Many Korean names and words are based on Chinese characters, so when rendered in the Hangul alphabet they can have the same spelling, but multiple meanings.
The unfortunate consequence for the Daebyun Elementary School in Busan is that human faeces are the first thing that come to mind when Koreans hear its name.
“Are you from Poop School?” was a typical taunt students and former pupils have endured for 55 years, reports said.
They have mounted a campaign to change the name, gathering more than 4,000 signatures since April, a school official who declined to give her name said.
“We want to have a pretty school name,” read a banner put up on the school wall by the students and their parents.
A school committee will choose among three options next week and submit a request to local authorities to change the name, she said, with permission expected to be granted from the spring term next year.
One of them, Haeparang or sea waves, would flush away the stench of the past, while the other two are geographically based.
Founded in 1963, the school, which has 77 students, was named after a village called Daebyun-ri, a shortening of the nearby Daedonggobyunpo port, or Daedong Warehouse Coast.
The Kyunghyang Sinmun daily said other schools also have embarrassing homographs, including Jungja (sperm), Junggwan (seminal duct), Yadong (pornography) and Mulgun (slang for penis).
None of the four said they were considering changing their names, they said.
“Absolutely not,” said an employee of the Mulgun school, in the southeastern county of Namhae. “That would be absurd.”
Last year, Japan’s Kinki University bowed to years of foreign sniggering by changing its nomenclature to the less saucy-sounding “Kindai”.