Olympics host Pyeongchang changed its name so people would stop confusing it with North Korea's capital

Clive Mason/Getty Images
  • The Winter Olympics are being held in the South Korean city Pyeongchang.
  • All promotional material, and local media outlets, refer to the city as PyeongChang, with a capital C.
  • The new spelling was introduced in 2007 to differentiate the host city from the similar-sounding North Korean capital Pyongyang.
  • Media have reported Pyeongchang is spelled with an ‘e’ for the same reason, but that change in 2000 has little to do with North Korea.

The Winter Olympics are currently being held in Pyeongchang, South Korea. But local media outlets, as well as logos emblazoned on everything from volunteer uniforms to stadium walls, are celebrating the games of PyeongChang, spelled with a capital ‘C.’

The capitalisation is not a typo.

It turns out the spelling was a strategic marketing decision made to differentiate the Olympic city from North Korea’s capital Pyongyang.

The Pyeongchang Organising Committee confirmed to Business Insider the altered spelling was first used in 2007 during the city’s second bid for the Winter Olympics and has helped to “differentiate between the two cities.”

While it seems unusual, the committee also confirmed there “have been instances of confusion.”

One of those was a Kenyan man who, in 2014, flew into Pyongyang to attend a conference actually being held in Pyeongchang. The Wall Street Journal also previously reported that Pyeongchang’s first Olympic bid in 2002 was initially met by confusion because of the similar spelling to the capital of North Korea.

At the time, the city had already changed its name to Pyeongchang, adding the ‘e’ in 2000.

While The New York Times has reported this rebranding was linked to efforts to distance itself from North Korea, Duk-Soo Park, a Korean linguistics expert at The University of Sydney, told Business Insider this change had little to do with the North.

In 2000, South Korea approved a new system that changed the way it phonetically transliterated certain words.

“The Romanization system that the South Korean government adopts in around the year 2000 uses ‘eo’ for the mid-central vowel,” Park said. “But the North Korean Romanization system uses ‘o’… as in its capital city Pyongyang, despite the fact that it creates ambiguity between ‘pyo’ and ‘pyeo.'”

So the ‘e’ is here to stay, but once the Olympic Games finish PyeongChang will finally return to being Pyeongchang.

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