Korean name

Infobox Korean name
title=Korean name
hangul=이름 / 성명
hanja= - / 姓名
rr=ireum /
mr=irŭm / sŏngmyŏng

A Korean name consists of a family name followed by a given name, as used by the Korean people in both North Korea and South Korea. In the Korean language, 'ireum' usually refers to the family name ("seong") and given name ("myeong") together. A long history of the use of family names has caused surname extinction. There are only about 250 Korean family names currently in use, and the three most common (Kim, Lee, and Park) account for nearly half of the population.

The family name is typically a single syllable, and the given name two syllables. There is no middle name in the Western sense. Many Koreans have their given names made of a generational name syllable and an individually distinct syllable, while this practice is declining in the younger generations. The generational name syllable is shared by siblings in North Korea, and by all members of the same generation of an extended family in South Korea. Married men and women usually keep their full personal names, and children inherit the father's family name.

Modern family names are subdivided into "bon-gwan" (clans), i.e. extended families which originate in the lineage system used in previous historical periods. Each clan is identified by a specific place, and traces its origin to a common patrilineal ancestor.

Early names based on the Korean language were recorded in the Three Kingdoms period (57 BCE – 668 CE), but with the growing adoption of Chinese writing system, these were gradually replaced by names based on Chinese characters. During periods of Mongol and Manchu influence, the ruling class supplemented their Korean names with Mongol and Manchu names. In addition, during the later period of Japanese rule in the early 20th century, Koreans were forced to adopt Japanized names. In recent decades, there has been a trend towards using native Korean words as names, although still a small minority.

Despite the standard romanization of Korean, modern Koreans, when using European languages, romanize their names in various ways, most often approximating the pronunciation in English orthography. Some keep the original order of names, while others reverse the names to match the usual Western pattern.

Family names

There are roughly 250 family names in use today.U.S. Library of Congress, [http://countrystudies.us/south-korea/38.htm Traditional Family Life.] ] Each family name is divided into one or more clans ("bon-gwan"), identifying the clan's city of origin. For example, the most populous clan is Gimhae Kim; that is, the Kim clan from the city of Gimhae. Clans are further subdivided into various "pa", or branches stemming from a more recent common ancestor, so that a full identification of a persons family name would be clan-surname-branch.

Korean women traditionally keep their family name after marriage, but their children take the father's name. According to tradition, each clan publishes a comprehensive genealogy ("jokbo") every 30 years. [Nahm, pg. 33–34.]

Korean family names were influenced by Chinese family names, and almost all Korean family names consist of one hanja, and hence are one syllable. There are around a dozen two-syllable surnames, all of which rank after the 100 most common surnames. Most of these are uncommon Chinese surnames as well. The five most common family names, which together make up over half of the Korean population, are used by over 20 million people in South Korea.Republic of Korea. [http://kosis.nso.go.kr/cgi-bin/sws_999.cgi?ID=DT_1INOOSB&IDTYPE=3 National Statistical Office.] The total population was 45,985,289. No comparable statistics are available from North Korea. The top 22 surnames are charted, and a rough extrapolation for both Koreas has been calculated [http://sun-bin.blogspot.com/2005/12/chinese-and-korean-family-names.html] .]

Given names

Traditionally, given names for males are partly determined by generation names, a custom originating in China. One of the two characters in a given name is unique to the individual, while the other is shared by all people in a family generation. Therefore, it is common for cousins to have the same character (dollimja) in their given names in the same fixed position. In North Korea, generational names are no longer shared across families, but are still commonly shared by brothers and sisters.NKChosun.com]

Given names are typically composed of hanja, or Chinese characters. In North Korea, the hanja are no longer used to write the names, but the meanings are still understood; thus, for example, the syllable "cheol" (철,鐵) is used in boy's names with the meaning of "iron." In South Korea, section 37 of the Family Registry Law requires that the hanja in personal names be taken from a restricted list. [South Korea, Family Register Law] Unapproved hanja must be represented by hangul, or Korean characters, in the family registry. In March 1991, the Supreme Court of South Korea published the Table of Hanja for Personal Name Use which allowed a total of 2,854 hanja in new South Korean given names (as well as 61 alternate forms). [ [http://www.korean.go.kr/nkview/nklife/1991_2/2_25.html National Academy of the Korean Language (1991)] ] The list was expanded in 1994, 1997, 2001, and 2005. Thus there are now 5,038 hanja permitted in South Korean names, in addition to a small number of alternate forms.

