Society for Creative Anachronism. People can become quite upset, that you are 'bending the rules' of a European-centric medieval organisation, so that you can do something a little bit different. In my case, I started looking at the history of contact between Europe and Korea before 1600, and ended up reading books about mid-Joseon Dynasty dress. But is it really bending or breaking the rules?

What's the Official Word?

There are two sources that could be taken into account, to consider if the SCA and an interest in Korea can mix.
The first, is the Introduction of the Society For Creative Anachronism Organizational Handbook.

The Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc. (SCA, Society) is a nonprofit educational organization devoted to study of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Most of its activities take place in the context of a social structure adapted from the forms of the European Middle Ages....For Society members, most of the world, and all of the centuries prior to the 17th, can serve as a source for personal research. However, the further you go from the core of Medieval and Renaissance Europe, the less the environment we offer will resemble what someone of your time and country would find natural or homelike. For example, you can be an Asian or African guest at a European court, but you cannot expect others to share your special interests - like any long-term visitor in a foreign land, you are the one who will have to adapt to the customs you find around you.
Governing Documents of the SCA, Inc. [Revised 2006] p.9  

The second, is what the SCA's College of Heralds have said about the registration of Korean names:

Before 2007, it was noted that there had been no submissions of documentation with Korean names, that showed 'significant contact' (April 2002 Laurel Letter, see name Yang Mun). With Lady Yang's 2007 submission, with documentation, it appears that the definition of 'significance' used in the College of Heralds is beginning to be formalised, and may have more to do with cultural influence instead of mere cultural contact.

There is not enough contact between Korea and Europe during our period to allow registration of Korean names....[There is] evidence of one European in Korea in the last decade of the 16th C, one slave trader who purchased five slaves, and some interaction between the one European in Korea and native Koreans. There is no evidence of Koreans in Europe prior to 1600, no evidence of regular trade, religious missions (larger than one individual), settlements, invasion, or other types of contact that we examine to determine whether cultures might have influenced each other...
August 2007 Laurel Letter of Acceptances and Returns, see name Yang, SuGyong.  

So, it certainly is clear that while there is nothing or no-one that could stop you from taking on the persona and dress of a mid-Joseon Korean man or woman, and coming along to SCA events. If you are hoping to have a 'heraldic' device (Turnbull and McBride, 2002; 52) or an official 'approved' name, then at the moment it is unlikely to happen, which may discourage some people. This is not a mixed message though, the governing documents warn that those with non-European interests are probably going to find things a little difficult.

Naming Alternatives

The SCA heralds are only interested in registering a name, and not the associated persona, so there are other names, from nearby cultures, that you could register as your own, but still persue your Korean interests.

The first choice, is to follow the example of the ruling elite of Koryo, and be sent to the Yuan (Mongol) court to receive an education. A Mongol name was also adopted, like the Empress Ki (기황후, 奇皇后), who became Öljei Khutugh Khatun (完者忽都). Her brother, Ki Cheol (奇轍) was called Ki Bayan Bukha (奇伯顏不花). King Gongmin (공민왕, 恭愍王) was also known as Bayàn Temür (伯顔帖木兒). (Lee, 1984; 156)

Although these examples only include royalty, it could be one method to register your name.

The other option, is from the Imjin War, where skilled weavers, potters, and other craftsmen along with scholars, were brought to Japan as prisoners of war. (Turnbull, 2002; 230) A famous example is the potter Yi Sam-pyeong (이삼평, 李參平) who took the Japanese name Kanagae Sanpei (參平 in Japanese is pronounced Sanpei, but Yi does not appear to have been a Japanese family name. Instead 金ヶ江 is a place-name of sorts; 'River of Gold') (Nagatake, 2003; 49). Or, one of the first Korean Christians, who we only know today as Julia Ota-a (ジュリアおたあ), who had a Japanese family name, and Kirishitan given name. (Turnbull, 1998; 113)

There may even be a chance that you could register a Portuguese name, as the surname Corea, used by Antonio Corea (Gompertz, 1957: 48), also appears in Portuguese-controlled Ceylon as the name of a captain to a King, João Corea de Brito in the 16th century history of Ceylon by Fernão de Queyroz (de Queyroz 1992; 524), as well as the 16th century royal interpreters Domingos and Jeronimo Corea (de Queyroz 1992; 474). Spelling appears to have been variable, as the surname has been written as both Corea and Correa in texts (Corbet, 1893; 350; de Queyroz 1992; 474).

