Pyeongchang or PyeongChang: What’s the right way to spell the Olympic town?

The spelling of Pyeongchang has a a complicated history as the name is so similar to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. Tom Pennington/Getty Images

As the 2018 Winter Olympics gets underway, you have probably seen the name “Pyeongchang” plastered on banners, uniforms and circulating online — but with different spelling variations.

The town, with a population of just 43,000 people, is nestled in the South Korean mountains and lies around 80 km south of North Korea’s heavily militarized border.

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And it turns out, Pyeongchang sounds and is spelled similarly to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. Even Wikipedia attempted to make the distinction.

The name is so similar, that in 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported a Kenyan man believed he had boarded a flight to Pyeongchang for a conference. But when the plane landed, he was in North Korea. He mixed up the cities.

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So what is the correct way to spell the South Korean city? Turns out, it’s complicated.

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In 2002, the city added an “e” to its name, changing it from Pyongchang to Pyeongchang, according to Business Insider.

Duk-Soo Park, a Korean linguistics expert at The University of Sydney, told the publication the addition of the “e” didn’t have to do with North Korea, but the adoption of a new system that changed the way the South phonetically transliterated certain words.

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“The Romanization system that the South Korean government adopts in around the year 2000 uses ‘eo’ for the mid-central vowel,” Park told Business Insider. “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.'”

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Spelling the name as “PyeongChang” stems to a marketing decision in 2007.

According to the New York Times, when South Korea first started its bid for the Winter Olympics, officials believed Pyeongchang sounded too similar to North Korea’s state capital, Pyongyang.

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So they decided to add a capital C and spell the town’s name, PyeongChang, “making it more visually distinct from Pyongyang,” the article stated.


Many news outlets, including Global News and BBC News, use this spelling as it’s in line with the Canadian Press and Associated Press style guide.