ESL South Korea

Korean Names

The most striking characteristic of Korean names are the fact that their surnames are given first, followed by their given names.  If someone is called Kim Jae Woo, his surname is thus Kim (and you can call him Mr. Kim) and his name Jae Woo.  “Woo” should not be considered his middle name in the Western sense of the word, his whole name is simply Jae Woo or Jaewoo.

At present, there are about 250 Korean surnames and the three most common is Kim, Lee and Park which account for nearly half the population.

In olden days long gone you could only marry someone with a different surname (and a different ancestral town) which sometimes made it hard for Kim’s and Pak’s to find a suitable partner.  In those days, potential lovers would early enough inquire about each others ancestral towns, in order to avoid romantic disappointment later.

Names usually consist of three syllables.  The first syllable represents the surname and the last two the given name.  Exceptions are rare, but do exist and usually means a person’s name consist of only one, or sometimes more than two, syllables.  But the surname is always given first, with the name to follow.

Married women do not adopt their husbands’ last name, even though the children are automatically given the father’s last name.

When using European languages, Korean will romanise their names in various ways, most often approximating the pronunciation in English through transliteration. Some keep the original order of names, while others reverse the names to match the usual Western pattern.