While the traditional practice is still largely followed, since the late 1970s, some parents have given their children names that are native Korean words, usually of two syllables. This has been largely restricted to girl's names. Popular native Korean given names of this sort include Haneul (하늘; "Heaven" or "Sky"), Areum (아름; "Beauty"), Gippeum (기쁨; "Joy") and Iseul (이슬; "Dew"). Despite this trend away from traditional practice, people's names are still recorded in both hangul and hanja (if available) on official documents, in family genealogies, and so on.

Korean given names are usually composed of two characters or syllables. Few people have one- or three-character given names, like the politicians Kim Gu and Goh Kun, Soccer Player Lee Ho on the one hand, and Yeon Gaesomun on the other. People with two-character family names often have a one-character given name, like the singer Seomoon Tak.


Forms of address

The usage of names is governed by strict norms in traditional Korean society. It is generally considered rude to address anyone by their given name in Korean culture. This is particularly the case when dealing with adults or one's elders. [The Northern Forum (2006), p. 29.] This is often a source of pragmatic difficulty for learners of Korean as a foreign language, and for Korean learners of Western languages.

A variety of replacements are used for the actual name of the person. It is acceptable among adults of similar status to address the other by their full name, with the suffix "ssi" (씨) added. However, it is inappropriate to address someone by their surname alone, even with such a suffix.Ri 2005, p. 182.] Whenever the person has an official rank, it is typical to address him or her by the name of that rank (such as "Manager"), often with the honorific "nim" (님) added. In such cases, the full name of the person may be appended, although this can also imply that the speaker is of higher status.

Among children and close friends, it is common to use a person's birth name.

Traditional nicknames

Among the common people, who suffered from high child mortality, children were often given "amyeong" (childhood name), to wish them long lives by avoiding notice from the messenger of death. [ [http://enc.daum.net/dic100/contents.do?query1=b17a3218a Daum 백과사전 : 이름 ] ] These sometimes-insulting nicknames, are used sparingly for children today. [Naver Encyclopedia, Nickname (별명 [別名).]

Upon marriage, women usually lost their amyeong, and were called by a "taekho", referring to their town of origin. [ [http://enc.daum.net/dic100/contents.do?query1=b17a3218a Daum 백과사전 : 이름 ] ]

In addition, teknonymy, or referring to parents by their children's names, is a common practice. It is most commonly used in referring to a mother by the name of her eldest son, as in "Cheolsu's mom" (철수 엄마). However, it can be extended to either parent and any child, depending upon the context. [Hwang (1991), p. 9.]


The use of names has evolved over time, from the first recording of Korean names in the early Three Kingdoms period through the gradual adoption of Chinese forms of naming as centralized kingdoms came to dominate Korean life. A complex system, including courtesy names and pen names as well as posthumous names and childhood names, arose out of Confucian tradition. The courtesy name system in particular arose from the "Classic of Rites", a core text of the Confucian canon. [Lee, Hong-jik (1983), p. 1134.]

