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Korean family name

Prior to the adoption of Chinese-style family names, Koreans had tribal names. Korean family names/clan names/surnames are influenced by the Chinese family name, hence, as in Chinese, the term the hundred family names (baekseong, 백성; 百姓) means people/commoners. As with the Chinese family name, almost all Korean family names have just one Hanja character (hence one syllable). Exception includes the family names Hwangbo (황보; 皇甫) and Sakong (사공; 司空). There are now about three hundred Korean family names.

Below are the most common family names that make up over half of the Korean population [1] (http://www.korea.net/koreanculture/artsandculture/names):

  • Typical Romanizations (Hangeul; Hanja)
  • Gim or Kim (김; 金)
  • Yi or Lee or Rhee (이; 李)
  • Pak or Park (박; 朴)
  • An or Ahn (안; 安)
  • Jang or Chang (장; 張)
  • Jo or Cho (조; 趙, 曺)
  • Choe or Choi (최; 崔)
  • Jeong or Chong (정; 鄭, 丁)
  • Han (한; 韓)
  • Gang or Kang (강; 姜)
  • Yu or Yoo (유; 柳, 劉)
  • Yun or Yoon (윤; 尹)

Family names that came from the Chinese immigrants in the Three Kingdom Period (1st-3rd centuries A.D.) include Cho, Hwang, O, Ryu and Yi. However, later some Koreans also adopted these family names.

The Goguryeo Kingdom, which had contact with China first, had family names such as Ko and Myeongnim. The Baekje[?] Kingdom had an aristocracy with the names Baek (Paek), Guk (Kuk), Hyeop, Jin (Chin), Sa, and Yeon. Silla[?] Kingdom had royal names such as Bak (Pak), Gim (Kim), and Seok.

The ancient kings of Korea gave their subjects family names. For example, in 33 A.D., King Yuri gave tribes of Saro (Silla) names like Bae (Pae), Choe (Ch'oe), Jeong (Chŏng), Son and Seol (Sŏl). Other names given by kings are An, Cha, Han, Hong, Kim, Kweon, Nam, Eo (Ŏ), and Wang.

Under the Japanese occupation of the 1940s, Koreans were "suggested" to take Japanese family and given names. This is called "Name Order" (創氏改名). Over 83 per cent of the population (25,133,352) [1] conformed (at least temporarily) to this Japanese regulation.

[1] Figure from Andrew C. Nahm, Korea: Tradition and Transformation. (1988) Page 233.


  • Andrew C. Nahm, Korea: Tradition and Transformation. (1988) Pages 33-34.

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See also: Family name, Most popular family names

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