5 Things to Know about Korean Names, or Hangul Names

Korea has an interesting naming system that differs from the traditional naming conventions of the West. In Korea, all citizens have one given name and one family name, which together make up the person’s full name, or Hangul Name (한글이름).

1. Last name first and first name last

Korea, like many other Asian countries, has a different naming order than we’re used to in western countries. When you meet a Korean person, they will typically introduce themselves by their family name first and then their first name last. Their full name will be something like: Lee Jang Soo. If you have a Korean business partner, he or she may introduce themselves in English as like Mr. Lee (rather than Mr. Soo).

2. No middle names

And also, there is no middle name in Korea. You may think you found one in the example above, but it belongs to given name. It also means that all Koreans use full names without middle names – first being their family name and second being their given name .

3. Mostly 3 syllables in full name

The Korean family names are usually one syllable (rarely 2) and the given names are usually two syllables,(but can be rarely one syllable.) So, mostly, full Korean names are three syllables, whereas we could find Korean names with 2-syllables or 4-syllables sometimes. If I show you the most common Korean given names for example: for boys are Seung-hyun, Jae-bum, Min-ho and Sung-min; for girls it is Ji-young, Hyun-ah, Suh-mi and Yeon-ju. In addition to these names of course there are thousands of others!

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4. Three super-big family names

According to official statistics in 2020 , there are more than 5,500 family names in South Korea. But curiously, Kim, Lee and Park, these three names make up more than 45% of all family names in South Korea. In addition to those 3 biggest family names here are top 10 family names: Choi (4th), Jung (5th), Kang (6th), Jo (7th), Yoon (8th), Jang (9th), Yim (10th). The top 10 family names make up about 63% in South Korea. These statistics alone show that 70% of Koreans share a same last name with someone else.

5. Hangul name and Offical Roman Alphabet name

As you may know, Korea has their own language and letters called Korean language and Hangul. All Koreans have official names in both Korean and English(Roman Alphabet, used in Passport). The Korean names are written using a combination of Korean letters (Hangul) of course. And an official English name is written using Roman alphabet letters in their Passport.

Summary with the names of celebrities

Now let’s summarize those things looking at three examples: Firstly, the famous director of Parasite, Bong Jun-Ho (봉준호). Among his full name, Bong is the family name and Jun-Ho is his given name. Secondly, the BTS member Jungkook (정국). He is known as this name but it’s just his given name, and his full name is Jeon Jung Kook (전정국) with the family name, Jeon. He would go by Jeon Jung Kook on formal occasions such as school registration. Whereas Min Jin Lee(이민진), the writer of Pachinko, having one of biggest family name(LEE), as she is Korean-American, she writes her name following american custom, given name(Min Jin) first, family name(Lee) last.

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5 More ...

  1. Sino-Korean roots: Many Korean names have roots in Chinese characters, which have been used in Korea for centuries. These names often have meanings related to virtues or natural elements.

  2. Family-centered: Korean names often reflect family relationships and social status. For example, the surname often comes first in a full name, and the given name often includes a generational suffix to indicate the birth order of siblings.

  3. Meanings and symbolism: Korean names often have specific meanings and symbolic associations. For example, a name may include characters associated with longevity, success, or happiness.

  4. Gender distinction: Korean names are often gendered, with distinct names for male and female children. This distinction can be seen in both the given name and the surname.

  5. Formal and informal forms: Korean names may have formal and informal forms, which are used in different social settings. For example, a person may use a formal, respectful name in a business setting, but a more casual, nickname-like form with close friends and family.

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