Native names

During the Three Kingdoms period, native given names were sometimes composed of three syllables like Misaheun (미사흔) and Sadaham (사다함), which were later transcribed into hanja (未斯欣, 斯多含). The use of family names was limited to kings in the beginning, but gradually spread to aristocrats and eventually to most of the population. [Do (1999), sec. 2. ]

Some recorded family names are apparently native Korean words, such as toponyms. At that time, some characters of Korean names might have been read not by their Sino-Korean pronunciation but by their native reading (see hanja). For example, Yeon Gaesomun (연개소문; 淵蓋蘇文), the name of Goguryeo's first Grand Prime Minister, was transcribed (probably modified into japanized form) into "Iri kasumi" (伊梨柯須弥) in the "Nihonshoki". Early Silla names are also believed to represent Old Korean vocabulary; for example, Bak Hyeokgeose, the name of the founder of Silla, was pronounced something like "Bulgeonuri" (弗矩內), which can be translated as "bright world." [Do (1999), sec. 3.]

Confucian naming system

According to the chronicle "Samguk Sagi", family names were bestowed by kings upon their supporters. For example, in 33 CE, King Yuri gave the six headmen of Saro (later Silla) the names Lee (이), Bae (배), Choe (최), Jeong (정), Son (손) and Seol (설). However, this account is not generally credited by modern historians, who hold that Confucian-style surnames as above were more likely to have come into general use in the 5th and subsequent centuries, as the Three Kingdoms increasingly adopted the Chinese model. [Do (1999).]

Only a handful of figures from the Three Kingdoms period are recorded as having borne a courtesy name, such as Seol Chong. The custom only became widespread in the Goryeo period, as Confucianism took hold among the literati. [Naver Encyclopedia, 자 [字] . Seol Chong's courtesy name, Chongji (총지) is reported in the "Samguk Sagi", Yeoljeon 6, "Seol Chong." ] In 1055, Goryeo established a new law limiting access to the civil service exam to those with family names. [ [http://enc.daum.net/dic100/contents.do?query1=b17a3218a Daum 백과사전 : 이름 ] ]

For men of yangban rank, a complex system of alternate names had developed by the Joseon Dynasty. Peasants sometimes had only amyong throughout their lives. [ [http://enc.daum.net/dic100/contents.do?query1=b17a3218a Daum 백과사전 : 이름 ] ] A census taken in 1910, at the end of the Joseon Dynasty and the beginning of Japanese rule, a little more than half of the population did not have family names. [ [http://enc.daum.net/dic100/contents.do?query1=b17a3218a Daum 백과사전 : 이름 ] ]

Mongolian names

For a brief period after the Mongol invasion of Korea during the Goryeo Dynasty, Korean kings and aristocrats had both Mongolian and Sino-Korean names. The scions of the ruling class were sent to the Yuan court for schooling. [Lee (1984), p. 156.] For example, King Gongmin had both the Mongolian name Bayan Temür (伯顏帖木兒) and the Sino-Korean name Wang Gi (王祺) (later renamed Wang Jeon (王顓)). [Lee, Hong-jik (1983), p. 117.]

Japanification of names

During the period of Japanese colonial rule of Korea (1910–1945), Koreans were forced to adopt Japanese-language names. [U.S. Library of Congress, [http://countrystudies.us/south-korea/7.htm Korea Under Japanese Rule.] ]

In 1939, as part of Governor-General Jiro Minami's policy of cultural assimilation (同化政策; "dōka seisaku"), Ordinance No. 20 (commonly called the "Name Order", or "Sōshi-kaimei" (創氏改名) in Japanese) was issued, and became law in April 1940.Nahm (1996), p. 223. See also Empas, "창씨개명."] Although the Japanese Governor-General officially prohibited compulsion, low-level officials effectively forced Koreans to adopt Japanese-style family and given names. By 1944, approximately 84 percent of the population had registered Japanese family names.

"Sōshi" (Japanese) means the creation of a Japanese family name ("shi", Korean "ssi"), distinct from a Korean family name or "seong" (Japanese "sei"). Japanese family names represent the families they belong to and can be changed by marriage and other procedures, while Korean family names represent paternal linkages and are unchangeable. Japanese policy dictated that Koreans either could register a completely new Japanese family name unrelated to their Korean surname, or have their Korean family name, in Japanese form, automatically become their Japanese name if no surname was submitted before the deadline. [Empas,"창씨개명."]

