When Kim Hye-jung ventured for the first time into the Cheongra business district near Incheon last week to meet a friend, she promptly got lost. She was trying to find Ruby Street, but got confused because streets in the area all had English names based on jewelry.
"The street names made me think this was a jewelry district, but it was just an ordinary neighborhood," she said. "It makes no sense."
The jewel designations originate from project names that were allocated to the district by Korea Land and Housing Corporation, which handled the construction of the city designed to draw international investors. After construction was complete, Incheon city officials decided to keep the names in the belief that they had a fetching "international" appeal.
Early this year, a new address system based on the names of streets and designated building numbers took effect after a three-year trial run in order to simplify the complicated old system. But many of the street names are newly created, and people are already complaining about the inconvenience.
Foreign street names do not stop at jewels. Neighboring Songdo, another city that was built from scratch over the last decade or so aiming to attract foreigners, is filled with streets with names like "harmony," or "venture," which sound global if your idea of the world is a Singaporean office block.
Locals are less than excited. Park Ji-young, who lives in Incheon, said, "Wouldn't it be better to use Korean names to appeal to international visitors?"
Some "English" words used in street names are entirely made up.
Noh Jung-hyun at Hanyang University said, "Using foreign street names simply to sound more trendy could end up damaging regional identities and confuse local residents."
They are especially confusing to older people, who are not as exposed to foreign languages in daily life as younger Koreans.
Democratic Party lawmaker Kim Yoon-duk reviewed information provided by the National Institute of the Korean Language and found that 936 streets use foreign names and 68 of them have been recommended for revision.
The institute said foreign words that are familiar to Koreans or cannot be replaced could be retained, but awkward-sounding ones need to be changed.