But, How Should we Approach Getting Korean "Approved"?

Judging from what is written by those SCA personae from across the Eastern sea, Japan, there are a few ways to look at this issue. The first way, is to look at the first recorded mention of European-Korean contact, but then that brings up the issue of 'which contact?' Do we include the mention by 13th century William of Rubruck, of Korean envoys in the court of the Mongol emporer as contact, or was that contact with Mongols? (Allsen, 1997:2, 18) The other major century would be the 16th, when Koreans had contact with Europeans while overseas (voluntarily or not) in Japan or China, or the Portuguese Jesuit Gregorio de Céspedes' attempted conversion of Korean prisoners of war? (Ulfvíðardóttir, 2009) So, you could always claim that you were a Korean prisoner of war, who was purchased by a European and brought to Europe a mere 5 years before Antonio Corea appeared on the continent. (Gompertz, 1957: 48)

The more anachronistic and anarchistic approach, is to ignore the dates of European contact, and only pay attention to the guidelines that relate to pre-17th century activities in general (Bryant, 2009). So, if Koreans were around in the 16th century and earlier, then they have every right to come to an event, as much as a Roman matron or Viking barbarian (both of whom pre-date the middle ages and renaissance, but are accepted as a part of the SCA society.)

But there is safety in numbers for all those Japanese, Chinese and Mongols!

Well, yes, if you look at the Asian Persona Survey, compared to the other people who have put their name to the list, there are only four (as of January 2009) people who have put their name down as being interested in Korea. But many of the more vocal Japanese-interested folks are more visible online, and are the only Asian persona in their local group too, 'an army of one in [our] own back yard' (Saionji no Hanae, 2007). So while at first it feels like an uphill battle, we're not that far behind. The only real difference is the College of Heralds allow other Asian names and heraldry to be registered, and there hopefully is more information out there for the next time someone tries to submit their name.


  • Allsen, Thomas T. “Ever Closer Encounters: The Appropiation of Culture and the Apportment of Peoples in the Mongol Empire’ Journal of Early Modern Histoy (Vol. 1) 1997
  • The Asian Persona Survey.
  • April 2002 Laurel Letter of Acceptances and Returns, see name Yang Mun.
  • August 2007 Laurel Letter of Acceptances and Returns, see name Yang, SuGyong. [Note: This is the most recent reference I know of an attempted Korean name submission.]
  • Bryant, Anthony J. (2009) Nihon Zatsuroku: Japanese in the SCA.
  • Corbet, F.H.M. "Appendix: The Golden Book of Ceylon" in Lethbridge, R. The Golden Book of India (London: Macmillan, 1893) pp. 341-366
  • de Queyroz, Fernão [trans. Fr. S.C. Perera.] The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylon (New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 1992)
  • Governing Documents of the SCA, Inc. [Revised 2006]
  • Gompertz, G. St. G. M. “Some Notes on the Earliest Western Contacts with Korea” Transactions of the Korea Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (Vol. 33) 1957:41-54
  • Lee, Ki-baek (1984). A new history of Korea. (Seoul: Ilchokak.)
  • Nagatake Takeshi (2003) Classic Japanese Porcelain: Imari and Kakiemon (Tokyo: Kodansha International)
  • Saionji no Hanae (2007) The Japanese Thing, or Why I Do This.
  • Turnbull, Stephen R. (1998) The Kakure Kirishitan of Japan (Routledge)
  • Turnbull, Setphen R. and McBride, Angus (2002) Samurai Heraldry (Osprey Publishing)
  • Turnbull, Stephen. (2002) Samurai Invasion: Japan’s Korean War 1592–98. (Cassell & Co)
  • Ulfvíðardóttir, Ásfríðr (2009) Disturbing the Morning Calm: Korean contacts with Europe prior to 1600 CE.