After the liberation of Korea from Japanese rule, the Name Restoration Order (조선 성명 복구령; 朝鮮姓名復舊令) was issued on October 23, 1946 by the United States military administration south of the 38th parallel north, enabling Koreans to restore their Korean names if they wished to.

Japanese conventions of creating given names, such as using "子" (Japanese "ko" and Korean "ja") in feminine names, is seldom seen in present-day Korea, either North or South. In the North, a campaign to eradicate such Japanese-based names was launched in the 1970s.

Romanization and pronunciation

In English speaking nations, the three most common family names are often written and pronounced as "Kim" (김), "Lee" or "Rhee" (리, 이), and "Park" (박). Despite official Korean romanization systems used for geographic and other names in North and South Korea, personal names are generally romanized according to personal preference. Thus a family name such as "Lee" may also be found spelled "I," "Yi," "Rhee," and "Rhie." [Although the "I" romanization is uncommon, it does follow the strict Revised Romanization of Korean, and is used by Yonhap (2004) and others due to its clear representation of the underlying hangul.]

The initial sound in "Kim" shares features with both the English 'k' (in initial position, an aspirated voiceless velar stop) and "hard g" (an unaspirated voiced velar stop). When pronounced initially, Kim starts with an unaspirated voiceless velar stop sound; it is voiceless like IPA|/k/, but also unaspirated like IPA|/g/. As aspiration is a distinctive feature in Korean but voicing is not, "Gim" is more likely to be understood correctly. "Kim" is used nearly universally in both North and South Korea. [Yonhap (2004), 484–536 and 793–800, "passim".]

The family name "Lee" is pronounced as 리 ("ri") in North Korea and as 이 ("i") in South Korea. In the former case, the initial sound is an alveolar flap, an allophone of the Korean alveolar liquid. There is no distinction between the alveolar liquids IPA|/l/ and IPA|/r/, which is why "Lee" and "Rhee" are both common spellings. In South Korea, the pronunciation of the name is simply the English vowel sound for a "long e", as in "see". This pronunciation is also often spelled as "Yi"; the Northern pronunciation is commonly romanized "Ri." [Yonhap (2004), pp. 561–608 and 807–810, "passim".]

In Korean pronunciation, the name usually romanized as "Park" actually has no 'r' sound at all. Its initial sound is an unaspirated voiceless bilabial stop, like a cross between English 'p' and 'b'. The vowel is the IPA sound [a] , similar to the 'a' in father. For this reason, the name is also often represented as "Pak" or "Bak." [Yonhap (2004), pp. 438–457. ]

See also

*List of Korean family names
*List of most common surnames
*Article 809 of the Korean Civil Code



* cite web |last=Hwang |first=Shin Ja J. |title=Terms of Address In Korean and American Cultures |publisher=trinity.edu |date=1991
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* cite book
last=Lee |first=Ki-baek |authorlink=Ki-baek Lee |title=A new history of Korea
publisher=Ilchokak |year=1984 |location=Seoul |work=Rev. ed., Tr. by Edward W. Wagner & Edward J. Shultz |isbn=8933702040

* cite web |author=The Northern Forum |title=Protocol Manual |publisher=northernforum.org |date=2006 |location=Anchorage, AL
url=http://www.northernforum.org/servlet/download?id=2014 |accessdate=2006-08-23

* cite book |author=U.S. Library of Congress |title=South Korea: A Country Study |publisher=GPO for the Library of Congress |date=1990 |chapter=Traditional Family Life |editor=Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw
url=http://countrystudies.us/south-korea/38.htm |accessdate=2006-08-10

* cite book |author=Yonhap |title=Korea Annual 2004 |publisher=Yonhap News Agency
year=2004 |location=Seoul |work=41st annual ed. |isbn=8974330709

* cite web |last=Do |first=Su-hui (도수희) |title=Formation and Development of Korean Names (한국 성명의 생성 발달 ,Hanguk seongmyeong-ui saengseong baldal) |publisher=New Korean Life (새국어생활) |year=1999 |url=http://www.korean.go.kr/nkview/nklife/1999_4/9_11.htm |language=Korean |accessdate=2006-08-14
* cite web |author=Empas Encyclopedia |title=Changssi Gaemyeong (창씨개명 , 創氏改名) |publisher=empas.com |date=n.d.
url=http://100.empas.com/dicsearch/pentry.html?i=187854&v=43 |language=Korean |accessdate=2006-08-23

* cite book |editor=Lee, Hong-jik (이홍직) |title=Encyclopedia of Korean history (새國史事典, Sae guksa sajeon) |publisher=Kyohaksa |year=1983 |location=Seoul |pages=117, 1134 |chapter=Ja, Courtesy Name (자) |isbn=8909005068
* cite web |author=National Academy of the Korean Language |title=News from the National Academy of Korean Language (국립 국어 연구원 소식) |publisher=korean.go.kr |date=1991 |url=http://www.korean.go.kr/nkview/nklife/1991_2/2_25.html |accessdate=2006-08-23
* cite web |author=National Institute of the Korean Language (국립 국어 연구원) |title=National Institute of the Korean Language news (Gungnip gugeo yeonguwon saesosik, 국어 국립 연구원 새소식) |publisher=korean.go.kr |date=1991-06 |work=New Korean Life |url=http://www.korean.go.kr/nkview/nklife/1991_2/2_25.html(새국어생활) |language=Korean |accessdate=2006-08-11
* cite web |author=Naver Encyclopedia |title=Courtesy name (자 , 字) |publisher=naver.com |date=n.d.
url=http://100.naver.com/100.nhn?docid=131083 |accessdate=2006-08-22

* cite web |author=Naver Encyclopedia |title=Nickname (별명, 別名) |publisher=naver.com |date=n.d. |url=http://100.naver.com/100.nhn?docid=75449 |accessdate=2006-08-22
* cite web |author=NKChosun |title=Name creation/'ja' disappearing from female names (이름짓기/ 여성 이름 ‘자’字 사라져) |publisher=nk.chosun.com |date=2000-11-19 |url=http://nk.chosun.com/news/news.html?ACT=detail&res_id=3758&page=2924 |language=Korean |accessdate=2006-08-13
* cite web |author=Republic of Korea |title=Family Register Law 양계혈통 관련법률 |publisher=root.re.kr |date=n.d.|url=http://root.re.kr/root/h52.htm |accessdate=2006-08-23
* cite web |author=Republic of Korea |title=National Statistical Office |publisher=kosis.nso.go.kr |date=n.d. |url=http://kosis.nso.go.kr/cgi-bin/sws_999.cgi?ID=DT_1INOOSB&IDTYPE=3 |accessdate=2006-08-23
* cite book|last=Ri |first=Ui-do (리의도) |title=Proper Procedures for Korean Usage (올바른 우리말 사용법 , Olbareun urimal sayongbeop) |publisher=Yedam |year=2005 |location=Seoul |language=Korean |isbn=8959131180

External links

* at Wiktionary
* [http://monkey.org/~dugsong/hanja_names.html Table of in 2001 added Hanja for Personal Name Use]
* [http://goodcharacters.com/how.about.korean.names.html Choosing between Korean Hanja and Hangul Names]
* [http://root.re.kr/root/h52.htm Family Register Law, Act 6438,] 호적법, 법률6438호, partially revised October 24 2005.
* [http://proxy.saga-wjc.ac.jp/nagasawa/ilbon/hanto-kokugo/hanto-index.htm Examples of Koreans who used Japanese names] : by Saga Women's Junior College

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